- Controlling Contested Places: Late Antique Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy by Christine Shepardson
By drawing on a wide range of disciplines—including cultural and social geography, sociolinguistics, anthropology, sociology, and memory studies—Shepardson makes a persuasive case that the urban landscape played an important role in the changes taking place in Late Antiquity. Shepardson views buildings as, “sites of, and tools for, the negotiation of power, authority, and religious identity” (1). The new churches, martyrs’ shrines, and abandoned temples reflected the growing influence of Christian authorities and, simultaneously, served as important sources of their power. The control of places and the control of what places meant, Shepardson argues, were keys to the success of Nicene orthodoxy over its rivals.
Because of Antioch’s importance as an imperial residence and the richness of sources from this period, we have numerous accounts that describe life in Antioch. Some of the more famous events, such as the Riot of the Statues or the emperor Julian’s attempt to revive the temple of Apollo, have been examined in numerous studies of Late Antiquity but not situated in the context of the transformation of the city’s landscape. Shepardson shows how conflicts over these places were part of a process happening across the Roman Empire, where competing authorities attempted to control physical places (and ideas about them). Shepardson’s interest in the places themselves, rather than relegating them to the background, makes her work distinctive.
The introduction provides the relevant bibliography on Antioch before presenting key concepts from contemporary social and cultural geography: a “place” is made distinct from “space” through events and ideas; events and the spaces where they happen shape each other; authorities benefit from controlling the events and ideas associated with place-construction; the transformation of places affects how events are remembered and, ultimately, how identities are formed (7–9). This discussion is followed by a summary of the church controversies in fourth-century Antioch. The rivalries among Christian groups were complicated by emperors, who endorsed and exiled various bishops. The introduction also describes the churches of Antioch, based on the most recent archaeological and textual evidence.
The first chapter examines how the rhetorician Libanius chose certain places for teaching and public appearances in order to enhance his prestige. Moving his classroom from his home to the city hall helped to create and to publicize his prominence as a rhetorician, an example [End Page 240] of, “space, status, and education as components of power dynamics” (41). Libanius used public spaces strategically, by requiring a prefect to attend his public lecture or by declining or accepting invitations from emperors. Libanius demonstrates his own awareness of “spatial politics” in his observation that people respected him because of “where in the city” he had lectured (43). Libanius sets the scene for the following chapters, which focus on Christian writers. Like Libanius, they also needed prominent places in order to be respected and reach their audiences.
Chapter 2 turns to the relics of Babylas, an early bishop of Antioch, which were used to sanctify and de-sanctify important places around Antioch. These relics were moved to the temple of Apollo by a Christian emperor in the 350s, only to be removed by Julian, and then transferred once more by the bishop Meletius to a new church in Babylas’s honor. Here, Shepardson uses the concept of “place-marketing,” a cultural geographer’s term for attempts to shape the image of a place in order to appeal to a particular audience. Shepardson also describes the movements of the relics in terms of memory and identity. Contrasting accounts of these events from pagan and Christian authors demonstrate that the meaning of places could be remembered in different ways. The physical changes to the landscape and the discussions of these changes affected “historical memory, community identity, and religious topography” (90).
Chapter 3 examines sermons by John Chrysostom concerning where Christians should and should not go. Chrysostom associated certain places with...