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Controlling Contested Places

Late Antique Antioch and the Spatial Politics of Religious Controversy

Christine Shepardson

Publication Year: 2014

From constructing new buildings to describing rival-controlled areas as morally and physically dangerous, leaders in late antiquity fundamentally shaped their physical environment and thus the events that unfolded within it. Controlling Contested Places maps the city of Antioch (Antakya, Turkey) through the topographically sensitive vocabulary of cultural geography, demonstrating the critical role played by physical and rhetorical spatial contests during the tumultuous fourth century. Paying close attention to the manipulation of physical places, Christine Shepardson exposes some of the powerful forces that structured the development of religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy in the late Roman Empire.

Theological claims and political support were not the only significant factors in determining which Christian communities gained authority around the Empire. Rather, Antioch’s urban and rural places, far from being an inert backdrop against which events transpired, were ever-shifting sites of, and tools for, the negotiation of power, authority, and religious identity. This book traces the ways in which leaders like John Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Libanius encouraged their audiences to modify their daily behaviors and transform their interpretation of the world (and landscape) around them. Shepardson argues that examples from Antioch were echoed around the Mediterranean world, and similar types of physical and rhetorical manipulations continue to shape the politics of identity and perceptions of religious orthodoxy to this day.

Published by: University of California Press

Quote, Publisher's Note, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xii

I have had the enormous good fortune to have the support and aid of innumerable colleagues, friends, and family members as I researched and wrote this book. While I cannot list them all by name, I am extremely grateful to them. Elizabeth Clark continues to be a wonderful mentor and role model, and I thank...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv

List of Roman Emperors and Bishops of Antioch

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pp. xv-xvi

Timeline of Key Events

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pp. xvii-xix


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pp. xx-xxii

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Introduction: The Lay of the Land

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pp. 1-30

From constructing new buildings to describing places controlled by their rivals as morally and physically dangerous, early Christian leaders fundamentally shaped their physical environment and thus the events that unfolded within it. Historical narratives that overlook the manipulation of physical places have obscured some...

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1. The Power of Prestigious Places: Teaching and Preaching in Fourth-Century Antioch

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pp. 31-57

Th e Greek sophist Libanius recounts in his autobiography the struggle that he faced when he returned to his hometown of Antioch in the middle of the fourth century, intending to teach there after years abroad. At first confined to teaching in his home to a small group of students, he eventually acquired a classroom at the...

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2. Burying Babylas: Place-Marketing and the Politics of Memory

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pp. 58-91

In the midst of the intra-Christian controversies in fourth-century Antioch, Christians undertook to acquire and redefine not only other Christians’ places, but also places associated with Greek and Roman gods and with Judaism. The emperor Julian’s interest in rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple inflamed Christian anti-Jewish...

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3. Being Correctly Christian: John Chrysostom’s Rhetoric in 386–87

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pp. 92-128

In fourth-century Antioch religious communities overlapped: Christianity and traditional temple cult sometimes competed for venues, such as at the martyrion of Babylas in Daphne; some Christians shared with Jews a respect for Jewish scripture and local synagogues; and Christians competed among themselves for control...

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4. Transformative Transgressions: Exploiting the Urban/Rural Divide

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pp. 129-162

John Chrysostom strongly tied religious identity to Antioch’s physical places, and this is true also of the distinction that he made between the rural space around the city and the urban space within its walls. Although scholars have demonstrated that geographical boundaries are often more permeable than rhetorical descriptions...

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5. Mapping a Textured Landscape: Temples, Martyrs, and Ascetics

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pp. 163-203

Beyond church buildings and synagogues, Antioch’s urban and rural landscape was populated by a variety of smaller places of religious ritual, from a host of temples of all sizes to a growing number of Christian martyr shrines scattered across the landscape. Also, Christian ascetics increasingly settled in the surrounding...

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6. Elsewhere in the Empire

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pp. 204-240

The investigation of fourth-century Antioch has revealed that the manipulation, and particularly the narrative construction, of topography played a significant role in shaping the increasing visibility of Christianity in urban and rural contexts, as well as in establishing the type of Christianity that became most prominent. The...

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Conclusion: Controlling Contested Places

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pp. 241-254

Perceptions of places are socially constructed and profoundly influential, shaping understandings of the past and thus also expectations for the future. Fourth-century Antioch is a particularly rich site of spatial construction and change, in part because of its complex history during late antiquity, when religious and political...


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pp. 255-282


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pp. 283-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780520957985
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520280359

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2014