In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • City of Demons: Violence, Ritual, and Christian Power in Late Antiquity by Dayna S. Kalleres
  • Mar Marcos

Dayna Kalleres, Mar Marcos, ancient magic, violence in antiquity, ancient Christianity, Christian violence, Ancient Christian Ritual, Christian magic, ancient Christian magic, demons, demons in ancient Christianity

dayna s. kalleres. City of Demons: Violence, Ritual, and Christian Power in Late Antiquity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 374.

City of Demons attempts "a cultural history of urban demonologies" in the post-Constantinian city (6) to show that the demonization of religious opponents performed by ecclesiastical leaders, in both the discursive and ritual spheres, was a powerful strategy for urban Christianization in Late Antiquity. The author bases her argument on the assumption that urban rituals of engagement with demons were different from those performed outside the city, e.g. in the Egyptian and Syrian deserts. Hence, through diabolizing others' forms of ritual and rhetoric, bishops gained authority and control in and over the Late Antique city. While Late Antique scholarship, largely influenced by Peter Brown, has concentrated on the fight against demons by ascetics in a non-urban environment, beyond the control of ecclesiastical institutions, the phenomenon of spiritual warfare against the demonic in the city has been neglected in historiography due to scholars' inclination to imagine the Late Antique city as a "disenchanted and secularized" space (11). Amid the huge amount of scholarship on demonology in Late Antiquity, this book aims to fill a neglected area in the study of the late ancient, "enchanted, animistic" city (12).

Despite what might be inferred from the title, City of Demons is not a comprehensive study of the phenomenon of demonization of religious opponents by urban church hierarchies in the vast period of Late Antiquity. It is in fact limited to the analysis of three nearly contemporary case studies: John Chrysostom and Antioch, Cyril and Jerusalem, and Ambrose and Milan—although few parallels are drawn between them. In each case, three aspects are studied: the animistic and enchanted facets of the city itself; the ecclesiastical leaders' strategies of diabolization and their strategy of exorcistic encounters, focusing on the ritual of baptism; and the analysis of a particular case of crisis which Nicene communities perceived as a menace.

Part one, the longest in the book, focuses on the case of Antioch and John Chrysostom, its bishop in the 380s. Chapter 1 (25–50) reconstructs the religious atmosphere in a city of spiritual ambiguity, "pulsating with spiritual [End Page 130] powers and invisible forces" (31). Through the writings of Libanius and Chrysostom, the "enchanted" atmosphere of Antioch's traditional festivals is recreated, despite the scant quantity of information about this, which leads the author to contribute imaginatively to many of the ritual scenes she describes. Chapter 2 (51–86) analyzes the way in which John Chrysostom uses demons to fight the inclination of congregants to participate in non-Christian ceremonies and festivals, peopled with demonic threats that only those seeking protection inside the churches can avoid. In his homilies, Chrysostom diabolizes non-Christian rituals carried out in Antioch, and teaches the baptized how to fight them. The rite of baptism, preceded by several weeks of training and exorcisms, transforms catechumens into "stronger Christians" (the soldiers of Christ), and enables them to go out into the city to undertake spiritual warfare against the "weaker Christians" (the unbaptized), easily attacked and possessed by demons. Chapter 3 (87–112) considers a particular case of crisis, the Judaizers who participate in the Jewish High Holidays and attend the synagogue. Stronger Christians are encouraged (in the Adversus Judaeos homilies) to seek out Judaizers, isolate them, and engage in public, performative exorcistic encounters, using words (the ritual exorcist formulae) as weapons.

Part Two deals with Cyril, appointed bishop of Jerusalem in 350/51, and his efforts to reshape the spiritual landscape of the Holy City. Chapter 4 (115–148) describes the monumental transformation of Jerusalem into Aelia Capitolina, and vice-versa. Starting in the sixth century BC, the chapter takes us on a tour of Jerusalem to the mid-fourth century AD and the modes of perceiving and sensing the city by the Jerusalemites of the time. It explores how...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 130-132
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.