- Inscribing the Saints in Late Antique Anatolia by Paweł Nowakowski
Inscribing the Saints in Late Antique Anatolia
Warsaw: University of Warsaw, 2018
Pp. xv + 785. $110.
If the lack of a comprehensive collection of inscriptions relating to the cult of the saints in Asia Minor is what has been hindering a greater understanding of the religious phenomenon, then Paweł Nowakowski's revised dissertation, which he completed at the University of Warsaw in 2015, promises to remedy the situation. This study is effectively divided into two substantial sections that complement each other: firstly, an in-depth analysis of "epigraphic patterns" based on the material presented in the second part (323 pp.), which consists of a catalogue of inscriptions mentioning or venerating saints or attesting to their cults (313 pp.), which itself is duly supplemented with a concordance, indices, and a bibliography. The introduction provides the methodological groundings for the study. It delineates the chronological and geographical boundaries (i.e., Asia Minor during the fourth to seventh centuries c.e.), reviews the history of scholarship on the topic (highlighting the importance of inscriptions as historical sources), and, more fundamentally, discusses selection criteria and possible understandings of what constituted a saint (see esp. 4–9, 12–13).
In a detailed survey of the collected material spanning over several chapters, the author then endeavors to establish (1) a typology of saints' inscriptions (including their formulary), (2) their chronological distribution (despite inherent dating difficulties), and (3) a list of the most popular saints (local and famous male martyrs primarily) along with their epithets and epicleses (ἅγιος being the most "widely diffused," 212). The most common saints' inscriptions, production of which began in the middle of the fifth century and peaked in the sixth, are of two types: firstly, invocations and petitions (using the imperative form of βοηθέω), which highlight the universal intercessory function of saints; and secondly, building and dedicatory inscriptions, which illustrate how saints were the focal point of regional pilgrimages and were thought to participate actively in the construction of churches and sanctuaries. In a final chapter, he then investigates the identity and motivations (or "rhetoric of the motivation," 303) of those responsible for setting up these inscriptions (which could often be quite costly), as well as their intended audience. As expected, the majority of dedicants of building inscriptions were members of the clergy (i.e., bishops and presbyters, rarely monks), [End Page 508] though hardly ever imperial or city officials, while most invocations were by lay people (both male and female), who usually petitioned a particular saint in order to secure "success," "good health and good luck," or "the redemption of the deceased" (303).
The second part of the volume, which is organized regionally, is where the extent of Nowakowski's research can perhaps be best appreciated. Each entry provides the original Greek text of the inscription, a translation, bibliographic and descriptive information, as well as a short commentary. Needless to say, this section includes far too many fascinating texts to be reviewed in detail here. Nor can we linger on minor points of interpretation, translation, or restoration which would deserve further discussion—new readings would need of course to be confirmed by a stone autopsy (which the editor was not able to do for practical reasons). Readers must also take note that the explanations on the referencing system, which might not be intuitive to non-specialists, are to be found on pages 9–10 and 13—these could have been reiterated in the section on editorial conventions. Similarly, since readers are more likely to look for a specific saint (rather than browse through the inscriptions of a particular locality), it would have been helpful to include a list of attested saints at the beginning of the catalogue (rather than leave readers to scour tediously through the index).
Whether Nowakowski's "all-embracing definition" (4) of a saint is judicious or not, and whether his conclusions make a significant contribution to current scholarly debates on the origins, development, and characteristics of the cult of the saints in late antiquity is ultimately for specialists of hagiography to decide. The author in any case primarily intended to examine "the...