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Epigraphy Liturgy Justinianic Isthmus Caraher

Epigraphy Liturgy Justinianic Isthmus Caraher

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“Epigraphy, Liturgy, and Imperial Policy on the Justinianic Isthmus”William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota
Introduction
The last 50 years have produced a massive increase in our understanding of the LateRoman Isthmus. Excavations at Isthmia and Kenchreai, intensive pedestrian survey, and thecareful study of material from the nearby site of Corinth have provided a solid foundation for the re-evaluation of the Late Antique period both on the Isthmus and in Greece moregenerally.
1
Despite the important advances in the archaeology of the Eastern Corinthia, theepigraphy of this region has received scant attention. The texts from Kenchreai and Isthmia,in particular, require renewed consideration in light of our expanded understanding of boththe archaeology and epigraphy of Late Roman Greece.
2
 This article will offer a new interpretation of the well-known Justinianic inscriptionfrom Isthmia and to a lesser extent the inscription of the same date typically associated withthe walls of the city of Corinth. My new interpretation of these texts benefits not only fromrecent work on Late Roman and Byzantine inscriptions in Greece but also from the growinginterest in the social and cultural context of inscribed texts in general.
3
Combining thesedevelopments with recent work on the Late Roman Isthmus will allow me to argue that theJustinianic inscriptions from the Corinthia manifest a sophisticated imperial policy whichsought to unify liturgical, military, and political authority in the person of the emperor. Indoing so, these inscriptions represent a particularly clear example of the close integration of religious and secular authority that would come to characterize imperial politics during themiddle decades of the 6
th
century.
4
To reach these conclusions my paper will evaluate thecultural, political, and archaeological context of these texts and show that the strategicsignificance of the Isthmus in the 6
th
century Mediterranean made it an especially appropriatelocation for imperial assertions of religious and political primacy.The significance of the Isthmus in the wider world of the 6
th
century Mediterraneanderived from its position as a geographic, religious, and political crossroads. Scholars havelong recognized the importance of the Isthmus at the juncture of both north-south and east-west travel in the Mediterranean.
5
The advantages of its geographic location were realized inantiquity as well.
6
Even before Roman rule unified the Mediterranean, the economic benefitsof the Isthmus’ location helped to enrich the territory of Corinth.
7
In Roman times theterritory served as a vital link between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean and theAdriatic and the Aegean worlds. As the politically unified Roman Mediterranean
 
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disintegrated over the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries, the Isthmus’s liminal character becamemore visible as it formed both an east-west corridor of travel between the Roman East andthe increasingly unstable West and part of a natural border to the Peloponnesus. The mostvisible of these was the Trans-Isthmian Hexamilion wall which served to impede north-southmovement. The fortress at Isthmia not only buttressed this wall but also stood astride a major north-south route and was positioned to block east-west movement across the Isthmus aswell.
8
Throughout Late Antiquity, these fortifications marked the Isthmus as a frontier zone between the relative stability of the Eastern Mediterranean, the unstable Danubian frontier,and fragmented West.The Isthmus was also a zone of overlapping ecclesiastical and political jurisdiction.Despite the proximity of the territory to the imperial capital, Greece (Late Roman Achaea)remained part of the ecclesiastical province of Illyricum, which was under the jurisdiction of the Papacy. Justinian’s policies for the Isthmus and throughout the Mediterraneanemphasized the territorial and religious unity of the empire. In working to achieve this in theWest, he articulated a religious policy that both accommodated and appropriated the religiousauthority vested in an increasingly autonomous Papacy which exerted considerable politicaland religious influence in the recently re-conquered Italy. Justinian’s political andtheological wrangling with the Papacy complemented his effort to fortify this vulnerable partof the empire and supports arguments that he worked to promote the loyalty and stability of the strategically important provinces throughout the empire.
9
In this context, the Isthmusrepresented both a military and religious frontier zone.
The Inscriptions
The Justinianic inscription from the Isthmus is familiar to most scholars of the Corinthia as itresided for years on the wall of the Corinth Museum courtyard. The text has been the objectof numerous commentaries in the past.
10
It reads as follows:
+
Φῶς
 
ἐκ
 
φωτός
,
θεὸς
 
ἀληθινὸς
 
ἐκ
 
θεοῦ
 
ἀληθινοῦ
,
φυλάξη
 
τὸν
 
αὐτοκράτορα
 
Ἰουστινιανὸν
 
καὶ
 
τὸν
 
πιστὸν
 
αὐτοῦ
 
δοῦλον
 
Βικτορῖνον
 
µ
α
 
τοῖς
 
οἰκούσειν
 
ἐν
 
Ἑλάδι
 
τοὺς
 
κ
(
α
)
τ
(
)
Θεῶν
 
ζῶντας
.+
Light of Light, True God of True God, guard the emperor Justinian and his faithfulservant Viktorinos along with those who dwell in Greece living according to God.
 
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3
This text was known as early as the 15
th
century from a Byzantine Short Chroniclewhich testified to the discovery of the stone during the reconstruction of the Hexamilion Wallin 1415 during the reign of Manuel II.
11
P. Monceaux rediscovered the text in 1883 in loosefill near the South Gate to the fortress.
12
The stone is a reused marble cornice measuring0.635 x 0.958 m. The letters, inscribed in a
tabula ansata
field, stand 0.045-0.051 in heightfor the first six lines and 0.021-0.024 m for the final line. The size, content, and shape of theinscription suggest that it was probably built into a gate, perhaps above the arch, as wascommon elsewhere in the Mediterranean during the Justinianic period.
13
There are two gatesinto the fortress and the Northeast Gate is the more elaborate, making it the most likelylocation for this inscription.Alan Cameron referred to the language of this text as an example of “unadorned andunimpeachably Christian prose.”
14
It follows a common pattern for Early Christianinscriptions throughout the Mediterranean world. Beginning with a short invocation, theinscription then asks the divine to protect, in order, the emperor Justinian, Viktorinos, andthen those living in Greece. In doing so it uses the verb
φυλάσσω
in either the subjunctive(
φυλάξ
) or future indicative (
φυλάξει 
)
. Typical of inscriptions of this period, the last phrasein the text displays some irregular grammar with a dative participle (
το
 ῖ 
ς
 
ο
κούσειν
as amisspelled form of 
ο
κο
σιν
) and an accusative participle (
ζ
 ντας
) arranged in a parallelconstruction. There are other orthographic infelicities as well:
Θεών
for the accusative
Θεόν
.
The best parallel for the language in this inscription is a very similar text typically associatedwith the city wall of Corinth,
15
and now in Verona.The similarities between the Isthmia and the Corinth inscriptions, and the likely close proximity of their original provenance will make it useful to discuss the two texts together.Consequently, I will provide the text of the Corinth inscription here:
16
 
+
Ἁγ
(
ία
)
Μαρία
 
Θεοτόκε
,
φύλαξον
 
τὴν
 
βασιλείαν
 
τοῦ
 
φιλοχρίστου
 
Ἰουστινιανοῦ
 
καὶ
 
τὸν
 
γνησίως
 
δουλεύοντα
 
αὐτῷ
 
Βικτωρῖνον
 
σὺν
 
τοῖς
 
οἰκοῦσιν
 
ἐν
 
Κορίνθῳ
 
κ
(
ατὰ
)
Θεὼν
 
ζῶντας
. +
Holy Mary, Theotokos, safeguard the empire of the Christ-loving Justinian and hisfaithful servant Viktorinos, along with those who dwell in Corinth living according to God.

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