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Report

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The purpose of this annual workshop is to gather postgraduate students and early
career researchers for a day of exchange on the topic of Late Antiquity. To that end, a
theme is chosen every year, as a starting point for debate. This year’s theme,
‘conversions’, invited papers from multiple perspectives, and we are happy to have
welcomed archaeologists, historians and early Christian specialists. Incidentally, there
has been quite a lot of academic workshops and conferences, as well as articles and
books, about the topic of ‘conversion’ recently, such as a conference at King’s College
London (‘Representing self-transformation and conversion in Roman literature’, 2930 June, 2015) or the forthcoming volume Conversion in Late Antiquity: Christianity,
Islam and beyond, edited by N. McLynn, A. Papaconstantinou and D. Schwarz (Averil
Cameron’s opening chapter is available to view on academia.edu). From the
traditional concept of conversion to/from a religion, to literary transformation,
imperial image management and topographical evolutions, our workshop has covered
the wide range of interpretations that the concept of ‘conversion’ invites, and we have,
I believe, brought our own stone to the edifice.
Our contributors were split into three panels: ‘Topographic Conversions’;
‘Imperial Conversions’; ‘Christian Conversions’, of which a short summary is
provided below. It was interesting to see so many interpretations of the theoretical
framework of ‘conversions’ work alongside one another and find common ground in
the archaeological, textual, legal and artistic evidence presented. Cross-overs were
discovered in unexpected places, new evidence brought to light and contrasts
acknowledged. The day closed with a round table discussion about the current state of
Late Antique studies and issues of periodization and affiliation (specifically in relation
to Classical Studies). The discussion was friendly, animated and focused and I, for
one, thoroughly enjoyed the day.
Topographic Conversions:
The opening paper of this year’s workshop was ably presented by Maria
Kneafsey (Exeter) on the topic of burial boundaries of Late Antique Rome. After a
presentation of past and present scholarly arguments as to why intra-muros burials
occurred in that period, Maria made a case for a more pragmatic approach to the
question. Rather than the hand of the Church, or the impact of ‘social trauma’ after the
sack of Rome, the aspect of spatial availability and changing relationship between
urban space and city walls was emphasised. Questions focused mainly on the role of
city walls (pragmatic defences, prestige projects, symbolic structures) and on the
specificity of Rome (comparisons with Ostia were put forward). Most interesting, for
me, was the mention of intra-muros burials inside public buildings, such as baths.

when and why. Having established that the neoplatonic community of Athens was small.Following Maria. could explain the discrepancy of the treatment of Maximian between the works of Eusebius. and the re-use of public statues and reliefs in private spaces was exceedingly rare. Refreshingly. with discussions on mints and imperial numismatic agency. demonstrated that many ‘identified’ neoplatonic and pagan sites were in fact doubtful. but was demonstrated to have been but a part of a fast-changing political context. From panegyrics and histories to coins. for it enabled the appropriation of space and associations from the temple to the church it was converted into (what Ian termed ‘the less tangible aspects of architectural conversion’). This paper sparked a lively debate about the place of pagan/Christian inter-relations within modern scholarship as well as about archaeological identification of ‘pagan sites. like Maria’s analysis of intra-mural burials. Taylor wove her argument around several interconnected questions: who needed to defend whose imperial legitimacy. The closing paper of this panel was provided by Lea Niccolai (Scuola Normale Superiore. from respected senior tetrarch to usurper to bad patriarch to ‘rehabilitation’. an interesting point was made in relation to the harbour site at Side. Ian argued for a stronger place to be devoted to the symbolic role of ruins and of the spoliation and construction process in conversion projects. the church which was then implanted on the site and the sea view (and view of the site from the sea). the figure of Constantine did not occupy the historiographical centrestage. and often overemphasised by modern scholarship. Finally. this paper brought a well deserved focus on the Valentinian dynasty and its oftforgotten role in the increasingly Christian self-representation of fourth-century emperors. Silviu Anghel (Gottingen) moved the debate to Athens and pagan philosophy. Lactantius and Constantinian coinage. Most interestingly. The image of Maximian. was traced through the political upheavals of the early fourth-century. After Taylor. Were their policies ‘Christian’? Did they in fact ease off pressure off pagans? Questions about sorcery legislation and trials (and their political or religious nature) occupied much of the debate as well as the actual impact of Ambrose’s ‘advice’ on Theodosius I. This theoretically sound and inquisitive paper engaged with notions of expediency and Christian triumphalism. Taylor argued. Silviu. and added a pinch of phenomenology to the debate. The uncertainty created by such a fast pace. Taylor managed to make use of a varied set of evidence and complex political narrative in a clear and comprehensive fashion. Pisa) on the rhetorical motif of the barbarian in Julian’s dialogue . as attested by the (fascinating) Vari cave and Sokrateion. Joel Leslie (Glasgow) brought us a little forward in the fourth century and charted the role Christianity in the construction of the role of the Emperor from Constantine’s conversion to Theodosius I’s cunctos populos. Imperial Conversions: The first paper in this second session was delivered by Taylor FitzGerald (Exeter). Silviu then argued that it was no less vocal (especially ‘stubborn Proculus’) and that it had a policy of conversion of Athenian landmarks into places of connection with the philosophical and pagan past of Athens. Questions about the frequency and modalities of temple conversions in the Empire followed. Among the audience. and with the relationship between the temple. coins seem to have gathered some interest.’ The concluding paper in this panel was delivered by Ian McElroy (Glasgow) on the conversion of temples in the Eastern Mediterranean. through archaeological case studies.

was rather lass doctrinal than could be expected. with a presentation of the conversion activities of a little known bishop. under Hypatia and had first attempted to pursue a rhetorical career at the imperial court). Christian Conversions: Last but not least came the topic of Christian conversions. Roundtable: . and the question of the place of doctrine in local ecclesiastical politics picked up from where it had left after Alex’ paper. population. On the contrary. Severinus of Noricum. After reminding the audience of the philosophical and rhetorical background of Synesius (he studied in Alexandria. and at times. Arian. The last paper of our workshop was delivered by Robin Whelan (TORCH. He demonstrated that the ethnic element taken for granted by modern scholarship was far from established. His conversion strategy. Robin focused at first on the concept of lex gothica/gothicorum. the frontier bishop. He identified autobiographical elements and concluded that the Hymn was written within the context of Synesius’ baptism. In that sense. as well as with Catholic/Homoian relations at the Gothic courts. ‘conversion’ was interpreted as a ‘change of course’. differed greatly from other Nicene bishops. context of production and individual passages. Brasenose. Alex presented a macro-micro analysis of the Hymn. In contrast to Severinus of Noricum’s conversion strategy. In that sense. The audience was eager to learn more about the barbarian. and the Antiochenes’ self-presentation as paragons of ‘Greekness’ to luxury-loving anti-philosophers. as well as in the place of Trinitarian doctrinal statements in baptismal contexts. Other members of the audience also engaged with the issue of the labelling of Arian/Homoian communities. barbarian. Nicholas noted. who analysed Synesius of Cyrene’s Hymn 1. Following Alex came Nicholas Mataya (Swansea). especially in its connections (or not!) to the concepts of lex romana or lex catholica. First on the stand was Alex Petkas (Princeton). The audience was interested in expanding Alex’s template analysis to further examples. especially when looking more closely at the contexts in which it appeared. looking at both overall structure. church estates confiscated. Rugian population whom Severinus interacted with. even his biographer was unsure about his conversion actions. The ‘boorish Gauls’ were thus converted by Julian from uncultured outsiders to models of philosophical simplicity. Severinus was revealed to have been a connected (he received relics from Ambrose) and educated Nicene bishop in a region with a heavy Arian. as was his childhood in Gaul and its impact on this treatise. and the division between Homoian and Nicene communities was of great concerns to the Arian side too. Nicholas ably demonstrated. Julian’s use of traditional ethnic stereotypes was further discussed in audience questions. Severinus. The rhetorical conversion of this motif and the to-and-fro between the two points of view was skilfully highlighted by Lea with a very efficient use of textual analysis. a debate which carried on in the roundtable.with the Christian Antiochenes in his Misopogon. The concept of lex gothica was of particular interest to me. it was shown that the Homoian communities of Ostrogothic Italy were in fact very much concerned with doctrine and with the construction of righteous Christian communities: tracts were produced (including the very interesting Collectio Veronensis). Oxford) in a very stimulating presentation of Homoian Christianity in Ostrogothic Italy. Severinus seems to have deliberately played down doctrinal differences and emphasised Christian duties such as charity and solidarity. bought and sold.

and the cause of a lack of unity between late antique scholars. religious. The question of the inherently diachronic periodization of Late Antiquity (which the Oxford Bibliographies entry recently described as a period of ‘multiple transformations: political. theoretical basis? Or are we stronger for the variety of approaches and evidence we are able to display? . to find a more positive term than Late Antiquity to counteract this perception effectively). even when concerned with ‘conversions’. in an increasingly difficult job market: as a late antique scholar? A classicist? A medievalist? A theologian? Lastly. it was proposed. economic. the limited use of theory in late antique studies was flagged up as both the consequence of the limited place devoted to this aspect of historical research in university courses. as it seemed at odds with the synchronic perspectives of many of the papers presented. social. which looks increasingly rarely back to Classical times for comparison (although popular perception still associates this historical period with the notion of Dark Ages. affiliation and job titles still lagged behind (although some progress is being made in degree titles). Could Late Antiquity. in my opinion. and we might need. and cultural’) was discussed first.This part of the workshop was. It was then argued that in spite of the newly gained scholarly acknowledgement of late antique studies as a relevant field in itself. like reception studies and gender scholars. Issues with the negative aspect of the term Late Antiquity were also pointed out as being at odds with current scholarly practice. Questions were asked and solutions debated as to how to publicise one’s research identity. the most successful. and original. gain from developing an academic identity based on a shared.