Pilgrims' Inscriptions, Movement, and Devotion between Byzantium and Rus' in the 5th-15th Centuries C.E.

(FWF project I 5286-G25: 01.10.2021-30.09.2025)

(international project FWF - Russian Fund for Basic Research)

Beginning from as early as the 4th century AD, first as a result of the emperor Constantine I’s welcoming policy towards Christianity, and through its subsequent rise to the status of the state religion of the Roman Empire, streams of pilgrims to the holy sites and other places of worship are increasingly on record. Pilgrims’ journeys find expression in written sources, most centrally in hagiography. They would also manifest themselves through material culture, in buildings and portable objects that pilgrims took with them on their journeys or brought home from the holy sites as tokens of memory and piety.

Little attention, however, has been so far paid to inscriptions left by pilgrims either on their journey to and from the pilgrimage sites, or within the holy spaces themselves. While medieval Latin (Western European) areas and their epigraphy has attracted academic attention, there has hardly been any research on the Greek-speaking, i.e. Byzantine, East. This is also true for inscriptional evidence of pilgrims from Rus' – the medieval Russian realm. In the holy places of the East, we find both Greek and Old Russian inscriptions left by pilgrims. These inscriptions are of "informal" character, and typically described as graffiti and dipinti. They range from mere mentions of names and brief invocations to God, the Virgin Mary, or saints, to more extended texts placed in building structures. As today, the wish to immortalize oneself epigraphically came alongside with the desire to demonstrate visitation of a sacred place or to document one's pilgrimage.

The documentation of Greek and Old Russian inscriptions collected in the course of the project “Epigraphies of Pious Travel” will serve not only to create a profile of a typically medieval pilgrim of the Christian east, but also to reconstruct and visualize pilgrimage routes. The pilgrimage routes led primarily to and through Asia Minor (for example, Ephesus, Aphrodisias, and Myra) and the Levant, but beyond that also to the north. We find Greek pilgrimage inscriptions in churches of Rus', such as the church of St Sophia in Kiev, just as we find ancient Russian pilgrimage inscriptions at Byzantine sites such as Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

Within the framework of the project, the pilgrim inscriptions will be made available in an open access online database. In addition, the pilgrimage routes will be made visible on the basis of the inscribed testimonies in an interactive map that will also be openly accessible. Alongside creating the scholarly tools, the project will encompass significant research agenda, with numerous publications and a major conference to be held in Vienna.


Cooperation partners 

• Ina Eichner, Austrian Academy of Sciences: project on pilgrimage • Antonio Felle, University of Bari: publications and projects on Graffiti • Estelle Ingrand-Varenne, University of Poitiers: project on Latin graffiti in Eastern Mediterranean • Andreas Külzer, Austrian Academy of Sciences: publications on Byzantine pilgrimage • Paweł Nowakowski, University of Warsaw: projects on the epigraphies of Asia Minor • Giorgos Pallis, University of Athens: Byzantine epigraphy, art history and archaeology • Johannes Preiser-Kapeller, Austrian Academy of Sciences: OpenAtlas and Geodata • Ian Rutherford, University of Reading: project on pilgrimage inscriptions in Egypt • Mustafa Sayar, Istanbul University: publications on late antique epigraphy and archaeology • Ida Toth, Oxford University: publications and projects on late antique and Byzantine epigraphy


Andreas Rhoby (project leader)

Rachael Helen Banes (pre-doc researcher, 01.10.2021-30.09.2025)