The Beginnings of Domestic Religion in Ancient Christianity

From Literary Sources to Archaeological Remains of Religious Practice in oikos, familia and domus  


Head (archaeological part): A. Pülz

Project Staff: V. Fugger

Christianity did not evolve from a public cult, rather, it developed in the private context  of the family and home. Much interest has been paid to the investigation of the early communities and the development of official Christian worship. Yet, studying domestic and family space being used for daily religiosity and piety was unconsidered for a long time and only became of more interest in recent times. It was precisely the view of daily experiences in religious practice that opened up a completely new perspective regarding Christianity in antiquity. The aim of the project is to study this essential part of Christian cultural life in antiquity. Taking the processes of transformation during the start of Christianity into consideration, the characteristics of „not-public“ and familiar Christianity during the Greek and Roman eras until late antiquity will be investigated. This will be done by examining literary as well as archaeological  testimonies using complementary methodologies.

This project is part of a larger research programme that examines literary and material evidence in relation to domestic religion in early Christianity. As a  cooperation-project of the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Vienna (Institute for New Testament Studies) and the Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture, the research comprises two thematic sections. While one part studies the basis  of literary sources related to researching domestic religious and social conditions, the other part deals with tangible archaeological evidence in Christian households. In the process, numerous finds, artefacts and architectural remains will be analyzed in order to attest Christian religious practice in the home. Starting from domestic pagan cults with their diverse social dimensions, certain questions are of key interest. How did the shape of domestic cult shrines change, once the inhabitants became Christians? How were such installations adapted for new beliefs? Which objects replaced former votives, altars, lararia, or other objects of domestic devotion?

The archaeological evidence from the 3rd to 6th century AD revolves mainly, although not exclusively, around the developments in the eastern Roman Empire. In particular, more recent finds from Ephesus, Hierapolis, Sardis or Sagalassos shed new light on the process of transformation which emerged during the transition from pagan to Christian cult practices in the home and family. At the same time, these finds serve as a starting point for further exploration of domestic religiosity and its various manifestations in late antiquity. Together with the Protestant theology subproject this research strives to better understand the design or redesign of domestic religiosity in Christianity and its impact on social structures and material culture.

Fig. 1: Pompeii, Casa dei Vettii, Lararium (after Fröhlich 1991, Pl. 7)
Fig. 2: Ephesus, Terrace House I, Taberna IX, south wall with cross (after N. Zimmermann – S. Ladstätter, Wall Painting in Ephesos from Hellenistic to Byzantine Times (Vienna 2010), 184, fig. 337)

Literature

K. Bowes, „Christianization“ and the Rural Home, JEChrSt 15 (2007), 143-170.

B. Brenk, Die Christianisierung der spätrömischen Welt (Wiesbaden 2003).

F. DʼAndria et al., L’iscrizione dipinta con la preghiera di Manasse a Hierapolis di Frigia (Turchia), RendPontAc 78 (2005-06), 349-449.

T. Fröhlich, Lararien- und Fassadenbilder in den Vesuvstädten. Untersuchungen zur „volkstümlichen“ pompejanischen Malerei (Mainz 1991).

F. Giacobello, Larari pompeiani. Iconografia e culto dei Lari in età romana (Mailand 2008).

L. LavanL. ÖzgenelA. Sarantis (Hrsg.), Housing in late antiquity (Leiden 2007).

E. Rathmayr, Götter- und Kaiserkult im privaten Wohnbereich anhand von Skulpturen aus dem Hanghaus 2 in Ephesos, RHM 48 (2006), 103-133.

M. Rautman, The aura of affluence: domestic scenery in late Roman Sardis, in: N. D. Cahill (Hrsg.), Love for Lydia: a Sardis anniversary volume presented to Crawford H. Greenewalt, (Cambridge 2008), 147-158.

C. Sfameni, Residenze e culti in età tardoantica (Rom 2014).

I. Uetterhoeven et al., Bits and pieces. Wall paintings in the Late-Antique Urban Mansion of Sagalassos, in: N. Zimmermann (Hrsg.), Antike Wandmalerei zwischen Lokalstil und Zeitstil? Akten des XI. AIPMA-Kolloquiums vom 13.-17. September 2010, Ephesos (Wien 2014).