Early Christianity

Archaeology Blog: Back in the Trenches

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1044826_284063198406330_1967207058_nI write this page to educate people on archaeology and history but there is nothing more educating than experience. My first week back at the site of Antiochia ad Cragum has been revealing and fun. Revealing because you realise that even those people with the enthusiasm to actually go on a dig for the first time come with so many preconceptions which is something I often forget because I have now been digging so long. Fun because I’m back in the trenches with awesome eccentric people, archaeology breeds eccentricity and craziness.

After flying into Istanbul for a few days we are now in Gazipasa in Southern Turkey after a long commute down to Antalya and then through Alanya on the bus for three hours. The Antiochia ad Cragum Research Project is a joint venture between field school students, specialists and enthusiasts like myself, staff from the University of Nebraska, Clark University and Ataturk University. So despite having been at this dig before, it is a whole new assortment of faces and experience levels. Most common experience level being zero. But that is good too, we get to mould minds and they get a life changing experience because that is often what archaeology is. It gives you a new appreciation of history, hard work, team work, new cultures and the wind on a very hot smouldering day where you feel like you are dying but somehow manage to get through it before falling into the pub for beer.

This year we are focusing on the agora down by the larger bath house inside the city gates. The area has not previously been excavated and has grown over significantly. The bath house itself is the realm of the Ataturk University team led by Professor Birol Can. This year they are extending the excavation of the mosaic (which you can see in the news) which is one of the biggest in the area. So far they have uncovered approximately half of it in previous years and half of a pool with a marble base. The mosaic also appears to extend outside the doorway that was discovered at one end of the mosaic last year. It will be a while until they are in a position to excavate more of the area inside the bathhouse itself but so far they have uncovered an inscription on the wall which I will be translating and hopefully preparing for publishing later in the season. Which is exciting because Bean and Mitford have previously published most of the inscriptions on the site so a new one is awesome. Additionally I personally am working on two dice oracle inscriptions in the block field near the temple on the site and a Latin milestone which has somehow made its way into the early Christian church outside the city gates. But first the agora…

We spent the first two days of the dig clearing a forest of brush that covered the area of the agora. The Turkish workmen, led by the SuperTurk Rahmi, were an amazing asset considering they had a chain saw and superhuman skills that makes me believe that they are in fact aliens from the planet Turkjeon. Underneath the brush you could already see columns from the original structure scattered throughout the area. As brush for gradually removed more features came to light including a possible temple area and a raised walkway area. A number of decorated marble blocks could also be seen after the central area of thick bush was removed. After the bush was finally removed and the tedious dragging of trees and twigs back and forth to the spoil pile finally drove us all mad, the digging could finally begin.

Out of the group this year digging in the agora there are only three members who are actually archaeologists: Myself, my partner Rob and Helen who is an Australian archaeologist from Melbourne dipping her toe into Classical archaeology. And thus the three site supervisors were born! So far we have begun opening five trenches. Three are located on or next to the possible temple mount, one has been placed on the walkway to the side of the main area up several steps and full of roots, and the last is located in the main open area where the marble carved blocks were located previously. This year the field school students appear to be an excellent bunch. They have already proved to be hard and diligent workers in the initial brush clearing stages and they have enthusiastically thrown themselves into the trenches. While some have admitted that they never expected this and expected brushing of small rocks, none have taken a step back and are instead asking intelligent questions for the most part and are keen to learn which is great and somewhat unusual. Hopefully the heat won’t kill any of them before we get the work done…

The Clark University students are up in the block field and going slightly mad in the heat but have already made a great start into drawing and mapping the blocks from the temple for future reconstruction. And with that I end my first blog back in Turkey. Let the archaeology continue. 🙂

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Antiochia ad Cragum: Archaeology Blog 2013

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Deutsch: Burgberg mit Zitadelle von Antiochia ...
Fortress above Antiochia ad Cragum

Only eleven days until travel and digging resumes for the 2013 season. This year we will be working on the agora it seems, shop complex and mosaic so you are bound to see lots of photos and interesting reports from this years season. So here is some background information on this amazing site where we will be digging and translating.

Excavations are currently being undertaken by the Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project headed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the area of Rough Cilicia in modern Turkey.[1] The excavation site of Antiochia ad Cragum (Αντιόχεια Κράγου) is located about 8 miles to the East of the modern town of Gazipaşa, in the area of the village of Guney. Over the centuries, Antiochia ad Cragum has also been known by the names of Antiochetta and Antiochia Parva which basically translates to ‘little Antiochia’. The additional name ‘ad Cragum’ comes from the site’s position on the steep cliffs (Cragum) overlooking the Mediterranean coast in Southern Anatolia. The site covers an area of around three hectares and contains the remains of baths, market places, colonnaded streets with a gateway, an early Christian basilica, monumental tombs, a temple, and several unidentified buildings. The city itself was built on the sloping ground that comes down from the Taurus Mountain range which terminates at the shore creating steep cliffs; in some places several hundred metres high. The temple complex is situated on the highest point of the city and most of the building material remains though in a collapsed state. There is also evidence of a gymnasium complex nearby.

The harbour at Antiochia ad Cragum measures about 250,000m squared and is one of the few large, safe harbours along the coast East of Alanya.[2] On its Eastern side are two small coves suitable for one or two ships but with limited opportunity for shipping and fishing due to wave activities. The area is well situated as a defensible position against invaders. Recent terrestrial survey at Antiochia ad Cragum has had emphasis on finding evidence of pirate activity which has been limited, but it has turned up pottery principally from the Byzantine Period with additional pottery from the late Bronze Age, Hellenistic and Roman Periods.[3] Thirty stone weights and anchors have been uncovered, alongside lead stocks from wooden anchors and almost twenty iron anchors representing the early Roman through Ottoman periods.[4] There is little evidence of pre-Roman occupation at the fortress or pirate’s cove at Antiochia ad Cragum. Banana terracing may have caused much of the evidence to have been erased. The maritime survey has turned up shipping jars, transport amphoraes and anchors from the Byzantine, Roman and Hellenistic periods as well as a range of miscellaneous items. It is not possible to date the stone weights and anchors at present, but further research may assist in their analysis.[5] Many of them are small and likely to represent local fishing activities over a long period of time. The assemblage appears to indicate early activity to the West of the harbor moving East over time.[6] Access to the site these days is through the Guney village grave yard and past the old school house which is now used as the excavation’s artefact and equipment house.

History of the Site

The city of Antiochia ad Cragum was officially founded by Antiochis IV around 170 BC when he came to rule over Rough Cilicia. The site and its harbor likely served as one of the many havens for Cilician pirates along the South Anatolian coast, this is because of its small coves and hidden inlets. Unfortunately no definite pirate related artefacts or buildings are visible in the modern day. Antiochia ad Cragum’s pirate past ended with Pompey’s victory in the first century BC and the takeover of Antiochia IV. Initial occupation appears to have occurred in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, followed by a surge of activity in the Roman periods.[7] The area of Antiochia ad Cragum is also neighboured by a citadel on the Western peninsula which was built by Armenian princes and a well-preserved necropolis on the South-Eastern peninsula.

Pompey ended the pirate menace in 67 AD with a naval victory at nearby Korakesion, modern day Alanya. The emperor Gaius gave control of Rough Cilicia after this episode to the client king of Rome, Antiochis IV of Commagene around AD 38 and later in 41 AD under Claudius. After Pompey’s victory he founded and named Antiochia after himself but was removed by Vespasian in 72 AD. With this later change of control, Antiochia ad Cragum and the rest of Rough Cilicia fell under direct Roman rule as part of the enlarged Roman province of Cilicia. The numismatic evidence left at the site shows that there was a working mint at Antiochia for several centuries after the Roman takeover. One coin dates from 139-161 AD and reads of Marcus Aurelius as Caesar on the obverse with a nude male god holding a long sceptre and a mantle over his shoulder.[8] Other coins from Antiochia ad Cragum date from the mid-third century AD, with examples detailing Philip I and Trajan Decius.[9]

History of Excavations

The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project (ACARP) was founded by Professor Michael Hoff from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Rhys Townsend from Clark University in 2005. ACARP started off as a facet of the regional survey, the Rough Cilicia Archaeological Survey Project (RCASP) which ran under the field direction of Nicholas Rauh of Purdue University. The aim of RCASP was to document and record the physical remains of the major cities and minor sites within the survey zone, this zone included the site of Antiochia ad Cragum. The members of the RCASP research team have already prepared and published a number of publications detailing the progress of the survey.

In the summer of 2005 Hoff and Townsend formed the separate project at Antiochia ad Cragum with the collaboration of architectural engineer Ece Erdoğmuş who is also from the University of Nebraska.[10] Originally the project at Antiochia ad Cragum began operating under the aegis of the local archaeological museum in Alanya. But in 2008 it was granted a full excavation permit by the Archaeological Directorate of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Professor Hoff is a professor of Art History in the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he has been since 1989. Hoff specializes in Greek and Roman archaeology. Townsend is a lecturer with the Department of Visual and Performing Arts in the Art History Program at Clark University.[11]

The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project has several goals which will hopefully be achieved in the next few years. The project will be pioneering in architectural and archaeological studies in Rough Cilicia. The main goal is the restoration of the temple to a sufficient point. The temple reconstruction is a huge work in progress as currently the project does not know how much of the architecture can be reused. This will not be determined until the marble blocked have been removed to the adjacent block fields, cleaned and repaired. After this has been achieved and the podium of the temple has been completely revealed and assessed, then the extent of the restoration can be determined and a full and detailed plan for restoration can be submitted to the Preservation Board of Historical Buildings in Antalya. This plan and its subsequent approval will be needed before final submission to the Ministry of Culture in Ankara for actual permission to carry out restoration.

The goals for the temple are shared by the local governmental authorities and the Ministry of Culture in a collaboration involving archaeologists, engineers, authorities and preservation officials. There is also a huge collaboration with the local villagers who reap many of the benefits of the excavations. They receive short-term employment opportunities as workers and guards on site and also long-term economic gain and education from the project. The site foreman who looks after the site year round is also a prominent member of the local community in the village of Guney and banana grower.

The first full season of digging at Antiochia ad Cragum began in 2005 and began by documenting the temple’s remains by surveying every block in situ with a total station. Two-hundred and seventy blocks were recorded which will be used to create an accurate plan of the blocks and their find spots. This allowed the researchers to determine the basic structure of the temple and some of the decoration and moulding that originally were associated into the structure. At this point, the dedicatee of the temple was unknown but bust remains suggest possibly Apollo or an Imperial personage. The 2005 season hypothesized that the temple belonged to the first half of the third century AD.[12]

The 2007 and 2008 seasons of the excavation saw a total of four-hundred and ten blocks catalogued, almost 50% of the material of the collapsed structure.[13] In 2008, the excavation team used Ground Penetrating Radar to survey for underground features. This first focused on the block field to make sure they were free of anomalies. The GPR unit was also used to survey the top of the temple platform and it indicated the presence of an intact arched vault underneath the stone platform. This chamber was already suspected because temples nearby at Selinus and Nephelion include the same form of feature. Additionally Professor Erdoğmuş began analysis of the block and lime mortar on site in order to gather authentic materials and assess the condition of the existing materials for the restoration process.[14]

The 2009 season saw the team continue the architectural block recording and removal as well as remote sensing and excavation. The architectural block removal focused on the western and southern quadrants of the collapsed temple with refined documentation and photographic techniques. The blocks were removed with the help of a local crane operator who became adept at carefully lifting the ancient material. By the end of the season there was three block fields being used and four-hundred and thirty-four blocks successfully moved and five-hundred and forty-six blocks catalogued with almost half drawn. This has left three sides of the temple cleared with the east side still to be cleared. GPR was also used to scan the suspected vaulted chamber. 2009 excavations of the deposits under the platform allowed further scans to be undertaken and further indication of the vaulted chamber. Fiberscopic Remote Inspection equipment was also utilized to investigate the original structural and architectural designs of the temple. Several cavities were investigated but unfortunately none allowed for deep probing.[15]

The excavations focused on the temple mound in 2009 starting with two small trenches (001 and 002) in the northern quadrant. Trench 001 revealed a long wall running parallel to the cella wall alongside the Eastern side of the temple podium. Much pottery and a frieze fragment was uncovered as well as a decorated columnar drum fragment. Trench 002 revealed little information concerning post-antique usage of the structure. Thick marble fragments of a floor were uncovered in both trenches 001 and 002. The suspected chamber vault’s entrance remained undiscovered after no evidence of an internal staircase was found. A trench 003 was also excavated to probe the exterior rear façade of the temple. Excavation through the fill around the temple revealed no discernible stratigraphy. Trench 003 also revealed the top of the base moulding of the temple supporting a large orthostate course.

Erdogmus, E., Buckley, C.M., and H.Brink, ‘The Temple of Antioch: A Study of Abroad Internship for Architectural Engineering Students’, AEI 2011: Building Integration Solutions: Proceedings of the 2011 Architectural Engineering National Conference, March 30 – April 2, 2011, (Oakland, 2011), 1-9

Hoff, M., “Interdisciplinary Assessment of a Roman Temple: Antiochia ad Kragos (Gazipasha, Turkey),” (with E. Erdogmus, R. Townsend, and S. Türkmen) in A. Görün, ed., Proceedings of the International Symposium on Studies on Historical Heritage, September 2007, Antalya, Turkey (Istanbul 2007) 163–70.

Hoff, M., “Bath Architecture of Western Rough Cilicia,” in Hoff and Townsend, eds. Rough Cilicia, New Historical and Archaeological Approaches. An International Symposium held at the University of Nebraska, October 2007 (Oxford 2011) 12 page ms; forthcoming.

Hoff, M., “Lamos in Rough Cilicia: An Architectural Survey,” (with R. Townsend) Olba 17. Proceedings of the IVth International Symposium on Cilician Archaeology, Mersin University, Mersin, Turkey, June 4–6, 2007 (Mersin 2009) 1-22.

Hoff, M., “Life in the Truck Lane: Urban Development in Western Rough Cilicia,” (with N. Rauh, R. Townsend, M. Dillon, M. Doyle, C. Ward, R. Rothaus, H. Caner, U. Akkemik, L. Wandsnider, S. Ozaner, and C. Dore) Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien (JÖAI) 78 (2009) 169 page ms; forthcoming.

Hoff, M., “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007) 231–44.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2009 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 8 (2010) 9-13.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 27. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (27th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium).Turkish Ministry of Culture, Ankara 2009 (with R. Townsend and E. Erdogmus) 461-70.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 7 (2009) 6-11.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 25. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (25th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2009) 95-102.

Hoff, M., “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season,” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend, S. Türkmen) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 6 (2008) 95-99.

Hoff, M., “The Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 4 (2006) 99–104.
Hoff, M. and R. Townsend, eds. Rough Cilicia. New Historical and Archaeological Approaches. An International Symposium held at the University of Nebraska, October 2007 (Oxford 2011) forthcoming.

Marten, M.G., ‘Spatial and Temporal Analyses of the Harbor at Antiochia ad Cragum’ (2005) Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations Paper 2715

Turner, C.H., ‘Canons Attributed to the Council of Constantinople, A.D. 381, Together with the Names of the Bishops, from Two Patmos MSS POB’ POG’ ’, The Journal of Theological Studies (1914) M: 72


[1] I’d like to thank Professor Michael Hoff of the University of Nebraska for the permission and freedom to write articles based on the excavations which are due to be published this year, in addition to Associate Professor Birol Can of Ataturk University for his kind permission to publish information on the mosaic and current excavations being undertaken by Ataturk University at Antiochia ad Cragum.

[2] Marten, M.G., ‘Spatial and Temporal Analyses of the Harbor at Antiochia ad Cragum’ (2005) Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations Paper 2715: 5

[3] Marten 2005: 63-68

[4] Marten 2005: 43, 50

[5] Marten2005: 43

[6] Marten 2005: 56, fig. 4.2 – Antiochia ad Cragum Artifact Distribution

[7] University of Nebraska Lincoln Website, Project History – http://antiochia.unl.edu/projecthistory.shtml

[8] Antiocheia (AD 139-161) AE 26 – Marcus Aurelius 100 views Marcus Aurelius as Caesar, 139-161 AD. AE26 (10.40g). ΑΥΡΗΛΙΟC ΚΑΙCΑΡ, head right / ΑΝΤΙΟΧЄΩΝ Τ-ΗC ΠΑΡΑΛΙΟΥ, nude male god holding long scepter, mantle over shoulder. Nice green patina, VF.

[9] Antiocheia (AD 244-249) AE 29 – Philip I58 views Philip I, 244-249 AD. AE29 (13.00g). Laureate draped and cuirassed bust right / ANTIOXЄωN THC ΠAPAΛIOV, eagle on wreath. Very fine; Antiocheia (AD 249-251) AE 26 – Trajan Decius279 viewsTrajan Decius, 249-251 AD. AE26 (7.83g). Laureate, draped, and cuirassed bust right / Eagle standing facing on wreath, head left. Good VF, jade green patina.

[10] “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007): 231–44.

[11] Project Sponsors include: National Science Foundation, Loeb Classical Library Foundation, Harvard University, Research Council, University of Nebraska, Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Nebraska, College of Fine and Performing Arts, University of Nebraska, Dean’s Office, Clark University

[12] “The Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 4 (2006): 99–104; “Rough Cilicia Archaeological Project: 2005 Season,” (with Rhys Townsend and Ece Erdogmus) 24. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (24th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2007): 231–44.

[13] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2007 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 25. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (25th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium). Turkish Ministry of Culture (Ankara 2009): 95-102.

[14] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2008 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), 27. Arastirma Sonuçlari Toplantisi (27th Annual Archaeological Survey Symposium).Turkish Ministry of Culture, Ankara 2009 (with R. Townsend and E. Erdogmus): 461-70

[15] “The Antiochia ad Cragum Archaeological Research Project: Northeast Temple 2009 Season” (with E. Erdogmus and R. Townsend), Anadolu Akdenizi Arkeoloji Haberleri (ANMED) 8 (2010): 9-13.

Pre-Constantinian and Byzantine Christian Attitudes towards Images

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Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...
Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.”

Christian attitudes towards images in the early periods have been the subject of many scholarly debates over the more recent centuries.  First it seems necessary to look at the attitudes of Christians before the time of Constantine through the works of academics and Christian images themselves.  Scholars have often maintained that the attitude of the early Christians towards art was very negative.  Klauser set out to define proof of early Christian opposition to images based n the archaeology of the third and fourth centuries and believed that the attitude towards art was decidedly negative and aniconic.[1]  Finney assesses that the consensus view of images was primarily based on the Judaic roots of Christianity and Exodus 20:4.[2]You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the waters below.’[3]

It is difficult to analysis the attitudes towards images throughout both the pre-Constantinian and Byzantine periods let alone compare them and determine whether there was significant differences in attitudes between the periods.  One of the main reasons for the issues in analysis is the many varying opinions of recent scholars on the attitudes of early Christians.  Adolf Van Harnak for instance believed that early Christianity was undermined and thrown off track by Hellenic influence and that the new ideas and the manufacture of religious images was an intrusive and hostile move by the Greeks.[4] Klauser and Van Harnak among others appear to have set out to prove an opposition to images before the pre-Constantinian period.  This suggests that much of the evidence that scholars were examining of the era was in fact positive towards images.  So how is this positive view of images seen in the archaeology of the period and how does this attitude differ from the post-Constantine/Byzantine period if at all?

Klauser’s three step view of the changing attitudes of the early Christians towards artwork is an interesting standpoint by which to compare the archaeological and written evidence.  Klauser defined the pre-Constantinian period as iconophobic and aniconic on at least a clerical level.  The later periods are defined as a progression through the submission to pressures from the uneducated laity and then the introduction of images into the church itself as a compromise of early attitudes and practices that he describes as typically early Christian.[5]  With these points in mind it is possible to compare and assess the attitudes of the early Christians on art, keeping in mind that the views of the laity and the clerical classes would often differ.  Belting for instance explains that ‘whenever images threatened to gain undue influence within the church, theologians have sought to strip them of their power’[6] where as Klauser’s interpretation of attitudes includes the views of the people being a contributing factor in the placement of images in churches.

The Catacombs at Rome provide a unique standpoint from which the attitude to art and images can be analysed for the first centuries of the Christian religion.  Until recently with the works of Wilpert, the monumental nature of images in the catacombs has been widely ignored.[7]  The catacombs contain a large variety of early Christian artwork and imagery dating from the first to the fifth century AD.[8]  The evolution of imagery can through these examples be traces and in relation the attitudes towards images of the early Christians.  For instance, the earlier images in the catacombs consist of many traditionally pagan ideologies and symbols that have been inserted into a Christian context to serve as part of the new religion with either the same ideas behind them or an idea sculpted to suit a more Christian framework.  The images from the fourth and fifth centuries show an evolution to more crude and clumsy interpretations of the Christian artwork, indicating a change in attitude.  This suggests that the attitudes of the early Christian population pre-Constantine were largely based on a traditional foundation where as the later periods saw a change in attitudes and in relation a change in the imagery displayed.

Virgin and Child. Wall painting from the early...
Virgin and Child. Wall painting from the early catacombs, Rome, 4th century.

Pre-Constantinian attitude to images can also be assessed through the interpretations made of the images in the Rome Catacombs.  Richter asserts that the outcome of the art is very sure of itself indicating that the portrayal of images in a Christian context was a widely accepted and perhaps desirable part of the Christian tradition in the pre-Constantinian period.[9]  This idea is also expressed by the evidence of conformity to prototypes seen in the catacombs which suggests that certain images were widely displayed.  For instance, two images of the good shepherd in the catacomb of Domitilla which resemble each other in ‘conception and motive, but differ in important details…although evidently deprived from a common prototype.’[10]  Other images in the catacombs that appear to conform to a common prototype include the breaking of bread and the adoration of the Magi.[11]  Along with this evidence of commonality, scholars have asserted in recent years that the Christians wished to adorn the tombs of their loved ones with images like those that had been put up in their earthly homes, indicating a link to traditional classical antiquity that the early Christians seem to have continued in part whether purposely or subconsciously.[12]  These points indicate that the Christians of the pre-Constantine period actually held images in some regard despite the opinions of the likes of Van Harnak and Klauser.

Finney asserts that the early third century and before, though being a time of artistic license for much Christian artwork, was also a time of aniconism where many Christians did see images and the display of those images as being against their beliefs.  Finney though also attributed external forces to changing this view suggesting that the negative attitude towards images in relation to the early Christians was from near the beginning a part of their ideals but not so big a part of the overall christian attitude that I could not be swayed.[13]  For instance, in the pre-Constantinian period, Christians who carried out acts of violence directed at Pagan religious artworks would have ‘invited disaster’ suggesting that that attitude was pro-image or at least tolerant.[14]  This tolerance towards images is further evidence in Rome, Ravenna and in many other places in the west which saw works of great importance ‘executed in the early years of Christendom.’[15]

The attitudes of the early Christians towards images in the period of Constantine appear to be continually mixed.  The wide variety of ecclesiastical paintings and works of art displayed and attributed to this period suggests that the general attitude was positive rather than the negative view that Klauser and Van Harnak contribute.[16]  Constantine’s edict of Milan in 313 suggests that he aimed to impress the populace and express the new state religion in a way that would appeal to all.  These edicts saw a turning point in ecclesiastical history but not in art as the old pagan ideas and motifs were simply taken over and ascribed new meanings with few changes in style that could be attributed to the new faith.[17]  Constantine did this through the creation of elaborate churches, paintings and monuments to press the impression of the new religion of the state.[18]  This suggests that the general populace in the time of Constantine had an attitude that was decidedly positive and images were appealing rather than feelings concerning heresy. By impressing the populace in this manner it is indicative that the early Christians who were converted with the enforcement of the state religion and those who were already Christian were not opposed to images and they were accepted in this period as part of the religion itself.

Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as...
Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as patron saint of Istanbul, detail: Emperor Constantine I with a model of the city.

There are many elaborate examples of images being used in conjunction with the new religion early on.  Eusebius for instance describes in his ecclesiastical history the church at Type and its painting and architecture as well as describing in his Vita Constantini the Christian monuments at Constantinople, Nicomedia and Antioch and the architecture of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.[19]  From these descriptions we can assess that the attitude of Christians in the Constantinian period was not entirely negative with Constantine himself (though he is reported to only have become a Christian on his deathbed) encouraging a taste for the liberal arts.[20]  Not only does this express the appeal of artwork to the people and the encouragement of its creation but it also illustrates that with the influence of traditional and pagan attitudes, which were still a significant part of Constantine’s thinking and the state’s, the Christians of this period appear to have acknowledged that art and in relation images had there place in society.

The attitude of early Christian is also illustrated through examples such as the early Christian mosaic at Deir Dakleh.  Dating to about the fourth century AD and discovered in 1918, the mosaic is a fine example of the high standard of art and workmanship that prevailed in the period suggesting that the attitude towards images and artwork was not completely negative.[21]  Artwork such as this indicates again that attitudes were not always towards the negative like many scholars believe but the degradation of the artwork and how like many images it was covered up over time suggests that either by the process of time or influence of changing views even the most highly of praised artwork saw a period where it was in a way downgraded in the hearts of the Christian population.

The use of images was continued in classical themes and elegance in a number of areas after the time of Constantine, for instance in Alexandria long after the adoption of Christianity.[22] This illustrates further that the attitudes were often mixed within the Christian populace as while many condemned it on the influence of Exodus and certain clerical groups and individuals, the artwork of the periods after Constantine before the era of the iconoclast still depicts many classical symbols and traditional images.  Such examples showing this include the niloctic landscape first applied to church decoration in the second half of the fourth century suggesting some symbolic meaning.  Also the famous letter of St. Nilus to Olympiodorus discussing the increasing number of biblical scenes in churches, and scenes on the walls of St. Maggiore in Rome dating to the fifth century indicate an acceptance of imagery despite much negative attention by the church.[23]

The attitude towards the image in the Byzantine period was influenced greatly between then and the pre-Constantinian era.  The constant attack on art by the Christians is seen with the belief that images were linked to atheism and superstition as well as sexual misconduct, a common complaint based on observed behaviour and a link to Judaism.[24]  Images were also condemned in light of apologist standpoints, though Clement applies platonic doctrine to refute the charge of atheism, seeing images as belonging to the plane of error and falsehood as related to platonic doctrine.[25]  For instance, some of the earliest Christian apologists interpreted the story of Diagoras as being in good sense when he ‘recognised a statue as a ‘mere piece of wood and he had the good sense not to confuse divinity…with hyle, which is created and perishable.’[26] This illustrates one of the most prominent attitudes of clerical society on and off throughout the periods which would have influenced the attitudes of the early Christians towards art as the Byzantine period went on despite the regeneration of positive iconophilic ideas and desire for images.

The attitudes towards images however would have like anything been subject to regional diversity and political, cultural and religious spheres of influence.[27]  For example, it is evidence that the elites of the fifth century suddenly and purposely turned against classicism and artistic tradition.  This can be seen in a series of diptychs made by officials in the west.[28]  The fifth century saw many conflicts surrounding this point though works of art continued to be executed in private and public sectors pointing to a continual desire for images in churches by the public and the clerical majorities.  For instance, the detail on the dome at the church of St George at Thessaloniki, showing Saints Onesiphorus and Porphyrius.[29]  This indicates that while in some areas the attitudes towards images were negative especially to the upper classes that held power, in other areas images were being embraced still by the population.

Icons in the Byzantine period are an excellent source of assessment of changing and differing views on images in the period that we can use in our discussion of early Christian attitudes.  Throughout the Byzantine period icons were continually the subject of debate throughout the empire and in a number of Councils in the eighth century.  Belting’s point is considerably the case in relation to iconography as these councils indicate that many ecclesiastical and political groups and individuals condemned the use of art when held a position of power.[30]  The debate over iconography is particularly illustrated as the icon became motive enough for murder and political repression.[31]

From the outset the display of icons was recognised as an adaption of many pagan practices and hence debate on their use appeared almost instantly.[32]  In the eighth century they became the subject of much debate, Gregory of Neo-Caesarea for instance said that ‘the foul name of images, falsely so-called, cannot be justified by the tradition of Christ, nor can it be justified by the tradition of the apostles and the fathers’ at the council of Nicaea in 787.[33]  The opinion of Gregory of Neo-Caesarea, as the tradition of Christians can not justify giving images a foul name, is just one example of one side of the debate that raged for several centuries.  The second Iconoclastic council, that of 787, condemned the definition of the first Iconoclastic council at Hiereia in 754 held under the rule of Constantine V. Both councils and the content of their debates illustrate the strong differing opinions between the iconoclastic and iconophiles factions in the Byzantine world and the mixed attitudes of early Christians on images in this period.

An Iconoclast is describes in the Oxford English dictionary as a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions or ‘a person who destroys images used in religious worship, especially one belonging to a movement opposing such images in the Byzantine Church during the eight and ninth century.’ The Iconoclasts were a faction that had a strong holding in Byzantine society and their attitude towards images is a prime example of what many early Christians thought of images.  This iconoclastic attitude is one of the main reasons that attitudes towards images would have differed from the pre-Constantinian period compared to the Byzantine period.  This attitude whether held by the many or the few within the Christian population had a great influence on the exhibition and creation of images in the public and private sectors.  The influence of the iconoclastic movement would have stuck in the mind of the Christians just as the influence of an historical event or opinion sticks in the minds of anyone as displayed in our own morals and values today; they are based if not completely then at least slightly on those of the past.

The attitude of the majority of the Christian populace is seen with the restoration of icons under Irene from 780 to 802AD during her joint reign with her son Constantine VI.  This illustrates that the attitudes of the populace which Irene is said to have represented were some what differing from that of the powerful clerical individuals and groups in the period.[34]

Hagia Sophia provides us with an excellent source of interpretation for attitudes towards images in the Byzantine period after the Iconoclastic periods.  Hagia Sophia envelopes the trends Byzantine artworks after the controversies that, as discussed above, ruled the eighth and ninth centuries of Christian tradition and thought and expresses a newly registered desire for images to be portrayed that in many ways parallels earlier models.[35] Hagia Sophia also shows us that the attitude of the early Christians in the Byzantine period paralleled in some ways those of the pre-Constantinian age as the Christians looked again to antiquity to help represent aspects of the Christian faith.  For instance, the representation of Christ in the Byzantine times in comparison to pagan representations of Hermes, Dionysis or Apollo, and also often Zeus, Hades and Poseidon.[36]

The attitudes of early Christians in the Byzantine period, though maintaining much of earlier positive vibes that are assessed with the existence and form of pre-Constantinian imagery, was however subject to the influence of the controversies of the centuries.  Morey asserts that the Christians, while they returned to a less negative attitude towards images, remained instinctively distrustful of sculpture and similar forms of imagery due to them being ‘too real’ in their depiction of supernatural themes.[37]  Hagia Sophia is a prime example of how images evolved over time after the Christians decided to look for an ideal ‘commensurate with both the humanity and the divinity of the Son of God.’[38]  The images of Christ and his associates which were for so long through blasphemous by much of the Christian population is seen at places like Hagia Sophia in abundance, displaying how the attitude towards images returned to a more desirable want for them.  The attitude to these images is further backed up by the existence of inscriptions in the same or similar contexts.  For example the inscription on the face of the apsidal arch bearing a similar line to that preserved in the Palatine Anthology, ‘Icons which the imposters here destroyed, the pious sovereigns have restored again.’[39]

Christian Attitudes towards images changed and differed through out the periods from pre-Constantine to the Byzantine period.  Not only was it subject to change over the natural course of time but due to the events that define some of this time; the reign of Constantine, the reigns of emperors after Constantine, the iconoclastic councils and the establishment of an attitude in the majority of the population which was pro-icons. Due to these influential events, edicts and the like, though the attitudes of the early Christians towards images in the Byzantine period were in some ways similar to that of the Pre-Constantinian period, they also differed.  The attitudes of the early Christians throughout the ages is seen in a large number of examples such as the catacombs at Rome in relation to pre-Constantine and the Hagia Sophia in the later times.  These show that attitudes differed over time though some ideas were maintained and renewed at intervals.


Bibliography

An Early Christian Mosaic at Deir Dakleh, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.34, No.193 (Apr., 1919), pp.144-145

Belting, H., Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (London, 1996), pp.1-14, 17-26, 30-36, 49-63, 102-109, 144-155, 164-173, 184-195

Cameron, A., The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (London, 1993), pp.14-92

Cormack, R., Byzantine Art (Oxford, 2000), pp.1-37, 38-75

Downey, G., Education in the Christian Roman Empire: Christian and Pagan Theories under Constantine and His Successors, in Speculum, Vol.32, No.1 (Jan, 1957), pp.48-61

Finney, P.C., The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art (Oxford, 1997), pp.1-15, 39-58, 69, 146, 229

Frend, W.H.C. Religion Popular and Unpopular in the Early Christian Centuries (London, 1976)

Frend, W.H.C., The Rise Of Christianity (Philadelphia, 1984), pp.600-610

Harl, K.W., Sacrifice and Pagan Belief in Fifth- and sixth-Century Byzantium, in Past and Present, No.128 (1990), pp.7-27

Hillgarth, J.N., Christianity and Paganism, 350-750: The Conversion of Western Europe (Pennsylvania, 1969), pp.46-65

Holy Bible: New International Version, Hodder and Stroughton (London, 1996), Exodus 20:4

Kitzinger, E., Byzantine Art in the Making: Main Lines of Stylistic Development in Mediterranean Art 3rd-7th Century (Massachusetts, 1980), pp.7-22, 45-66

Laistner, M.L.W., Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire (New York, 1951), pp.4, 131-138

Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453 (Canada, 1986), pp. 3-21, 32-50, 55, 113-117, 123-181

Mathews, T.F., The Art of Byzantium (London, 1998), pp.7-9, 17-32, 43-70, 111, 137-143

Michaelides, D., The Early Christian Mosaics of Cyprus, in The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol.52, No.4, From Ruins to Riches: CAARI on Cyprus (Dec., 1989), pp.192-202

Morey, C.R., The Mosaics of Hagia Sophia, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol.2, No.7 (Mar., 1944), pp.201-210

Richter, J.P., Early Christian Art in the Roman Catacombs, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.6, No.22 (Jan., 1905), pp.286-262

Spieser, J.M., The Representation of Christ in the Apses of Early Christian Churches, in Gesta, Vol.37, No.1 (1998), pp.63-73

Talbot Rice, D., Art of the Byzantine Era (London, 1997), pp.47-67, 132-135

Talbot Rice, D., Byzantine Icons, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.86, No.506 (May., 1945), pp.127-128

Treadgold, W., A History of the Byzantine State and Society (California, 1997)

Vermeule III, C.C., Roman Art, in Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol.20, No.1, Ancient Art at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), pp.62-77

Whittemore, T., The Unveiling of the Byzantine Mosaics in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, in American Journal of Archaeology, Vol.46, No.2 (Apr.-Jun., 1942), pp.169-171


[1] Finney, P.C., The Invisible God: The Earliest Christians on Art (Oxford, 1997)

Kitzinger, E., Byzantine Art in the Making: Main Lines of Stylistic Development in Mediterranean Art 3rd-7th Century (Massachusetts, 1980), p.9

[2] Ibid., p.15

[3] Holy Bible: New International Version, Hodder and Stroughton (London, 1996), Exodus 20:4

[4] Finney, op.cit., p.8

[5] Finney, op.cit., p.10

[6] Belting, H., Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (London, 1996)

Cormack, R., Byzantine Art (Oxford, 2000), p.1

[7] Richter, J.P., Early Christian Art in the Roman Catacombs, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.6, No.22 (Jan., 1905), p.286 – even though the source for this information is rather old in comparison to today’s newer resources, written 1905, it is still a well defined and structured description of the catacombs at Rome and holds significance evidence of points that are unchanged in the century since it’s publication.

[8] Ibid., p.287 – fifth century is the latest date that can be given to the catacombs images with any certainty as the latest inscription found in the catacombs does not go higher than this century.

[9] Richter, op.cit., p.290

[10] Ibid., p.290

[11] Ibid., p.292

[12] Ibid., p.292

[13] Finney, op.cit., p.9

[14] Ibid., p.39

[15] Talbot Rice, D., Art of the Byzantine Era (London, 1997), p.7

[16] Finney, op.cit., p.8

[17] Talbot Rice, op.cit., p.9

[18] Mango, C., The Art of the Byzantine Empire 312-1453 (Canada, 1986), p.3

[19] Eusebius, Hist. Eccles X, 4.37ff – the church of Tyre (c.317) – describing painting in 63 – Mango, op.cit., p.9

[20] Cod.Theod XIII, 4.1 – edict of Constantine to the Praetorian Prefect Felix, posted at Carthage in 334 – ‘need as many architects as possible…encourage…a taste of liberal arts’ – Mango, op.cit., p.14

[21] An Early Christian Mosaic at Deir Dakleh, in The Burlington Magazines for Connoisseurs, Vol.34, No.193 (Apr., 1919), p.145

[22] Talbot Rice, op.cit., p.14

[23] Mango, op.cit., p.22

[24] Finney, op.cit., p.40

[25] Ibid., p.43

[26] Ibid., p.49

[27] Kitzinger, E., Byzantine Art in the Making: Main Lines of Stylistic Development in Mediterranean Art 3rd-7th Century (Massachusetts, 1980), p.45

[28] Ibid., p.47

[29] Ibid., p.54

[30] Belting, op.cit., p.1

[31] Mathews, T.F., The Art of Byzantium (London, 1998), p.43

[32] Ibid., p.45

[33] Finney, op.cit., p.5

[34] De sacris aedibus Deiparae ad fontum, p.880, Mango, op.cit., p.156

[35] Morey, C.R., The Mosaics of Hagia Sophia, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol.2, No.7 (Mar., 1944), p.202

[36] Ibid., p.202

[37] Ibid., p.202

[38] Ibid., p.202

[39] Morey, op.cit., p.206