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Christian Diversity in Late Antique Sirmium (ca 350 – ca 450): A Historical, Literary and Theological Study

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CHRISLAS (Christian Diversity in Late Antique Sirmium (ca 350 – ca 450): A Historical, Literary and Theological Study)

Reporting period: 2016-09-01 to 2018-08-31

"""Christian Diversity in Late Antique Sirmium (ca 350 – ca 450): A Historical, Literary and Theological Study"" is dedicated to the study of Christianity in the capital of the Roman province Pannonia Secunda, Sirmium (today Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia), during the 4th and 5th centuries AD (a period broadly known as Late Antiquity). Both the time-frame and the town can be considered constitutive for the development of Christian thought, life and values still lying at the core of modern Christianity and, to a certain extent, European cultural heritage.
Historically, Christian identities, both personal and communitarian, are shaped differently in function of geographic location, social composition, cultural antecedents and, not in the least, political and administrative importance. CHRISLAS aims to highlight the significance of religious diversity in the local context of late antique Sirmium through and exhaustive analysis of available sources, both literary and material. To that end, methodologies of literary, historical, socio-cultural and theological analysis, were employed to to: (1.) map major events, personalities, as well as the material culture of the Christian community in late antique Sirmium; (2.) analyse the doctrinal and devotional dynamics of Sirmian Christians; (3.) outline the development and local features of Christian identity in Sirmium, its expressions across society, culture and art; and (d.) identify the themes, tropes, motifs that characterize Sirmian Christianity."
"We adopted a threefold workflow. We: 1./ analysed the history of the doctrinal controversies and Church synods that took place in Sirmium; 2./ surveyed the material culture of Christian Sirmium; 3./ analysed the relevant hagiographic heritage, suggestive of local devotional life. Partial results were presented at international conferences (Shifting Frontiers 2017 and NAPS 2018), as well as at the Exeter Theology and Religion Research Seminar (2017), the EHS annual conference 2017 and the project's own workshop (2018).
Sirmium was situated along the Sava, approximately 70 km from the imperial frontier on the Danube, a strategic vantage point for the intensifying military manoeuvres of the 4th century, which often required the presence of the emperor and his delegates. Such background impacted the local Christian community in terms of numbers and social standing. It also placed Sirmium on the map of the grand events that shaped world history and Christian orthodoxy. The court and the army, with all their paraphernalia, brought, apart from means and patronage, a certain dynamism to the local community, which must have included any number of wealthy as well as less fortunate incomers. Among them we find Ambrose, later bishop of Milan; Germinius, Photinus (and possibly Anemius), bishops of Sirmium itself. These social dynamics left their imprint in Christian architecture (churches and chapels), epigraphy (funerary inscriptions), art (decorated tombs, small artefacts) and literature (hagiography, theological-polemical writings).
The Church in Sirmium had by that time a complex and well established hierarchy, with higher orders (deacons, priests, bishops) and lower orders (exorcists, lectors). Under the authority of the bishop were also virgins who committed to a religious life. More complex, however, is the question of their doctrinal stance. When Christians across the Roman empire were debating on the relationship between the persons of the Holy Trinity, Sirmium contributed with no less than five synods and a profession of faith. At least the higher clergy and partially the religious women were convinced that the Son must be subordinated to the Father (a belief later deemed heterodox). This was not merely the province of philosophical abstraction among a handful of bishops; by the 370's at least part of the laity professed what came to be known as the orthodox Nicene faith: the consubstantiality of the persons of the Trinity. This rift had bitter consequences for ordinary Christians of the congregation: representatives of Nicene laity suffered trial and exile; they were exposed to the animosity of fellow Christians on account of having disrupted the ""peaceful"" status quo. Even after an orthodox bishop was ordained, the brand of heresy persistently over the inhabitants of Sirmium. The impetus of Christian culture at Sirmium was curbed by Gothic invasions and ultimately the destruction of the city in mid-5th century. Amongst the Pannonian refugees in Italy, we find some appealing to the orthodoxy of Sirmian martyrs as if to a voucher of their right belief. And this brings us to the only constant in the tumultuous life of Sirmian Christians: their devotion to local martyrs. This is attested not only by the stories of the martyrs, but also by the practice of burial near the saints (whereby devotees try to secure a resting place as close as possible to relics of martyrs). When fleeing from the Barbarian threat, it was these relics and these stories that were deemed worthy to be taken with them, to be safeguarded."
"CHRISLAS is the first comprehensive analysis on Christian Sirmium as a dynamic and regionally coloured entity to be published in English. Compared to previous studies, it integrates the material as well as the written aspect in their own right, analysing them with methodology proper to each. In an unprecedented way, it addresses the history of the people. Beyond this, a wider impact of the project can be expected in two areas:
(1.) In line with the multidisciplinary dimension of the project and its background aim to start a dialogue between Serbian academic and cultural experts and international scholars, in July 2018 we organised an expert workshop. Invited speakers included representatives of the Museum of Srem; Serbian archeologists; as well as hagiologists, historians and theologians. The workshop, which even introduced unpublished material, occasioned the launch of an informal Network of Late Antique Pannonian Studies. The network is a decisive step towards a better integration of local scholarship, the first and by far the best to handle newly uncovered material. It is also a platform where new collaborations and partnerships between the academic and cultural sector in Central-Eastern Europe and broader contexts can be initiated. The network will presently receive a blog inviting notices of new publications, research, cultural events, calls for papers or funding opportunities.
(2.) For Serbians, Sirmium is a precious testimony of a glorious past, when the place was one of the foci of the Roman Empire. The ancient city pulsates in the life of the modern citizens of Sremska Mitrovica, their identity imbued with its historical memory. CHRISLAS brings a modest share to enriching this memory through collaborating with the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments Sremska Mitrovica towards the restoration and presentation to the public of the 'Good Shepherd"" tomb wall paintings, discovered in 2016 at the site of Sirmium's Eastern necropolis. The exhibition in the Museum of Srem will be of interest not only to the local population, but also to art-historians and theological historians worldwide. It is hoped that this exhibition will further raise the profile of the relevant cultural institutions in Sremska Mitrovica, creating implicitly new opportunities for their future work."
Fragment of gilded fibula with Christogram
© Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments Sremska Mitrovica