The body and salvation: transformations in how the body was treated

In late antiquity, forms of treating the human body emerged in which the Christian faith was to manifest itself. One extreme form of this was the total destruction of the body in martyrdom. Ascetics in late antiquity also demanded a great deal of their bodies by doing without food, drink and sleep for as long as possible, or by standing bent over for hours to demonstrate humility, or by bending down up to a thousand times a day, by wearing poor clothing or by walking about completely naked. In short – they worked negatively against their physical wellbeing in many different ways (at least from today’s perspective). This project analysed individual practices in a microscopic process in great detail, focusing thereby – in addition to sexuality – on clothing, which was one of the most direct modes of self-representation. One specific feature of many ascetics was thus a very much neglected style of clothing and a generally dishevelled appearance, which they shared with the Cynics alongside similar value systems. The coincidences between the clothing style of the Cynics and that of particular Christian movements shed light on the connections between the ideologies of both groups, their value systems and the way they lived their lives.

These and similar practices and techniques in treating the human body were the main theme dealt with in the “Body and salvation” project which took place from 2009 to 2012. Using literary sources and archaeological materials, two great transformation processes were examined; on the one hand the transformation of pagan-antique ways of treating the human body during the Roman Empire and in the Christianity of late antiquity and, on the other hand the practices in late antiquity during the middle-Byzantine epoch. The results are to be presented in a monographic work and elsewhere.

Project manager
Christoph Markschies

Project duration


Ulrike Bruchmüller
Eva Elm
Ioannis Politis

Carolin Göpfert
Stefanie Rabe
Conrad-Jakob Schiffner
Verena Tönnes