Christianisation of public life

The public arena – temples, fora, market streets, village squares – played an absolutely central role in the culture and civilisation of antiquity. The structures of societal and political institutions were reflected in the way that public life and spaces were organized. Bearing this in mind, one can also describe the history of the spread of Christianity in antiquity as a “Christianisation of public life”, which took place in competition with the older cults and civil forms of organization, with the new religion becoming increasingly successful. Early Christianity ultimately oriented itself towards the existing organizational forms prevalent in religious and civil life, sometimes along the lines of specific regional models and at other times also in a more supraregional manner. The overarching question concerns what means – theories, mentalities, rituals, buildings – did Christianity use to document its claim to occupy public life and assert itself successfully in the competition with other religions, while sub-projects take a look at what significance the respective cultural and administrative understanding of the public realm had in the development of Christianity in the individual regions.

Some of the main questions are: What mechanisms did Christianity develop in order to shape the public realm as a Christian realm and what strategies did it implement to present itself in public life? State-defined regulatory concepts such as the calendar of religious festivals and rituals, market regulations and the statutes of public organisations, building plans pertaining to the public realm, borders and boundaries at different levels, other legal forms and administrative organizational structures served in this process to varying degrees as models and were transformed by Christianity. Here, particular light will be shed on the relations between the emerging regional identities on the one hand, and supraregional efforts towards unity, on the other.

Of special interest is the specific competitive situation in Imperial times among different Christianities (like the Montanist or the Manichaeist separate churches) and the pagan culture in public life; questions of legal history should also be afforded special attention.

At the “Institute for Early Christianity”, these questions will be researched into as part of the “Topoi” cluster, first of all focusing on certain exemplary regions in the Roman Empire, namely Pannonia superior and inferior, Dalmatia, Phrygia, the Spanish provinces and the antique city of Antiochia. The following individual projects are in progress:

  • Jan Bobbe – The impact of visigothic legislation on the church after 589 in the Iberian Peninsula
  • Henrik Hildebrandt – Urban and rural Christianity – Religious transformations in late antique Pannonia and Dalmatia
  • Tomas Lehmann – Aquileia as a pivot of late antique Christianity
  • Christoph Markschies – Montanism and Christianity – competition for the public in Phrygia
  • Frauke Krautheim – The public appearance of Christianity in late antique Antioch

The project will be working closely with the other projects in Area B as well as other undertakings in the “Topoi” cluster.

Project manager
Christoph Markschies

Beginning of the project


Simon Danner
Sarah-Magdalena Kingreen
Frauke Krautheim