Recent studies on African churches in Late Antiquity (especially Donatist and Catholic) have argued for their robust wealth, especially after the Donatist church was forced to unify with the Catholics after the Conference of Carthage in 411. This paper employs archaeological, historical, and ecclesiastical scholarship to scrutinize assumptions about African ecclesiastical wealth from a number of different perspectives and probes the merits of how wealth is currently estimated, including tabulation and use of comparanda. Archaeological evidence to support the idea of massive church wealth, including evidence of involvement in manufacturing and basic collaboration or coordinated activity, is too thin to warrant credence. Once current assumptions about African church wealth have been critiqued, the paper turns to the role that the Roman administration played in African church finances. Archaeological and ecclesiastical studies on Africa identify the imperial court as the great financial supporter of the Catholic church, which became rich, it is argued, through the emperor’s gifts and economic favoritism. This paper argues that, to the contrary, repeated threat of confiscation before 411 and, in particular, attempts by imperial personnel to coordinate church mergers in Africa after 411 promoted the dispersal and scattering of resources away from churches and into private hands. Institutional structures of the church and the imperial administration encouraged financial atomization and dispersal, not consolidation and accumulation.

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