The world of Late Antiquity teems with hidden figures. One goal of SLA has been to use new tools and perspectives to make these people—sometimes called “the subaltern”—visible.1 Our aim is two-fold: We seek to peer outside the frame imposed by our almost exclusively male, predominantly elite, generally Mediterranean late ancient literary sources, to see the humbler citizens, the slaves, the women, the political and religious dissidents, and the people living beyond their imagined frontiers. In so doing, we also strive to challenge the way in which modern scholars further distorted our view of the late ancient world beyond the frame by utilizing methodologies that privileged documentary sources and avoided probing their silences. In this issue of SLA, a variety of creative methodologies brings a host of hidden figures to light.
One group to emerge literally into view from subterranean darkness is a band of grave-diggers from the late ancient city of Rome in Leonard Rutgers' study, “Managing Early Christian Funerary Practice in the Catacombs of Ancient Rome.” This ingenious study, through careful measurement and comparative data, calculates the amount of human labor required to excavate Rome's labyrinthine, densely populated catacombs. Estimating the work required to dig these tombs allows Rutgers also to calculate the rough costs of burying people in these underground chambers. Beyond these calculations—of the number of dead, of the number of hours of labor, of the amount of land and capital required (and from whom)—extended a Christian community above and below the streets of the city. But most vividly, this study reveals the human beings who left behind in the underground network of tombs traces of their tools, their trade, and in some cases even their names.
Despite the fossores' efforts to shape subterranean tufa into tombs for Christian dead, many people in the western provinces beyond the city of Rome refused to form the pattern of their lives around a Christianized concept of time. Mark Anderson's article, “Christianizing the Planetary Week and Globalizing the Seven-Day Cycle,” shows how different naming conventions for the days of the week fared within different language communities. Although many Christian authors advocated naming the days of the week after numbers (following earlier Jewish practice), Greek- and Latin-speaking communities for some time had been organizing their lives around days named for the planets. Anderson shows that, compared to the Greek-speaking East, people in the West continued to invoke the old pagan names for the days. In this case, linguistic traces testify to the real presence of people who still found meaning in days devoted to Luna, Mars, Mercury, Jove, Venus, and Saturn.
The shift from planetary days to a numeric week in the East is one way in which Christianity came to shape the lives of ordinary people. Where Anderson's study revealed them through its analysis of Christian time, Grace Stafford's careful study of Christian space brings into view the many women who traveled as pilgrims in Late Antiquity. “Early Christian Female Pilgrimage to the Shrines of Saint Menas, Saint Simeon the Elder, and Saint Thecla” integrates material and textual sources to show that, even though women were sometimes barred from parts of these sites, the provision of segregated spaces and products marketed to women suggests that they were an important part of the pilgrim community. Stafford thus concludes that in Late Antiquity, many women, regardless of marital status, “had greater freedom to travel and move in public spaces than is often recognized.”
Women traveling as pilgrims to the shrines of Saint Simeon the Elder or Saint Thecla in Seleucia may have seen themselves as entering what Maria Doerfler calls “the exotic hinterland of the Roman Empire.” Indeed these Syriac-speaking regions extended some distance beyond the Constantinopolitan center of political power. Nevertheless, Doerfler's article, “The Holy Man in the Courts of Rome: Roman Law and Clerical Justice in Fifth-Century Syria,” demonstrates that, although geographically subaltern, Syriac-speaking bishops—like their Greek- and Latin-speaking colleagues—“played an influential role in the formation and execution of Roman law.” Drawing on the Syro-Roman Lawbook, canon law, and homilies, but especially the life of Rabbula, bishop of Edessa, Doerfler argues that “in their judicial capacity Syrian clergy bore striking resemblances to their Western counterparts.” In so doing, these men would have been actively working to tighten their region's connection to the center.
Taken as a whole, the articles for the second issue of volume three help us see more clearly ways in which the religious topography of West and East became more distinct in Late Antiquity. Although the construction of the catacombs may have expressed the cohesiveness of the Christian community at Rome, people living in the West at a remove from the great city continued to plan their marriages, travel and hygiene around days governed by particular planets. Conversely, Christianity integrated daily life across the late ancient East, whether by marking time, by promoting travel for men and for women, or by providing the leadership who would ensure that Roman law continued to function for the Empire's more remote inhabitants.