(D3) The Destruction of Sanctuaries in Late Antiquity: Events and Discourse

Religiously motivated violence represents a signum of late antiquity. But violence against different faiths and their cultic sites, formerly exceptional and put under taboo now – since the policy of the Christianisation of the Im­perium Ro­ma­num introduced by Constantine – targeted on a local level not only the radical transformation of religious conditions. The destruction of temples, synagogues, or churches and the conversion of cultic sites also had the goal of transforming social-political configurations and modes of public communication in late antiquity. The diversity of these processes and their effective powers and conditions are currently the subject of a great deal of research attention.

But in contrast, there is very little attention paid (as a problem and as a chance) to the semantics and functionality of the destruction of sanctuaries in the (mostly Christian) sources: Successful access to religious sites staged power and orthodoxy, contained sacred-historical potential, and allowed for representation that generated meaning. The project first analyses the origin of an internal Christian debate over the legitimacy and necessity of the use of violence as well as the Christian discovery and conceptualisation of sacred space in the fourth century. From this basis, the grammar of the discourse (in sermons, church histories, hagiography, etc.) that was conducted especially in the fourth and fifth centuries on pagan, Jewish, or heterodox cultic sites and their destruction will be reconstructed and its temporal and spatial parameters clarified. The analysis aims equally at the concrete historical consequences of the discourse (for example in legislation), its meaning as an argument in the religious and political confrontation, and its concrete historical effectiveness. The project will look both at the repercussions of religious violence and its discourse on the self-understanding and activity of the state of late antiquity as well as, exempli gra­tia, the establishment and securing of authority by means of the destruction of sanctuaries in the sphere of the Christian church or the formation of identity and tradition by means of violence as mirrored in the founding legends of Christian communities.