Temples and traditions in Late Antique Ostia, c. 250-600 C.E.

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2009-05

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Boin, Douglas Ryan

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This dissertation investigates one subset of the many "signs and symbols" representative of traditional Roman religion at Ostia -- its temples and sanctuaries. It uses this body of evidence to foreground a discussion of social and cultural transformation from the 3rd through 6th c. C.E. This period witnessed the decline of traditional religious practices and the rise of a more prominent Judaism and Christianity. Earlier treatments of this topic, however, have often approached the material by assembling a catalogue of buildings, documenting limited incidences of new construction or repair evidenced throughout the Late Roman town. This project, by contrast, instead of beginning with material dated to the "twilight years" of Roman Ostia, starts with the first records of excavation at Ostia Antica. It is these archaeological reports, some comprehensive, others more impressionistic, which document the eclectic nature of objects, sculpture, and architecture that were frequently found preserved throughout the town. These reports represent a new starting point for reconstructing the appearance of the Late Antique city. Drawing upon this material, each of my four chapters takes one element of the traditional landscape (the Capitolium, the so-called Temple of Hercules, the Sanctuary of Magna Mater, or the cult of Vulcan) and then interweaves one or more facets of Christianity or Judaism in order to reveal, dialectically, the dynamism of urban change. Socially and economically, Ostia itself witnessed significant changes during this time. This dissertation provides new answers to when, why, and how those changes took place. It reveals how ambitious architectural projects of the Late Roman Empire continued to achieve stature by visually engaging with both the presence and prestige of earlier monuments. Uncovering new evidence with which to challenge the concept of a late 4th c. "pagan revival," my research, in particular, suggests that accommodation of the past, not urban conflict, was a dominant social model. Finally, I suggest that a broad view of traditional and Christian festivals, from the 4th c. through 6th, shows how new cults, like those of Aurea or Monica, mother of Augustine, simultaneously preserved and transformed the city's traditions into the Early Middle Ages.

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