Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity: Between Reading and Seeing, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity

Between Reading and Seeing, 1st Edition

By Sean V. Leatherbury


472 pages

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Hardback: 9781472459183
pub: 2019-08-07
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Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity considers the Greek and Latin texts inscribed in churches and chapels in the late antique Mediterranean (c. 300-800 CE), compares them to similar texts from pagan, Jewish, and Muslim spaces of worship, and explores how they functioned both textually and visually.

These texts not only recorded the names and prayers of the faithful, but were powerful verbal and visual statements of cultural values and religious beliefs, conveying meaning through their words as well as through their appearances. In fact, the two were intimately connected. All of these texts—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and pagan—acted visually, embracing their own materiality as mosaic, paint, or carved stone. Colourful and artfully arranged, the inscriptions framed human relationships with the divine, encouraged responses from readers, and made prayers material. In the first in-depth examination of the inscriptions as words and as images, the author reimagines the range of aesthetic, cultural, and religious experiences that were possible in spaces of worship.

Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity is essential reading for those interested in Roman, late antique, and Byzantine material and visual culture, inscriptions and other texts, and religious life in the ancient Mediterranean.

Table of Contents

List of figures



Chapter One: Introduction

Writing and reading in the temple

Literacy as red herring?

Chapter Two: Material texts

The colors and surfaces of texts

Colorful texts and their contexts

Glassy words

Precious materialities

Textual materiality and immateriality

Material metaphors

Metallic meanings

Texts in (and of) pieces

Colored texts, colored forms

For the love of materials

Chapter Three: Framing texts, framing belief

Framing the late antique frame

Framing texts in the Roman world: The tabula ansata

Tabulae from sculpture to mosaic

Painted tabulae

Framing in circles

Object frames and Christian innovation

Framing religious experience

Framing frames

Chapter Four: Ekphrasis and experience

Ekphrasis on the move

Reading in motion

Responding to interiors

Reading and voicing voice

Ekphrastic buildings

Chapter Five: Embedding texts into images

The origins and functions of Christian "titles"

Tituli on and off the page

Tituli in the east

From wall to floor: Reading texts underfoot

Viewing sacred speech: The unfurled scroll

From scroll to book

Titles for images?

Chapter Six: Embedded prayers

Prayer in the late antique world

Praying in motion

Motives and modes of prayer

Placing prayers

Sanctifying the interior, part by part

Writing, reading, seeing, praying

Prayers for the faithful

Conclusion: Reading and seeing faith


About the Author

Sean V. Leatherbury is Assistant Professor of Art History at Bowling Green State University, USA, and Research Associate of the European Research Council-funded project Monumental Art of the Christian and Early Islamic East, based in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Oxford, UK. His research focuses on Roman and late antique visual and material culture, and examines the relationship between art and text, issues of identity, and the transformation of the so-called minor arts from the Roman to the Byzantine period. His work has been been supported by fellowships from the Getty Research Institute, USA, the Bard Graduate Center, USA, and the Council for British Research in the Levant, UK, and funding from the Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics, UK, and the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research, UK. Currently, he is completing a monograph on the late antique floor mosaics of Syria and co-editing a volume on late antique art and local identities.

About the Series

Image, Text, and Culture in Classical Antiquity

Since the Renaissance - and arguably much earlier - the visual and verbal remains of the Greco-Roman world have been a constant source of inspiration and enlightenment. This series offers an interdisciplinary forum for research into those ancient literary and artistic cultures, exploring classical materials both on their own terms and in light of their subsequent receptions. Attuned to the ways in which different cultural forms mediate different aspects of the classical past, the series explores both the fundamental problems and opportunities of reconstructing Greco-Roman antiquity from its surviving archaeological and textual traces.

A defining interest of the series lies in the intersection between ancient visual and verbal media. In what ways do images and texts construct different records of the classical past, and how did ancient artists and writers themselves theorize the relations between what can be seen and what can be said? Drawing on recent comparative literary and visual cultural studies, series-volumes explore how interdisciplinary approaches can illuminate different aspects of ancient cultural and intellectual history. At the same time, they demonstrate how classical materials can nuance more modern theories of visual and verbal mediation in turn.

The series will publish monographs and edited volumes on all periods of Greco-Roman history, from Archaic Greece through to Late Antiquity. We are particularly interested in projects that are structured according to theme, medial difference or methodological problem rather than chronological timeframe. Above all, volumes aim to probe, interrogate and provoke: by crossing traditional disciplinary and subdisciplinary boundaries within and beyond the field of classics, while also drawing on approaches developed outside its historicist parameters, Image, Text and Culture in Classical Antiquity engages a broad readership from a range of different academic perspectives. 

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Communication Studies