1st Edition

Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity
Between Reading and Seeing

ISBN 9781472459183
Published August 5, 2019 by Routledge
384 Pages

USD $160.00

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Book Description

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


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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 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 by 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.


"[T]he innovative approach to contemporary perception and performance of and with inscriptions in a religious context makes Sean Leatherbury's book an important study for understanding late antique epigraphy." - Bryn Mawr Classical Review


"Sean Leatherbury has produced a volume that yields new perspectives and establishes a paradigm for future study while also synthesizing a vast array of scholarship... Inscribing Faith's lavishly illustrated pages...bathe images and texts in clarifying new light while guiding readers through a wonderland of late antique monuments. Sean Leatherbury never downplays the difficulties of reconstructing the experience of the late ancient viewer but in this wide-ranging study he has provided some of our best hope of sharing it." - The Classical Journal


"Sean Leatherbury leads the reader into an enlightening study... Inscribing Faith breaks new ground in its singular focus on free-standing inscriptions and texts embedded within frames and figurative images... Readers of Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity will be grateful for the author’s fluid and engaging style of writing, his capacious bibliography, and the many images that can now been seen in a new light. That Leatherbury has broadened his analysis to include “pagan,” Jewish, and Muslim inscriptions and spaces only enhances the value of this richly documented study. Indeed, one looks forward to more enlightening works from this gifted historian." - Review of Biblical Literature