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FOR 2757 (2019 - 2023)

Subproject D: Ancient History

Local Self-Organizing, Urban Civil Society and Church Norms: Alexandreia and Antiocheia in the Roman Empire

This subproject deals with self-governing groups in two major cities of the Roman Empire from the 1st to 7th centuries AD. Both Egyptian Alexandria and Syrian Antioch offer a glimpse into the workings of dynamic urban communities. Those segments of these cities that are not regulated by the state can most precisely be conceptualized as urban civil societies. The working hypothesis of this subproject is that it was not state governance, but rather the functioning of the civil society that in large measure determined the quality of the local configurations of order. The socio-spatial pro-cesses of limination between the self-governing groups as well as their internal development of cohesion through internal organization, normativity and collective identity will be tracked as they developed over a period of several centuries. The crucial context for this is constituted by the relationships with the centralized state, usually represented by the governor, and with the municipal administration, which finds it clearest manifestation in city council and local office-holders. While the communal organization initially, at the beginning of the imperial period, can perhaps still be considered as self-governing, i.e. autonomous, with the increasing regulation through the Empire it effectively developed into the local government level, without, however, losing all elements of self-governance. One of the aims of this subproject is to contribute to a better understanding of socio-political formations such as these, which defy easy classification.The two case studies will commence with a survey of the conditions in the well-documented fourth century and then work their way back diachronically into the early Empire as well as forward into Late Antiquity. Among the wide range of clubs, associations and neighborhood organizations, the Jewish and Christian communities are the best-attested. With the Christianization of the Mediterranean world the latter became the dominating local group due to the fact that they seemed the most effective at fostering a sense of shared identity and providing a working self-governance. The displacement of other formations, especially of the Jewish communities, did not in and of itself lead to a destabilization of local configurations of order. However, due to the church’s character as a highly normative organization, it had to, in the eyes of contemporaries, be perfectly aligned with regard to its dogma both with the ‘Reichskirche’ and with the Christian state. This led to forms of state intervention of an unprecedented vehemence through which the emperor sought to enforce his regulations. These attacks, not yet fully understood, on the local capacities of self-governance, which impaired the urban civil society, will be another focus of the subproject.