Early Christianity in Roman Athens

Seminar in Athens, October, 8 days. Responsible institutions: Copenhagen (Troels Engberg-Pedersen) and Aarhus (Anders Lund Jacobsen). International experts: Dr Simon Price, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, plus representatives from the archaeological institutes in Athens

Report on Early Christianity in Roman Athens, a Ph.D. Course at the Danish Institute in Athens (DIA), 28 September- 5 October 2005 , under the NordForsk Network for Early Christianity in its Greco-Roman Context


  • 11 Ph.D. and/or post-doc students (see the enclosed list of participants),
  • 1 visiting post-doc participant (Wickkiser),
  • 2 international experts, one invited (Price), one visiting (Martin),
  • 1 local expert and (very efficient) local co-organizer (Jensen),
  • 2 Danish co-organizers (Engberg-Pedersen, Jacobsen),
  • a range of local and/or international guides (see below).

One thing to be especially noted about the group of Ph.D. and post-doc students is the fact that two of the eleven participants were not theologians. This was noted by all as an advantage. In addition, at least five of the theologians were working on material later than the New Testament, which was felt to be an advantage, too.


Finally, one might ask whether the group was too small for the kind of vivid intellectual interaction that one would want for such a course. That was no problem in this particular case, however, since everybody was wonderfully alert and eager to contribute to the shared learning experience.

During the week itself there were some changes:

  • we made it a habit to begin the afternoon’s work at home in DIA by spending about ½ hour discussing what we felt we had learnt for our shared topic from the morning’s excursion(s); Price, Martin and Aasgaard each started off such a session, but gradually we learned to go directly into the discussion,
  • on Friday 30th September we extended the visit to the National Museum until 15.00 and only had our afternoon session at DIA between 16.15 and 19.00,
  • on Saturday 1st October we inserted a visit to the Byzantine Museum between 17.30 and 19.00,
  • on Tuesday 4th October we saw the Stoa of Eumenes in addition to the Asklepieion,
  • John Kaufman’s Ph.D. account of his project (planned for Tuesday 4th October) was only distributed on paper and not discussed since Kaufman had to leave us prematurely (on Friday 30th September) due to illness in his family.

We were fortunate to have - on the whole - excellent guides with real expert knowledge: David Schahill (American School at Athens) for the Athenian Agora, Bronwen Wickkiser ( American School at Athens ) for Eleusis , Guy Sanders ( American School at Athens ) for Corinth , Vanda Papaefthymiou for the Asklepieion and Mihaelis Lefantzis for the Stoa of Eumenes. The two guides for the Roman Agora and Library of Hadrian came from the A’ Ephorate and were fundamentally OK, too. Jesper Jensen guided at the visit in the National Museum, for which Troels Engberg-Pedersen had also provided notes.

As is clear from the reading list, the course ranged widely thematically. Its focus was on the relationship for the scholar of antiquity between material culture (what one can see) and the texts (ideas). We attempted to analyse this issue from a double perspective.


(1) On the one hand, there is the question of the interaction between Greece and Rome in Greece itself (Athens and Corinth), as this may be studied in the material culture both in Athens at the Athenian Agora, the Roman Agora and the Library of Hadrian, and also in Eleusis and Corinth. A number of archaeological contributions in the reading list brought out the complexity of this interaction. Here belongs also the issue of the vitality of Greek religion under Roman rule. This was brought out and emphasized by Price and Engberg-Pedersen in their contributions on Religious Life of Roman Athens and The Religion of Plutarch.


(2) On the other hand, there is the question of the interaction between Greek (and Roman) and Jewish culture as represented by the earliest Christians when they turned up in Athens and Corinth (from Paul onwards). The complexity of this interaction was brought out by Engberg-Pedersen, Price and Jacobsen in their contributions on Paul in Corinth and Athens (1st cent CE), Greek Apologists and Pagan Religions (2nd cent CE) and Basilius on Greek Paideia and the Education of Young Christians (2nd -4th cent CE).


We constantly attempted to keep these issues in mind in our reflections on what we had seen at the archaeological sites. Here we noted that the traditional foci of the discipline of archaeology as represented to us by our various (excellent) guides only rarely took the step from asking "what was there" (as we may see and/or imagine) to asking how we might imagine those people who were living there, in terms of their perceptions of self and society. In taking this step from seeing sites to imagining concrete types of people living in those surroundings, we were greatly helped by our two international experts, Price and Martin.

The course took place at the Danish Institute in Athens , which due to its excellent location and extremely helpful staff and facilities was an ideal venue for such an arrangement. (The acoustics of our meeting hall, however, were perhaps less than ideal.)

All non-local participants stayed in single rooms in Hotel Phaedra next-door to DIA. The hotel is somewhat noisy, but fundamentally well-functioning and with a nice and friendly atmosphere.

At the end of each day we had a glass of wine on the roof of DIA. Evening meals were taken in local, inexpensive restaurants in one or two groups as people felt like.

On Tuesday 4th October the Ph.D. and post-doc students filled in an evaluation sheet. We also had had a ½ hour oral discussion of good and less good things during the course. On the basis of the comments on the evaluation sheet, the two organizers would attempt - were they to repeat the event - to provide earlier announcement of the seminar and to give a little more information before it; to provide a somewhat shorter reading list; and finally, to spell out more clearly how participants would be reimbursed. In spite of this, it is probably correct to say that the course was very well received. The two international experts praised both the choice of sites and guides and the organization of the whole course.

Troels Engberg-Pedersen and Anders-Christian Jacobsen


Original announcement:

With financial support from the NordForsk network, Early Christianity in its Greco-Roman Context (leader: Professor Halvor Moxnes, Oslo University) under the Nordic Council, the Faculties of Theology in Aarhus and Copenhagen organize a Ph.D. course in Athens 28 September - 5 October 2005.

Professor Troels Engberg-Pedersen, Copenhagen (New Testament and Classics)
Assoc. Professor Anders-Christian Jacobsen, Aarhus (Patristics)

Other teachers
Dr Simon Price, Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
plus representatives from the archaeological institutes in Athens

The course is an interdisciplinary one that focuses on a close analysis of central aspects of religion and society in Roman Athens of the first few centuries CE, with special emphasis on the way early Christianity adopted and fitted into ideas and practices of the Graeco-Roman world.

The course is addressed to young researchers from all the Nordic countries in the fields of religious studies, New Testament, patristics and classics with a special interest in ancient religion and society and early Christianity. The course will take place in Athens, which continued to be a centre of Greek paideia long after its hey-day, but will also contain a study visit to Corinth.

The format will be lectures and seminars by internationally recognized experts in the field, excursions conducted by local experts and seminars where the work of the participants will be discussed.

The course will be held at the Danish Institute in Athens. Participants will stay in a hotel nearby.

The course is restricted to a total of 15 researchers (Ph.D. or post-doc level). The course is heavily subsidized by NordForsk, but participants will need to obtain some funding from their local institution to cover parts of their expenses for travel, board and lodging, entrance fees etc.

A Ph.D. course within the field must have been begun (or finished for post-doc researchers). Participation in the course, including preparation, corresponds to 5 ECTS points (three weeks full time work). Applicants should check with their institution that it will accept the course as part of their study.

The application must contain information about

  • basic Academic education,
  • examinations (including marks) as part of that,
  • date when the Ph.D. education was begun,
  • elements of the Ph.D. education that have been passed,
  • dissertation topic,
  • the projected (or actual for post-doc researchers) date of Ph.D. defence.

For Ph.D. students, the application should also contain a recommendation from the supervisor and a short plan of the dissertation (1-2 pages).
For post-doc researchers, the application should contain a short account of the dissertation and an account of the post-doc research in which they are presently engaged (1-2 pages).

The deadline for receipt of applications is 1 June 2005. Please send the application to:

Assoc. Professor Anders-Christian Jacobsen
The Faculty of Theology
Aarhus University
Taasingegade 3
DK-8000 Aarhus C
or directly on e-mail to alj@teo.au.dk
Please contact Dr Jacobsen for further information.

Published Mar. 6, 2010 4:28 PM - Last modified Mar. 6, 2010 4:37 PM