Crisis management in late antiquity: The evidence of Episcopal Letters

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The aim of the project is to embark on new research inspired by previously-funded ARC projects, moving from the topic of poverty and welfare in late antiquity to crisis management as conducted by the increasingly important episcopal class in the same era. The chief source for this investigation will be Bishops' letters. Aim 1: Analysis of Episcopal crisis management in 400-590 CE. In late antiquity there is no body of written evidence more informative on these subjects than the letters which bishops exchanged with other bishops, with imperial administrators, local officials, monastics, and lay correspondents. By analysing a large corpus of some 2000 (at least 812 western, c. 1100 eastern) letters in relation to social, economic and religious crises of the kinds outlined above, we will produce the first comprehensive treatment of this topic over a period of two centuries. We will identify the different interpretative strategies employed by bishops confronting local crises (e.g. divine providence, divine retribution, a call to repentance) as well as the practical measures and religious policies they adopted to deal with them. Aim 1.1: Analysis of bishops’ letters We shall also investigate documented crises where there was no evidence of Episcopal management in the bishops' letters themselves. Treatments of relevant contemporary homilies include those by Mayer (2005) on John Chysostom, Constas (2003) on Proclus of Constantinople, NEIL (2009) on Leo the Great, and Finn (2004) on Quodvultdeus. By comparing Episcopal letters with such homilies, as well as with histories, archeological findings, and saints’ Lives, we will be able to assess whether letters are slanted towards particular kinds of representation of crises. We shall look for any changes in representation or management strategies that occurred over the 200-year period, and the reasons for such changes. We shall also look for any differences in approach within the Roman, Greek and Syrian churches. Aim 2: Anchoring contemporary responses to crisis management in their historical antecedents The CIs aim to anchor in their historical antecedents contemporary responses to management of crises such as natural disasters, climate change, population displacement, the gap between rich and poor, religious disputes, gang violence, social abuses, and an overloaded legal system. These contemporary crises find multiple resonances in the turbulent era of the later Roman Empire, 400-590 CE. The CIs will endeavour to ascertain the success or adequacy of Episcopal responses, and to identify those who fell through the gaps of Episcopal care, and for what reasons, whether social, religious or other. The shift from civic or state responsibility to church responsibility will be examined, and its implications for the extension of care to crisis victims.

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