Religious Practices of the Enslaved: A Case Study of Roman Ephesos
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Shaner, Katherine Ann
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CitationShaner, Katherine Ann. 2012. Religious Practices of the Enslaved: A Case Study of Roman Ephesos. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School.
AbstractEnslaved persons were ubiquitous in the first- and second- century CE Roman Empire, and early Christian texts, in particular, reflect this fact. Nevertheless the implications of enslaved presence in religious practices are under-examined in early Christian and Roman history. Moreover, previous scholarship often builds on the assumptions that enslaved persons who did participate in religious practices either functioned as extensions of their masters, or performed roles in subjection to elite leaders.
Employing early Christian texts and archaeological materials associated with the Roman city of Ephesos as a test case, this dissertation demonstrates that enslaved persons' roles in civic and religious activities were contested precisely because they held leadership positions. I use feminist rhetorical analysis, which is sensitive to attempts at persuasion, to interpret literary texts, and I extend its methods to archaeological materials. Thus this dissertation traces the rhetorical attempt to regulate enslaved persons' presence in early Christian writings, such as Philemon, 1 Timothy, and Ignatius' letter to Polycarp, and in materials from archaeological excavations in Ephesos.
This dissertation concludes that enslaved persons enacted roles that potentially upended social hierarchies privileging wealthy, slave-holding men. Enslaved persons were priests, religious specialists, and leaders in cultic groups, including early Christian groups. At the same time these roles were neither signs of Roman slavery's benign nature nor evidence that early Christians were more tolerant of enslaved participation. Rather Christian constructions of authority and communal structure participated in a larger social, political, and religious contestation around enslaved leadership in the Roman world. Thus this dissertation contributes to a conversation in Roman history and early Christian studies around the historiography of enslaved history. It analyzes the rhetorical bent of both literary texts and archaeological materials demonstrating that within the exploitative nature of Roman slavery enslaved persons had the ability to enact limited authority.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37367489