Database presentation at ‘Poena aut venia? Attitudes to Emigration in Rome, Byzantium and Beyond’, part II

At the Poena aut Venia workshop Ekaterina Nechaeva asked how emigration (in our case, the exile of clerics) shaped the communities they came from (or ‘sending societies, as Ekaterina put it).

It was great having such as specific research question to work on, because it is important to our project that the database will be able to help a wide range of users who will have very different questions about clerical exile that the original project team. Nonetheless, I had to think a bit about how to extract meaningful data, as the database was of course not constructed with this particular question in mind. It is reminder that all databases have a human factor and are determined by the work of the researchers behind their construction, as well as technical limits.

It turned out that, with the help of the database, it is reasonably easy to see that one way in which clerical exile affected ‘sending societies’ was that the exiled clerics often took a lot of people with them. The database is able to list all exile cases where the exiled cleric had companions, which was the case for about a fifth of our recorded cases (78/409).  The category of companions also encompasses when bishops or other clerics were exiled together to the same place, but in about half of the cases the companions were a bishop’s own subordinate clergy. Interestingly, we have most information about this phenomenon from Vandal North Africa, where lots of bishops were allegedly banished under Huneric. Some of the numbers of accompanying clergy that derive from this scenario are astonishing (and perhaps fantastical), such as 4966 African clerics accompanying Cyprianus of Unizibira and other bishops to a desert region near the cities of Thubunae, Macri, and Nippis in south east Numidia in 483-484 (Victor of Vita Historia Persecutionis 2.33). But other sources also record high numbers of clerics moving with their bishops, such as 300 clerics accompanying the banished Theodorus of Alexandria in 536 (John of Ephesus, Life of Z’ura (PO 17, 35) and Life of John of Hephaistopolis (PO 18, 528s.).

It looks like these clerics were not exiled themselves, that is, technically they moved ‘voluntarily’. However, I would say that ‘voluntarily’ is an ambiguous concept here. Rather, this phenomenon tells us something about the tight patronage structures ruling the late antique clergy: if a bishop was exiled particularly for doctrinal reasons, often there was a rival successor. Would such a successor have kept on the clergy of their predecessors? And even if the successor wasn’t hostile, we can not be sure whether this would happen or whether such clerics were made redundant. I am not aware of sources that tell us. Chances are that clerics moved with their exiled bishops because they were vulnerable and had more opportunities with than without their bishop. Chances are also that successors of exiled bishops had their own dependants who’d move into the posts so vacated. If there were no successors, these lower clerical posts must also have stayed vacant. Either way, if some of the numbers that appear in late antique sources are only approximately to be believed, for ‘sending’ communities this must have meant an utter transformation of pastoral care (not to speak of power structures).

Some sources do not only give us numbers, but also some insight into the identity of an exiled bishop’s companions. For example, the sources reporting on the exile of Mare of Amida, who was banished in 521 for his Miaphysite believes, first to Petra and then to Alexandria, report that he was accompanied by his ‘sisters’, the deaconesses Shmuni and Marutha (or Nonna) and by three notaries, as well as the bishop of Kenneshrin, Isidore, who was also banished. This is how our database visualises his network in exile (based on John of Ephesus, Lives of the Eastern Saints 13, Zacharias, historia ecclesiastica 8.5  and Chronicle of Zuqnin, Third part, 517-518, 525-526):






We should pause to ask why such companions taken from home were mentioned in our sources at all. I think one of the reasons was to underscore an exiled bishop’s continuing authority, on a universal level, but also in the community back home. Exile was meant to end a bishop’s career particularly if they were also deposed by a synod (though not all were). However, exiled bishops did of course usually not accept their condemnation and neither did sympathetic chroniclers. It was important to show that these bishops still had a following and the infrastructure and personnel to perform their episcopal activities. This was particularly important if bishops had not been legally exiled, but escaped arrest, as they could be seen as ‘deserting’ their community.

Margarita Vallejo Girvés has eloquently written about the duties and activities of clergy accompanying exiled bishops in our recent edited volume Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity. One of these duties was to act as links between bishops in exile and the home community. This could involve carrying letters of exiled bishops during their lifetime, but it also could involve taking care of his memory, and crucially body, after his death. This is what happened in the case of Mare of Amida: after he had died in Alexandria in about 529, his deaconesses, with the help of the empress Theodora, brought his relics back to Amida and buried them in a church he himself had built outside the city. John of Ephesus writes how when they reached Amida with Mare’s body ‘the magnates and their kinsmen and the whole city had come out to receive them’. This implies that his memory had been kept alive among the inhabitants of the city, but John does not explain quite how this had been accomplished.

One has to bear in mind that the rejoicing city or the city clamouring for the return of a banished bishop may be a hagiographical topos. A similar scene occurs in the Life of Eutychius, written by his pupil Eustratius after 580 (who was also with him in exile). Eutychius, twice patriarch of Constantinople, had been banished by Justinian to his old monastery at Amasea in 565 for refusing to subscribe to the emperor’s edict on the incorruptibility of Christ’s body (aphthartodocetism). In Amasea he preformed many miracles, but after his successor’s death in 577 the people of Constantinople demanded his return from Justinian’s successors Justin and Tiberius, which was granted (Vita S Eutychii Patriarchae 38-71 (PG 86:2317-56). Here is his social network in exile as described by Eustratius:

The brown lines indicate Eutychius’ relationships with people he performed miracles for and on in Amasea (and a couple in Euchaita on his way back to Constantinople). They form the majority of his social relationships. There are very few links with people in Constantinople and they all date to the beginning or end of his banishment. Again, it is unclear what exactly kept his memory alive in Constantinople during his twelve year absence to the extent that his community wanted him back so desperately as Eustratius describes.

When looking into Ekaterina’s question regarding the attitudes of ‘sending societies’, this is generally what I found: while it is easy to count and even name people who went with exiled clerics from their original communities, it is less clear how many exiled clerics were in touch with their original communities. This may be due to a real oversight on our behalf when we constructed our database. While we do specify where contacts of exiles were located, we did not record whether this location was the home location of the exiled cleric. Therefore, we cannot quantify these data, even though we can recover it for individual exiled clerics via their location maps. Consider, for example, the locations connected with Athanasius of Alexandria’s ‘ third ‘exile’ (actually, escape, 357-362) which he spent in various locations around Egypt. On this map, generated by our database, we can see that five of his contacts were situated in Alexandria (whose identities can then be researched further):

From Athanasius and other examples, particularly of exiled clerics who kept correspondence, we know that it was not uncommon to keep in contact with ‘home’ communities, but, as it stands, the database is not able to quantify this phenomenon, even though it is able to reveal this information on a case by case basis. Yet a quick (though by no means exhaustive!) look at some of the bishops who wrote home reveals that often their letters are addressed at a rather diffuse set of people, such as ‘brethren’ or ‘the orthodox’. These letters may have been circulars, and it is difficult to gain an understanding of the actual addressees from them. Such vagueness is rather similar to the examples described above, where ‘the people’ demanded or welcomed the return of banished bishops. Even in the case of Athanasius, which looks so promising, his ‘contacts’ date to the beginning of his exile, before he left Alexandria (users will be able to access those details from the map).

An interesting example of concrete members of a home community working for the return of a bishop and keeping his memory alive is that of Liberius of Rome, banished after the council of Milan in 355 for refusing to condemn Athanasius. Liberius would return two years later. Here is his exile network:



Liberius’ return was clearly down to him subscribing to the creed of Sirmium sponsored by the anti-Nicene emperor Constantius II., which he advertised in several letters to several other bishops of influence. Later stories, however, in particular the fifth-century Church historians who were trying to turn Liberius into a Nicene hero, also talked about his popularity in Rome. His contacts in Rome are shown in the bottom right corner of the network graph. It may indeed have been the case that the ‘people of Rome’ also had demanded his return, as this is a fairly early tradition. Yet, in the church histories – particularly in Theodoret of Cyrrhus (historia ecclesiastica 2.17) – a range of women in Rome pop up in Liberius’ support, including the wife of Constantius, resident in Rome at the time, and the wives of influential Roman nobles. A later story also claims that Liberius first lived with the sister of Constantius when he returned from exile. Some of this may be true, most, I would say is an invented tradition. The problem that Liberius had was that he had caved into a ‘heretical’ emperor’s demand . This created huge problems for this memory and was acerbated by the fact that while in exile he had been replaced by another bishop, Felix, so there was a schism when he returned to Rome. Accounts of his popularity in Rome, and in particular support of women served to bolster Liberius’ authority. These women went against their husbands’ convictions for Liberius’ sake; i.e. they were ready to subvert established authority to promote Liberius’ return. It may therefore be that we know most about a bishop’s relationships with his home community in such cases as that of Liberius, where the reputation of the exiled bishop was tainted and had to be continuously defended. That in turn means that we have to approach such stories with caution.

Yet, there is some statistical information that the database can generate which may help to contextualise the importance of home communities in the lives of exiled clerics. These are data pertaining to return and to the development of saint cults. Of all exiled clerics recorded in the database we only know of about a quarter who returned from exile. To be fair, we only know positively of about a fifth who did not return, but the remaining clerics’ fate is unknown and it is therefore likely that they also did not return (see graph)

Did exiled clerics return from exile?

If we now turn to the reasons why exiled clerics returned from exile we can see that they were varied. It could happen because the people demanded the return of a beloved bishop, but this was certainly not the main reason. Often bishops were allowed to return at the beginning of a new imperial reign. The edict of amnesty by Julian in 362 is only the most prominent of such recalls, but as we can see from the graph below accounts for a sizeable chunk of returns of exiled bishops in the period covered by the project:

Reason for return from exile.


When we look at whether exiled clerics were venerated as saints during the late antique period (whether they had returned from exile or not) the result is again mostly negative:

Were exiled clerics venerated as saints in late antiquity?

As with ties to home communities generally, it is difficult to extract quantitative data on how many of these attestations of saint veneration refer to an exiled cleric’s home community. Our best bet, in this regard, is to look at evidence for the translation of relics or the establishment of other forms of cult in the places that the exiled clerics came from. Of relic translations back to the cities the exiled clerics had come from the database only has records of nine (Dionysius of Milan, Paulinus of Trier, Flavian of Constantinople, Dioscorus of Alexandria, Mare of Amida, Eustathius of Antioch, Paul of Constantinople, Meletius of Antioch, John Chrysostom) and of veneration generally, without evidence of relics, only a few more (Eusebius of Vercelli, Hilary of Poitiers, Liberius of Rome). There are others who were venerated elsewhere (e.g. Nestorius), but the results on veneration ‘at home’ are meagre.

What to make of all of this? One thing that is becoming clear when looking at clerical exile quantitatively is that it was a relatively successful strategy for those who imposed it, whose aim, we must assume, was to severe links between a troublesome cleric and his home community. We are easily blinded by some spectacular cases, where clerics were influential despite being exiled, established new communities, kept in contact with home, successfully lobbied the (often new) emperor for return and/or managed to turn themselves into saints. But the truth is that we know very little about the majority of exiled clerics beyond their names (and sometimes not even that). Often we do not even know where they went to. It does not seem then that the majority of  late antique exiled clerics were very good at keeping their memory alive in their home communities or elsewhere.

But of course, some of them were, and some had been influential enough  both in their home communities and abroad for later church historians and chroniclers to tell stories about them and to keep them ‘present’. As modern historians, we need to ask where these stories derived from. From the data we have, it does not seem that we should look at actual home communities of exiled clerics as the source, but at the men and women from these home communities who moved with them. Because these were free to come and go as they pleased, they must have been instrumental in creating an exiled cleric’s network, including with the home community (e.g. as messengers of letters), in circulating exile stories, including about the continuing popularity of exiled clerics at home, and in curating a cult. Sometimes they did this also to cement their own authority: we know of a few companions who became bishops at their exiled bishop’s see later (Honoratus, Eusebius of Vercelli’s companion, in Vercelli, Petrus Mongus, Dioscorus of Alexandria’s companion, in Alexandria) and precisely because they could put themselves in continuity with an exiled bishop. These men and women are, in social network terms, the ‘weak link’. With the database we are now in a position to name, describe and analyse their role.

Database presentation at ‘Poena aut venia? Attitudes to Emigration in Rome, Byzantium and Beyond’, part I

I’ve recently returned from a fantastic workshop at the American Academy in Rome, organised by Ekaterina Nechaeva. Ekaterina, a EURIAS fellow at the Collegium Helveticum, works on a decidedly understudied topic, refugees from the late Roman empire. The workshop in Rome looked at emigration in a wider sense, for Ekaterina had managed to assemble a group of scholars ranging from ancient historians to historians of the 19th century. To keep this wide chronological scope manageable, Ekaterina asked us to focus on what emigration meant to ‘sending societies’, rather than to the societies that received émigrés. For example, did governments of states from which people migrated try to encourage or prevent emigration? What effect did emigration have on those who stayed behind? How did emigration shape public opinion in ‘sending societies’?

When Ekaterina asked me to participate, I was at first a little sceptical on what the project could contribute. Exile is of course not the same as emigration, and, in addition, late antique clerics were rarely sent, or went, to outside the Roman empire. But giving a paper in Rome is too good an opportunity to miss, and I also thought this would be a great occasion to put to work our database and see whether it could come up with a few statistics that would help answering some of Ekaterina’s questions. The database now contains a wealth of material that can be explored quantitatively (some figures below). More importantly, over the last two months or so, our IT technicians have made some great progress with the database’s functionality. If anything, the workshop was an opportunity to showcase this work. For my presentation I began with demonstrating a few of the most striking visualisations that our database can do, which I will also cover in this blogpost. A second blog addressing more specifically the attitudes towards clerical exile in ‘sending societies’ can be found here.

Before the talk…many thanks to Ekaterina for the invite, and for taking this picture!

 As mentioned before on this blog, we are of course recording not just an exiled cleric’s personal circumstances, but also the individuals and groups they were in contact with. One of our main aims is to visualise and analyse these connections, to test the hypothesis that these (at times forced) interactions disseminated ideas, practices and types of behaviour. The image below shows all connections that we have recorded so far; a ‘global’ network of clerical exile in late antiquity. There are clearly some distinctive clusters of connections, which can be inspected further, such, as, for example, the social network of John Chrysostom, circled in red (who, as is well known, was in contact with over 200 people while in exile)


As ever, it is of course important to remember that the network graph does not show all social connections created through clerical exile, but only those that are remembered in our sources. What we are actually mapping in our database is the textual commemoration of exile. We cannot assume that exile cases that just appear as a single dot in this network did not generate social relationships (and that these clerics were hence solitary or isolated figures). We must always assume that for some reason the recording of social relationships (and the subsequent transmission of these records) may have been more important for some exiled clerics and for some periods of time than for others. This is important to bear in mind always when applying social network analysis to historical data, although as I tried to explain in my presentation in Rome as well, applying network analysis to our data can help us to understand patterns of discourses as well. More on this in the next blog post.

The global network graph shows quite nicely as well that, even though this is a network that spans c. 300 years of history, there were connections that bridged generations. This is above all the case where clerical exile generated rival successions of bishops and distinctive lines of authority which then generated even more exile cases down the years. This was the case, for example, in sixth-century Egypt, as this table from Stephen Davis’ The Early Coptic Papacy, adorned with my additional comments, shows.

In 6th century Egypt theological controversy (pro & anti-chalcedonian) led to the splintering of the church, but it wasn’t just theological controversy that did this: the problem was hugely acerbated by the exiling of bishops which created schisms in Alexandria, but also by the arrival of exiled clerics in Egypt (Severus of Antioch, Julian of Halicarnassus), which brought new ideas and followings. Davis’ table neatly (and very helpfully!) visualises these different groups as four distinct blocks, each with their own list of bishops and traditions. As I showed in Rome, the clerical exile database is able to visualise this complex situation differently, as network graphs, which instantly shows how much these different groups were in contact with each other (Severus of Antioch and Julian of Halicarnassus were famously living at the same monastery outside Alexandria). This is perhaps a helpful reminder that their respective ideas and teachings, even though often opposing, may have been developed in dialogue with each other. Importantly our network visualisations classify relationship types in much detail (e.g. whether someone was a companion, host or correspondent of an exiled cleric). Another category, not shown here, is relationship ‘quality’: whether someone was supportive of an exiled cleric or in conflict with him. This allows users to understand the nature, and perhaps also the effect, of different kinds of networks an exiled cleric was part of.

[Please note that the arrows all point in the wrong direction. The visualisation of different types of relationships through different colours is also not fully realised yet. These are just two of the many fiddly things we still need to sort out; the main reason why the database is not online yet].

Another general feature of the database that I demonstrated in Rome was the possibility to visualise the spatial aspects of clerical exile. This is important because exile divided people spatially, but it also brought people closer together. That is impressively demonstrated in the map below (where possible, we use the fantastic Pleiades Project data). The interactive map function of the database allows exploring the geography of exile in a number of ways. For example, users will be able to visualise locations as clusters (e.g. how many locations connected to clerical exile were in Egypt) or as points, select certain time spans, or explore locations according to so-called location ‘activities’, i.e. whether they were places of destination, arrival, places of return or places of exiled clerics’ contacts. The map here shows the departure and destination locations of exiled clerics in the years 355 to 362, between the council of Milan and the death of Constantius II, and the connections between them. During these years more than 50 bishops and clerics were exiled. The graph shows the immense mobility in the Mediterranean created by clerical exile in these years. In fact, these seven years see the most intense contacts between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean created by clerical exile (and exile generally) in the entire period that we are studying. They are more intense than the contacts generated in the twenty years after the council of Nicaea. This is also the last time clerics were exiled between East and West. After the death of Constantius and up to the time of Justinian no exiled cleric was apparently sent across the Mediterranean anymore. It can hence be argued that these seven years were a crucial window in terms of spatial mobility of theological ideas, and in this case specifically Nicene ideas (although of course ideas may have travelled through different routes afterwards, such as through trade, council attendance, pilgrimage or letter writing).
The database also allows users to create ‘ego-maps’ that track the movement of and locations connected with individual exiled clerics. The map below shows the ‘ego-map’ of Lucifer of Cagliari, exiled after the council of Milan in 355. The red arrows are actually my own subsequent manipulation of the powerpoint slide, but even without these it is easy to follow how Lucifer moved, because each location is assigned a colour that corresponds to a certain ‘activity’ (departure, arrival, return, location of previous office, and, importantly, locations of Lucifer’s contacts). Interestingly, for Lucifer, we can see some frenetic criss-crossing of the Mediterranean and he seems to have mobilised much contact as well. There are an astonishing 11 locations connected to his exile. This mobility is quite comparable to other Western bishops exiled in this period as well, who rarely seem to have stayed in one place (Eusebius of Vercelli, Hilary of Poitiers, Dionysius of Milan).

 We can assume then that Lucifer had ample opportunity to forge new relationships while in exile. However, when we think about the spatial aspects of exile and the opportunities of making contacts, it is important to understand the nature of locations as well: did exiled clerics reside in cities or on islands, in quarries or in oases? How well connected where these locations to other locations? Our map feature contains a layer of roads (again provided by the Pelagios Project) that will help users understand socio-geographical dynamics, but the database also contains much extra information about locations. The graph below is an example of another feature of the database, the ability to visualise data as charts, and shows the distribution of types of exile arrival places (we distinguish between ‘destination’, where clerics were sent, and ‘arrival’, where they actually went to, for these may differ). Interestingly, ‘city’ is the most popular type of exile arrival place.

After all these fancy forms of visualisations, it should perhaps be made clear that all our data will be able to be accessed in conventional forms too, through tabular listings of results. There is much information about each exile case, including biographical information, information on legal circumstances, writings in exile, doctrinal activities and so on (all database categories are listed here). Below you can see the top of the table listing all information the database contains on Arius’ exile.

We hope, however, that our users will be tempted to try out all the other features of the database too, be this displaying data as charts, maps or network graphs (you can see in the image above that users will be able to get to Arius’ network graph and also to his ‘ego-map’ from this tabular result). Network graphs, in particular, we believe have the potential to generate new insights into the effects of clerical exile, as I have already discussed in my contribution to Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity. Yet, as I have also already discussed on this blog, the biggest benefit of recording data on social connections for this project has been that we start to see people whose life was affected by clerical exile beyond the exiled cleric himself. That, as I hope to show soon in the next blog post, also allows us – at least to some extent – to say something about Ekaterina’s ‘sending societies’.

Sheffield Travels into Late Antiquity

This blog post was written by Dominik Kocbuch, MA intern on the project in 2016-17

Late antiquity remains an elusive label. Speak to people about the ancient times – the Egyptians, Caesar or Nero, and you are bound to hear something; similarly with the Middle Ages – but late antiquity, reflecting its nascent status in historical study, remains the great unknown albeit right on our doorstep. For it is hard to deny modernity’s cultural, social, political and religious debts to that fascinating period. Can we really imagine a European legal tradition without a Theodosius to first codify it? What of our universities, curricula and education without a Cassiodorus or a Gregory the Great? Perhaps unbeknown to many, late antiquity remains a tangible presence in the professions of the Nicene Creed, a late antique religious document, recited in Christian churches every single day. The truth remains – late antiquity is a fertile historical harvest yet to be appreciated and this project has been an ambitious attempt at giving Sheffield a one-way ticket to the world of late antiquity.

My involvement with the project began in September 2016, when – as a part of my Work Placement MA History module – I was assigned to Dr. Hillner’s Migration in Faith: Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity project. Clerical exile – movement and refuge, are crucial themes explored in the project. Pertinent to the current affairs and the plight of the refugees of war in the Middle East, the project rang loud by historicising a very human phenomenon – movement, often forced by a variety of factors.

The public engagement side of the project had a very simple and yet profound aim – to expose the public to the vibrancy and energy of late antiquity. It was also to demonstrate the strength of history as a discipline and its ability to create a coherent picture of a past based on sporadic and numerically scant evidence. Co-operation between Harry Mawdsley, Lewis Dagnall and Dr. Rohmann produced a brilliant database of late antique cases of exile, which was digitised and exhibited to the public at the Festival of Arts and Humanities Showcase in the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. Many of the stall’s visitors remarked that they had never thought the study of religion would be approached through statistics and mathematical analysis – perhaps because religion and science are so often discussed as mutually exclusive? The database’s ‘official’ launch took place at an academic conference, also organised as a part of the project, in April 2017, in the German Historical Institute in London.

Our stall at the Festival of Arts and Humanities Showcase 2017


Back in Sheffield, the project created a friendly and approachable space in which people could explore late antiquity. One such forum were a series of film viewings – four in total, featuring films as disparate as Gladiator (2001) and Quo Vadis (1951). The events were enjoyable, group meetings often accompanied by a good dose of popcorn and some brilliant guest-academics as discussants, such as Kate Cooper, Meredith Warren and Richard Flower. Yet, they also raised serious questions about the intersection between the late antique past and the present world. For example, our screening of Agora, with its focus on Christian violence in late antique Alexandria, coincided with a time at which today’s Coptic Christians, in many ways the heirs of Alexandria’s late antique traditions, are themselves victims of violence in this very city.

Whilst my involvement in the project was relatively insignificant compared to the monumental work carried out by the project’s founders and leaders, it was nonetheless a fantastic experience. Compiling our findings allowed me to conclude that over the course of the project, over 300 individuals interacted with the project in some way, whether by attending a film, the book club, partaking in the conference or leaving a feedback form at an exhibition. The feedback we collected shows c. 80% of  our events’ attendees reporting they learned ‘a lot of new information’ and that the events ‘changed how they think’ about the early Christian Church or the Roman empire. Our public engagement activities hence served as a quick entry point into the exploration of a period that is undeniably close and yet so far away. For many, it will prove to be a platform into deeper exploration; for others, it has demonstrated the resilience of history and most profoundly, its continued relevance and the value of history as a living, modernising and fascinating science.

Feedback form from one of our events.
Mission accomplished!

Constantine and the Cross

Did the apostles Peter and Paul actually know each other? Among many others, this was one of the questions by our very clever audience at our last film showing, Quo Vadis, and it’s a good one: we simply don’t know! Some sources (the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s Letter to the Galatians) allude to not entirely amicable encounters in Jerusalem and Antioch. Quo Vadis portrays the two apostles together in Rome, but there is no historical source that confirms their simultaneous presence in the city where they were (allegedly) martyred. But Quo Vadis also captures quite nicely the mobility that characterised – at least according the Acts of the Apostles – the activities of the earliest Christian community. When his anxious Roman followers ask Paul about Peter, he tells them of the hide-and-seek Peter was playing with him during his travels: ‘When I came to Corinth, he had already left…the same in Antioch.. then I heard he had gone to Persia’. The frenetic criss-crossing of the Mediterranean, complete with sometimes violent expulsions from its cities and only imaginable in the globalised world that was the Roman empire, soon became part of the foundation myth of Christianity. It endured, as Quo Vadis shows, to the modern day. However, it also influenced how some late antique exiled clerics saw themselves: in the footsteps of the apostles.

If you are interested in another fictional take on this myth come to our book club on 23 March. We’ll be reading The Kingdom and exploring the modern echoes of the travels of the apostle Paul and his biographer, Luke. Incidentally, in the academic world, the travels of Paul and his missionary activities have been subject to similar kinds of social network analysis as we are using in our project.

Our next film in the Clerical Exile film club, on 28 March, is Constantine and the Cross from 1961, a sword-and-sandal film with all the usual trimmings (battle scenes, Christians in the arena…):

After Quo Vadis’ gruesome chronicling of Christian persecution and Nero’s madness we’re moving on through the Roman ages to another moment of world history: the conversion of a Roman emperor to Christianity! We’re staying with our themes of mobility in the Roman empire, following the emperor Constantine from childhood in Britain, over his rise to power in Gaul (modern-day France), to the battle of the Milvian Bridge just outside Rome in 312 on the eve of which the sign of the cross famously (may have) appeared. In addition, we continue examining the themes of religious conversion, conflict and (in)tolerance. Constantine was, of course, also the emperor who called the Council of Nicaea in 325 which enshrined exile and exclusion as a customary response to religious dissidence in Roman law and practice.

The film will be shown on 28 March at 6pm in the Diamond Lecture Theatre 2. Kate Cooper, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Manchester and director of the research project ‘Constantine’s Dream‘ will be on hand to answer questions afterwards.

Please book your free tickets here.



Forced Movement in Late Antiquity — Programme

German Historical Institute London (GHIL)

Thursday, 6 April

9.45-10.15 Registration and Coffee

10.15-11.00 Welcome (Julia Hillner, Sheffield)


The Migration of Faith: Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity — Database Launch (Dirk Rohmann, Sheffield)


Moving Christian Clerics

Chair: Philippe Blaudeau (Angers)

Rita Lizzi Testa (Perugia), Clerical exile and imperial functionaries: Mechanism of civic exclusion in late antiquity

Simon Ford (Oxford), The Church that ran away – or justifying episcopal exile in the Severan-Jacobite Church

12.15-1.15 lunch


Fashioning the Exile Persona

Chair: Richard Flower (Exeter)

Jessica Van’t Westeinde (Tübingen), Not that far from a madding crowd: Jerome ‘exiled’ in Bethlehem

Michael Hanaghan (Cork), Sidonius Apollinaris’ imprisonment as a case of epistolary revisionism

2.15-2.20 comfort break


Moving ‘Barbarians’

Chair: Jenny Barry (Mary Washington)

Sebastian Schmidt-Hofner (Tübingen), Barbarian migrations and the social and economic challenges for Roman landholding elites in the 4th c.

Jeroen Wijnendaele (Ghent), ‘Warrior retinues in Late Antiquity’ – The case of Sarus (c. 406-412 CE)

Alexander Sarantis (Aberystwyth), Mercenary warlords or coerced migrants? Military manpower movements and political competition in Pannonia and the Lower Danube, A.D. 454-565

3.50-4.15 coffee break

4.15-5.15 Keynote lecture: Peter Heather (King’s College London), Barbarian Immigrants and the Roman Empire: Invaders or Refugees?; Chair: Jörg Ulrich (Halle)

5.15-5.45 Wine & nibbles

5.45-7.15 Roundtable: Who was/is a Refugee?

With Stefan Donecker (Vienna), David Reis (Oregon), Steve Symonds (Amnesty International) and Klaus Wivel (Weekendavisen; Copenhagen)

Moderator: Julia Hillner (Sheffield)


Friday, 7 April


Refugees, Resettlement and Extradition

Chair: David Reis (University of Oregon)

Noel Lenski (Yale), Refugees and resettlement in Ancient Rome

Karsten Ronnenberg (Cologne), Nobles on the run. Christian aristocrats in August 410

Ekaterina Nechaeva (Bern), Late antique high-profile defectors and captives: asylum, extradition, and return

Douglas Whalin (Cambridge), Roman loyalists in early Umayyad Lebanon

11.15-11.45 Coffee


Economic Refugees?

Chair: Margarita Vallejo Girvés (Alcalá)

Bruno Marien (Leuven), Libanius’ attitude towards the flight of city councillors: rhetoric, resentment or realism?

David Pitz (Tübingen), Forced Movement? Revisiting the 4th century legislation on movement of and protection over rural populations

1.00-2.00 Lunch

2.00-3.00 Keynote lecture: Sarah Bond (Iowa) ‘Those outside the walls’: Mapping real and imagined topographies in late antiquity; Chair: Jakob Engberg (Aarhus)

3.00-3.30 coffee


Community, Networks and Connectedness

Chair: Dirk Rohmann (Sheffield)

Mattias Brand (Leiden), “The place is difficult” (P.Kell.Copt. 31.47): The persecution of the Manichaean community in fourth century Egypt

Maria Konstantinidou (University of Thrace), John Chrysostom’s support network. Letters from his second exile

Sihong Lin (Manchester), A tale of two exiles: Maximus the Confessor and Wilfrid of York at the end of late antiquity

Saturday, 8 April


Captured Civilians


Éric Fournier (West Chester)

Hervé Huntzinger (Lorraine), Separating and joining again captive families in Late Antiquity: Strategies of deportation and redemption

Maijastina Kahlos (Helsinki), Ausonius and Bissula – War booty and the Roman gaze

Fan Chiang, Shih-Cong (KCL/Taipei), Descriptions, genres and perspectives: the experiences of the captured Roman women in the Romano-Persian wars

10.30-11 coffee


Places of Refuge

Chair: Harry Mawdsley (Sheffield)

Margarita Vallejo Girvés (Alcalá), Church asylum and exile in late antiquity: An unclear relationship

Michaela Dirschlmayer (Frankfurt), Xenodochia: Reception camps for refugees?

Samuel Cohen (Sonoma), The bishops of Rome and the cemetery as a space of exile in late antiquity


Concluding Remarks (Jakob Engberg, Jörg Ulrich)

Quo Vadis

After the success of Gladiator last November, the next film we’ll be showing is the eight-times Academy Awards nominated 1951 epic Quo Vadis.


quo vadis

We’ll stay with our central themes of travel, mobility and forced movement in the Roman world.

In Gladiator, these are issues intrinsically connected with the central character, Maximus. The film is built around his astonishing journey across the Roman social hierarchy. In the process viewers are, however, also presented with a breathtaking route around the periphery of the Roman empire, from the forests of the Danube over the farms of Spain to the deserts of North Africa, and finally, to Rome. Our audience picked up on that point with really interesting interventions in the Question & Answer session following the film, led by Dr Daniele Miano. For example, how likely is it that a Roman general born in Spain would never have been to Rome, as suggested in the film? Questions like these highlight the complex nature of what it meant to be Roman: while it may be doubtful for a Roman general, there must have been many common soldiers, particularly in auxiliary troops, who never experienced Rome itself. Yet, they probably saw more of the empire and had a more ‘global’ experience than many other inhabitants of the Roman empire who in turn may have seen these soldiers as quintessentially ‘Roman’.

With Quo Vadis we start to explore another group of travellers and migrants in the early Roman empire: Christians. While the film is resolutely set in Rome, mobility is an underpinning theme throughout, in allusions to the spread of Christianity through the coming-and-goings of the apostles Peter and Paul, in the threat of expulsion or imprisonment hanging over the Christian community in Rome, and, of course, in the character of the heroine, the beautiful ‘barbarian’ hostage-turned-Christian Lygia. All of this set against the harrowing events of the great fire of Rome in 64AD and emperor Nero’s madness, impressively brought to life by Peter Ustinov!

We’ll have another Question & Answer session afterwards, this time with Dr Meredith Warren, Lecturer in Early Christianity at the University of Sheffield.

The film will be shown on 28 February in the Diamond Lecture Theatre 1. Please book your tickets here.

Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity & Maths Meets Myths Book Launch


Yesterday, we launched Clerical Exile in Late Antiquity at Blackwell’s in Sheffield. We were blessed to be able to hold this as a joint event with the editors of Maths Meets Myths. Quantitative Approaches to Ancient Narratives, so it was a Social Network Analysis fest all round! Thanks to the many colleagues, friends, students and interested people for coming, to Blackwell’s for hosting us, and to the Head of the Sheffield History Department, Prof Phil Withington, for the fantastic introduction!

Máirín MacCarron of Maths Meets Myths and Julia Hillner of Clerical Exile in dialogue.

A Year of Empresses

As this year is drawing to a close I start to realise that, for me, it has been a year of late Roman empresses, both with regard to Clerical Exile and to other research projects. It has also been a year of understanding better how research works. I have learned it is very much about making and enjoying connections: connections between the various strands of my own research and connections across the research community.

My interest in late Roman empresses actually dates from some time ago, when I was in Frankfurt on a Humboldt fellowship and writing up Prison, Punishment and Penance in Late Antiquity. I was at a stage with the book where I could see the end of the tunnel and very cautiously started to think about what to do next. I stumbled over some references to late Roman imperial women residing in Rome which caught my interest, particularly when I realised that there had been quite a few. I can’t remember how I came across this, but it was possibly while preparing an article on Anicia Iuliana for submission to an edited collection on the Collectio Avellana (which still hasn’t been published, but that’s another story!).

I thought this was odd – late antique Rome isn’t usually researched under the perspective of imperial women – but I didn’t really have the time to pursue this any further. However, I did have, for the first time in my life, research assistants, courtesy of the wonderful Humboldt foundation and my host Hartmut Leppin. So while I was reading Plato on punishment, my assistants were scouring the Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire and the library for references to connections between imperial women and Rome. The results are three hefty folders of primary and secondary sources which I brought back to England. (Many thanks to Maximilian Becker and Timo Christian!)

I was looking forward to this project and to (mentally, if not physically) returning to Rome, my first research passion. I felt I needed some relief from having spent nearly ten years with Roman prisons. In the event, my ‘research trajectory’, as it’s now so managerially called, turned out differently. While in Germany, I also had got to know my delightful co-investigators Jörg Ulrich and Jakob Engberg and together we set out on the journey of Clerical Exile, a logical step from Prison, Punishment and Penance.

Yet, there were those three folders sitting on my shelves and it seemed a shame ‘wasting’ all this material. So, while managing Clerical Exile in the daytime, late Roman empresses became a bit of a hobby. I started to give papers on this topic, often – because the topic is an accessible one – to more general audiences up and down the country, such as local branches of the Classical Association. But empresses also started to creep into my work on Clerical Exile (if that isn’t too weird an image), perhaps true to the maxim that once you start looking for something you find it almost everywhere.

Collecting all data on clerical exile and submitting them to network analysis is a very ‘democratizing’ process: every connection mentioned in the primary material counts for the algorithm. You hence have to read texts with a different eye and many individuals become more visible (if you want to find out more come to our book launch next week, where you can also meet the incomparable Máirín MacCarron without whom I would know much less about networks). It turns out, empresses are all over late antique exile stories, as either scheming enemies of clerics, responsible for their exile, or as supporters, helping with their return. Sometimes, they appear in both roles at once in the same story. Take, for example, the case of the deacon Theophilus ‘The Indian’, who was exiled around 354 by Constantius II for treason. According to the sympathetic Philostorgius (Hist. eccl. 4.1, 7, 8), Constantius recalled him when his wife, Eusebia, fell ill and it was said that only Theophilus could heal her, which he did. However, back at court, Constantius’ women, who must have included Eusebia, turned against him, supporting his enemy Basil of Ancyra in influencing Constantius to banish Theophilus again, this time for his Anomoean beliefs. Here’s how this story can be visualised as a network graph:


I haven’t quite figured out what Eusebia’s u-turn means yet (why upset a man who’s just cured you from deadly disease?), but I suspect late antique authors found imperial women ‘good to think with’ about proper legal procedure (or the absence of it) surrounding clerical exile.  Aelia Eudoxia, Arcadius’ wife and John Chrysostom’s nemesis, springs to mind here as well.

My previous and initially somewhat thwarted interests in empresses in Rome induced me to think about clerical exile differently. But it also works the other way around: knowing more about clerical exile induced me to think differently about empresses, too. Probably due to giving all these papers on late Roman empresses there now seem to be a lot of kind people across the research community who think I can contribute to the field. As a result, this year I was flooded with opportunities to extend my knowledge: through reviews of new books on late Roman empresses, through examining a PhD thesis by the brilliant, now Dr Belinda Washington (who I immediately made to give a paper on empresses and exile at our September workshop), through writing dictionary entries for the Oxford Classical Dictionary, and through gaining an amazing new PhD student working on female spaces in late antique Rome (who, incidentally, has blogged here).

What I found out in the process is how often we know something about late Roman empresses because they were remembered in texts and collections that were not about them, but about clerical exile (or more broadly, religious conflict): take, for example, the fifth-century Church historians’ obsession with Constantia, the sister of Constantine, for her alleged support of the exiled Arius, who I have blogged about here.

The highlight of my year was a paper I was invited to give, once again, about the Collectio Avellana, that curious imperial-episcopal letter collection compiled in the sixth century (check out the interview by TGRMedia with Rita Lizzi Testa, who organized the event!).  I have been involved with the enthusiastic ‘Banda Avellana’ for some years now. When they invited me again this year, I wasn’t quite sure what I could still contribute. But then I remembered that Collectio Avellana contains letters by Galla Placidia, sister of Honorius, about the expulsion of dissenting bishops from Rome after a schism broke out in 418, and that the letter collections emerging from the Council of Chalcedon contained more letters by the same empress and her daughter-in-law, empress Licinia Eudoxia, about the exile of Flavian of Constantinople in 449. So once again, clerical exile led me to think about empresses differently, and I spent almost all summer fretting about the ‘female imperial voice’ in late antiquity. What a treat!

While at the beginning of this year I felt a bit torn between the various strands of my research, I’ve now come to understand that everything is, after all, connected, true to the premise of Clerical Exile. I still have to decide what that means for developing and, crucially, publishing the various bits of my research, but  I am blessed to be surrounded by so many inspiring people who can help me figure that out. In the end, networks matter!

Head of an unidentified late Roman empress, Museo dell’Alto Medio Evo, Rome, inv. 2547.


To give a taster of our book and film club the Film Unit at the University of Sheffield is going to show Gladiator on 23 November, in collaboration with The Migration of Faith and the Sheffield Classical Association!

Gladiator masterfully illuminates the themes of centre, periphery, captivity and forced movement in the Roman empire — all themes which will also underpin our conference in London in April 2017! Postgraduate students connected to the Migration of Faith project, and Dr Daniele Miano from the Department of History, a specialist on ancient mobility, will be on hand to answer questions.



To book your free tickets click here


Now on: Clerical Exile Book Club!

From March 2017, The Migration of Faith sponsors a book club in Sheffield, exploring early Christianity, the world of the Church fathers, mobility and exile. We’ll be reading modern novels with a unique and inspiring take on these themes that will throw an alternative light on our research. The novels show that the issues at the heart of our research – the intense theological debates that underpinned early Christianity and often led to clerical exile, as well as the personal and cultural encounters they generated around the ancient Mediterranean – still have the power to move us today.

On deck are:

Emmanuel Carrère, The Kingdom

Topping the French bestseller lists in 2014 and freshly translated into English this year, this novel follows the apostle Paul and the evangelist Luke in their quest to spread Jesus’ teaching and a unique idea of social order around the Mediterranean.

We will meet on 23 March, 5-7pm in the Bath Hotel, Sheffield.




Evelyn Waugh, Helena

By popular vote, our second novel will be Evelyn Waugh’s Helena, his only historical novel. Helena, mother of Constantine, was an avid traveller: most famous of course for her trip to Palestine which, according to some, set in motion Holy Land tourism. She also toured the Eastern provinces meeting some of the bishops investigated by The Migration of Faith project (one was allegedly banished for insulting her). Waugh traces all this and much more with humanity and humour, presenting Helena as intensely interested in the History of Christianity and its mythical spaces.

We will meet on 10 May, 5-7pm, venue tbc. Please email Dominik Kocbuch at for more info.


Frank Spinella, Heresy. A Novel

Investigates how something that started as an intellectual debate of the early fourth century became a ‘heresy’ and how the networks between clerics contributed to the condemnation of the priest Arius’ teaching at the Council of Nicaea in 325, leading to his and many other late antique clerics’ exile around the Mediterranean.





Youssef Ziedan, Azazeel

Awarded the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2010 (among some controversy) and set in the world of the Eastern Mediterranean, this novel describes the journeys of a fifth-century monk: an external journey that takes him from Southern Egypt to Eastern Syria, and an internal one exploring his humanity, triggered by an encounter with Nestorius of Constantinople, soon to be exiled for his views.






The book club is open to anyone who is interested and will take place in an informal setting in a local Sheffield pub. Our next meeting is on 10 May.

The book club will be accompanied by the screening of a number of iconic films narrating stories of ancient mobility, early Christianity and (some) of the characters of the novels. Our next and last film is Agora, on 25 April, 6pm at the Film Unit in the Students’ Union. Book your free tickets here.

Please email Dominik Kocbuch at or Julia Hillner at if you are interested in receiving further information.