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’.

Conference report ‘Forced Movement in Late Antiquity’

Our final major project conference ‘Forced Movement in Late Antiquity’ was held at the German Historical Institute in London from 6 to 8 April 2017.

The aims and objectives of this conference were to explore cultural, social and religious transformations as a direct result of mobility within the Mediterranean world of Late Antiquity and beyond. While a great deal of papers invited were concerned primarily with movement of clerics and religious groups via exile or other forms of expulsion – this is the core aim of our project that has been able to trace these movement by means of digitalisation – other speakers put the concept of spatial mobility into a greater context, analysing the ways in which individuals moved around territories, for example, as a consequence of wars or raids, to find asylum, or to explore new avenues of wage labour. Papers of either direction contextualised mobility and movement as a means of mapping the development of new communities, ideas and senses of belonging at the end of antiquity up to the early Middle Ages. Personally, I was impressed with the quality of papers, the depth of discussions and the amount of thought-provoking ideas from all participants that came together from different parts of the world.

The conference was planned and pre-organised a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, the subject of mobility and forced movement turned out to be of timely relevance in a period where movement has attracted considerable political attention. It is therefore no surprise that part of the presentations and discussions were informed by the desire to explain the past from the present. The invitation of professionals working in the wider area of movement issues, particularly during the round table discussion, strengthened this view.

A preliminary version of the clerical exile graph shows that the “Crowd in Constantinople” was right in the centre of decision processes regarding the movement of clerics. The ‘big bubble’ in the top left corner that is connected to the crowd illustrates the amount of contacts that John Chrysostom cultivated during his exile. As his is the case best evidenced, it is reasonable to assume that exiled individuals often stayed in touch with previous and new communities.

After words of welcome and the presentation of the scope and results of, and ways to use, the database (Hillner, Rohmann), the first panel started to discuss the movements of clerical exile (Lizzi Testa, Ford, session chaired by Blaudeau) in terms of procedures of expulsion in the fourth and fifth centuries, and its connection to maiestas trials, as well as the justification strategies for persecution of a large group of anti-Chalcedonians in the early sixth century. The early afternoon session discussed the ways in which individual authors fashioned their exile experience in writing (Van’t Westeinde, Hanaghan, chaired by Flower). Jerome, for one, constructed his ‘presence in absence’ and that of his network, while residing in Bethlehem ‘in exile’. Sidonius Apollinaris used his correspondence to outline his resistance against the Visigothic conquest of Spain. This was followed by a panel on ‘Barbarian’ migration (Schmidt-Hofner, Wijnendaele, Sarantis, chaired by Barry). Question discussed included the problems of migration for landholding elites in the fourth century, the transformation from imperial soldiers to warlords in the fifth century and the cultural and socio-economic repercussions of Roman exploitation of barbarian manpower in the Balkan region in the century following the death of Attila the Hun. The first conference day was nearly completed with Peter Heather’s keynote lecture ‘Barbarian Immigrants and the Roman Empire: Invaders or Refugees’, setting out a number of push and pull factors for mobility from outside the Roman Empire. Nonetheless, the conference was taken to a contemporary level with the roundtable contributions by Donecker, Reis, Symonds (Amnesty International) and Wivel (Weekendavisen, author of The Last Supper. The Plight of Christians in Arab Lands), who discussed the question of who is or a was a refugee from both a historical and contemporary angle, including an engaging discussion of legal definitions and applications (picture below).


Day two set out with the questions of resettlement and extradition of refugees in Late Antiquity (Lenski, Ronnenberg, Nechaeva, Whalin, chaired by Reis). The panel analysed the questions of large scale settlements of Barbarians under Roman terms and violent exploitation, the flight of Roman female aristocrats following the sack of Rome in 410 and their impact on Church authorities, the mechanisms of extradition of war captives between Rome and Persia in the sixth century, particularly with a view to the Endless Peace treaty, and the violent uprisings by Roman loyalists against Muslim control in seventh-century Lebanon. The noon panel went on to discuss definitions and ranges of economic refugees in Late Antiquity (Marien and Pitz, chaired by Vallejo Girvéz). Main points to consider were Libanius’ different attitudes of decurial flight into the imperial service in correspondence and sermons, on the one hand, and push and pull factors in forced rural movement of coloni, on the other. Sarah Bond followed up on a number of aspects so far discussed in the second keynote lecture on the scope of digital mapping projects and new technologies for mapping real and imagined topographies in Late Antiquity, demonstrating the usefulness of digital humanities with a number of visually impressive slides (Ulrich and Engberg led the discussion for the respective keynote talks). The final session of the day (Brand, Konstantinidou, Sihong Lin, chaired by myself) explored the daily life of networks of a persecuted Manichaean community in new papyrological evidence from Kellis in Egypt. This was followed by an exploration of John Chrysostom’s extensive letter networks in his second exile in Cucusus, the qualities of relationships, the status of addressees and frequencies of communication. The final talk offered a comparative approach to seventh-century exile experiences in the east and in the west through examination of the case studies of Maximus the Confessor and Wilfried of York.

The final day first begun with a session on the fate and experiences of captured civilians, in particular women (Huntzinger, Kahlos, Fan Chiang, chaired by Fournier). Starting with the general observation that civilians rather than soldiers increasingly suffered captivity in Late Antiquity, the first paper set out to explore experiences of deportation and family separation. This was followed by an in-depth analysis of Ausonius’ poems on Bissula and their erotic, often uncomfortable, connotations in the context of wider information available for women and children as war booty in Late Antiquity. The third paper extended this view onto the experiences of women taken captive in historians such as Ammianus Marcellinus, Procopius and John of Ephesus. The final panel of the conference (Vallejo Girvés, Dirschlmayer, Cohen, chaired by Mawdsley) explored the nature of space used to house refugees and asylum seekers, first concentrating on the disrespect for church asylum by political authorities, on one hand, and on the availability of church asylum for clerical exiles, on the other. The session went on to analyse the role of Roman empresses in the maintenance of ‘refugee camps’ (xenodocheia) and the different categories of visitors to such sites. The final paper discussed Liberius’ exile in the cemetery of St Agnes, as reported in the Liber Pontificalis, as a possible forgery designed to construct a specific ritual of purification, in the wider context of other bishops of Rome temporarily residing in cemeteries.

All talks were followed by question rounds. Engberg and Ulrich summarised the main aspects raised during those three days in a final, and stimulating, discussion.

The conference was accompanied by communal dinners with further ongoing debates, by a special exhibition in the British Museum on the theme of mobility and, last but not least, by beautiful English spring weather in London. A huge thanks to our kind hosts at the GHI London!

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.


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.