Like many regions in Asia Minor, Galatia in Central Anatolia most probably came into contact with Christianity already in New Testament times. However, the process of Christianization in this region has not been described in detail yet. This might be due to the fact that, although there were Christian congregations from an early date on, Galatia did not play a central role in early ecclesiastical history. In order to understand the propagation of Christianity in Asia Minor in general however, it is crucial to take a closer look at Christian life in Galatia.
Starting with early Christian inscriptions as a main source, the project investigates the formation of ecclesiastic centers, structures and authorities, and the theological character of Christianity in this region. There are currently about 450 published Christian inscriptions from Galatia. Some of them are known from older editions and have often been lost in the meantime while others have been discovered and published only recently. Together they form a large corpus of texts that is analyzed systematically with a focus on the development of early Christianity for the first time.
The epigraphic sources, which are mostly private inscriptions, focus on the social situation, everyday life and religious identities of Christians. Most of these inscriptions are epitaphs. Unfortunately, early Christian funerary inscriptions usually do not tell us much about the biography of the deceased and in Galatia many of them are especially modest. However, even the most laconic texts at least yield personal names. They show how Phrygian, Celtic, Greek, and Roman cultural influences merged in this region and illuminate how this was supplemented by Christian naming practices. Furthermore, Christian formulae and symbols reveal theological influences and ideas about the afterlife. On the other hand, a comparison with non-Christian material also shows where Christians characteristically did not change the epigraphic conventions: While in some cities such as Ancyra and Tavium, typical Christian formulae are prevalent, that often interpret death as a kind of sleep (e.g. κοιμητήριον, ἐνθάδε κεκοίμηται, etc.), Christians in the rural area in the south of the region clung to the traditional formula μνήμης χάριν (‚in memory‘) up to the 5th/6th centuries. Apparently, no need was felt to change a tradition that did not conflict with their Christian identity. In many cases, the inscriptions also provide information about the social situation of Christians. They often reveal extensive family relations, show depictions of household goods and farming equipment, or mention occupations.
An important aspect of the evaluation of the inscriptions is the discussion of what actually identifies them as Christian. Often it is difficult to decide whether an epitaph was set up by or for Christians or not, especially when a Christian identity is not explicitly stated. This is the case with many presumably Christian epitaphs from the Imperial Era in Galatia. In older scholarship, it was often presumed that Christians tried to conceal their Christian identity from outsiders to avoid persecution. In many cases, however, it seems more likely that people had not adopted typical Christian forms of funeral inscriptions yet or simply saw no reason to confess their faith on an epitaph.
Certain features might nevertheless be indications for a Christian context. Some personal names e.g. (most prominently Kyriakos/e, meaning ‘belonging to the lord’) might have an almost exclusively Christian background. Furthermore, there are certain identifications of persons, such as e.g. women (and men) who are called παρθένοι (virgins), which might or might not point to sexual asceticism as it was wide spread among Christians. Such features are often ambiguous. They are discussed in detail because they are of interest not only for the Galatian context but also for the discussion of early Christian inscriptions and the perception of Early Christianity in general.
The research is closely connected to the database of early Christian inscriptions Inscriptiones Christianae Graecae. While the database is an invaluable tool for collecting the Galatian epigraphic documents and comparing them to inscriptions from other regions, part of the work of this project was also to add newly published Galatian inscriptions to the database and to supplement already existing entries with new insights.
This Ph.D. thesis is being written within the program “Ancient Languages and Texts” (ALT) at the Berlin Graduate School of Ancient Studies (BerGSAS). It will be completed in 2020.