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Christian Diversity in Late Antique Sirmium (ca 350 – ca 450): A Historical, Literary and Theological Study

A comprehensive study of writings and artefacts related to the Christian community of late antique Sirmium is bringing history to life and providing greater insight into European culture.
Late antique Sirmium, today’s Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia, was a cross-cultural space in the fourth and fifth centuries, a first-rank administrative and military centre. The EU-funded project CHRISLAS worked to provide an accurate portrait of Christianity in Sirmium’s century of glory, spanning from approximately 350-450 AD.

The faces, places and practices of Sirmium

The project’s Marie Curie fellow Dr Hajnalka Tamas elaborates: “Just like in other Christian centres of the time, the history, identity and development of Sirmian Christianity was influenced not only from within, but also by a series of external factors.” An initial project objective was to map the major events, personalities and processes, both secular and ecclesiastical, that affected the local Christian community.

The research team examined written and material sources relating to late antique Sirmium, from both Sirmium itself and other parts of the Roman Empire. Analysis of the written heritage included focus on Christian Sirmium’s prosopography and its Christian practices (asceticism). Material sources examined included remains of monumental architecture, tombs, inscriptions and small objects with Christian imagery.

Through two research stays in Sremska Mitrovica – at the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments Sremska Mitrovica and at the Museum of Srem – the research team was able to access artefacts and amass the latest in related scientific work.

Bringing Pannonian studies to light

These activities led to the project’s final major goal of initiating dialogue between local and international academia and the cultural sector in Serbia and neighbouring countries. Concretely, dialogue has taken the shape of an informal network of late antique Pannonian studies. An integral part of Pannonia, “Sirmium shares so many characteristics with other Pannonian towns now scattered across Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia, that its study cannot be independent from the study of these other sites,” Dr Tamas explains.

Combining written and material aspects of research on Christian Sirmium marks a research first. It also enabled CHRISLAS to address the subject holistically. The project also pioneered through its emphasis on the community’s history, its flourishing and struggles, and its development and conflicts.

Taking Sirmium to the international stage

The CHRISLAS team is contributing to a project, coordinated by the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments Sremska Mitrovica, to restore and present to the public an archaeological find retrieved during excavations in 2016. The artefact is a painted tomb with Christian imagery and iconography of the Good Shepherd, a widespread trope in early Christian art.

Project results have been partially presented at scientific conferences in the United Kingdom and the United States, and in 2018 CHRISLAS organised its own project workshop. “Papers delivered at the workshop significantly advanced research in various aspects relating to Christian Sirmium,” the fellow notes.

Publication of the project monograph and the exhibition and publication of the Good Shepherd wall paintings will further raise awareness on Christian Sirmium. “This research can be paradigmatic for the study of other Christian communities of the time,” Dr Tamas underlines. This will contribute to “a more profound knowledge of our roots, of European culture and, to a certain extent, of European identity today – especially significant since Europe today is similarly a cross-cultural space.”

Reference source: Christian Diversity in Late Antique Sirmium (ca 350 – ca 450): A Historical, Literary and Theological Study

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