Case Studies



Early in the Ptolemaic era, the cult of Isis and Sarapis spread successfully to the ports in the ancient Mediterranean. However, the reasons standing behind this process are only partially understood. The main hypotheses in the academic discussion see the key factor influencing the spread of the Isiac cults as either the maritime trade network or Ptolemaic political propaganda. Both of these claims can find some support in the historical evidence. Ptolemaic Egypt was one of the main exporters of grain, Isis was a patron goddess of sailors and many cities in the ancient Mediterranean had close diplomatic relations with the Ptolemies. We are constructing a model in order to clarify which of these factors could be advantageous for specific locations in the question of the spread of the cult of Isis and Sarapis. Based on environmental and political datasets this model determines the theoretical political and trade atractiveness of these specific places for potential Egyptian visitors who could bring the cult practice or artifacts with them. The results of this model can be subsequently compared with the distribution of the archaeological evidence connected with the Isiac cults.

(Tomáš Glomb, in collaboration with Zdeněk Stachoň and Adam Mertel)

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The influence of Jewish heritage on the spread of early Christianity represents a traditional research issue in the history of Christianity. However, research projects up to now have been mainly aimed at detailed analyses of fragmentary written sources and/or general reconstructions of historical process based on deductive methods. Modeling approaches based on network theory and/or discrete diffusion models can provide a more suitable way how to bridge the gap between the fragmentary historical evidence and the complexity of investigated processes. The project is focused on the Marcionate and Lukan Christianities as a strictly coded test case dated back to the first half of the 2nd century. Despite weak historical evidence, it is obvious that these two trends, which are assumed to be contemporaneous (Pervo 2006; Tyson 2006), maintained different attitudes to the Jewish heritage and so they probably utilized different (i.e. Jewish and non-Jewish) networks. While the first trend, represented by Marcion and his canon (BeDuhn 2013), rejected the Jewish heritage, the latter one, represented by Luke and his writings, still maintained the Jewish background of Christianity. Nuances of Judaizing and de-Judaizing tendencies are intentionally reduced to the Jewish and non-Jewish singular characteristics. It presupposes two crucial types of spreading dynamics which either used the Jewish networks or ignored them. This issue is now mathematically analyzed within the centralized and decentralized networks which might plausibly represent an ambivalent role of the Jerusalem centrality during the first two centuries of the spread of Christianity.

(Dalibor Papoušek and Zdeněk Pospíšil)

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At the beginning of the fourth century, Christians already constituted a substantial proportion of population of the Roman Empire, especially in eastern provinces, but also in Italy, north Africa or Spain. With its origins in 1st century Palestine, Christianity reached some locations earlier than others and blossomed in some places better than others. Using network analysis and computational models of the diffusion of innovations, our research project aims to evaluate several factors which could be responsible for the observed temporal and spatial distributions. We hypothesize that the scarcely evidenced temporal and spatial distribution of Christianity over the Roman Empire can be re-grown in an artificial simulation environment as a diffusion of innovation model on a Roman travelling network of roads and maritime routes, which connects respective settlement sites to one another. We consider only (1) the travel expenses, (2) population sizes and economic importance of reachable destinations and (3) exponential grow of Christian number, while all the other environmental variables can be ignored for the sake of the analysis. In the Graeco-Roman context, an adherence to a religious cult was typically expressed by one’s inclusion in a certain social unit (extended family, association etc.), rather than by personal decision and commitment to a set of beliefs. Therefore, Christianisation, too, can be approached on the level of practices of social groups instead than on the level of decisions of individuals. In that respect, by Christianisation we mean a twofold process: 1) by horizontal Christianisation we refer to a process concerning how worldviews and ritual innovations spread from one group to another; 2) by vertical Christianisation we refer to a process, not a moment, of continuous implementation of these innovations into the social practice of certain social group. At the current state of research, we are focusing more attention on the horizontal aspect.

(Vojtěch Kaše, in collaboration with Eva Výtvarová, Jan Fousek and Adam Mertel)

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The origins of the Roman cult of Mithras remain an unsolved puzzle. Since the Cumontian scenario (Cumont 1913), which holds that the Mithraic cult spread from ancient Persia to the Roman Empire, was abandoned due to increasing criticism, various alternative hypotheses have been presented. Some of these still assume that the formation of the cult took place in Asia Minor (e.g. Will 1978, Turcan 1993, Gordon 1978, Beck 1998). Others can be seen as a more radical departure from the Cumontian view and offer candidate regions more distant from ancient Persia, e.g. Bosporan Kingdom (Beskow 1978), Balkan Peninsula (Wikander 1951) or Rome/Ostia (Clauss 2000). However, the oldest archaeological evidence for the cultʼs existence does not unequivocally support any of these hypotheses; consequently, we cannot easily decide which of these scenarios of the origins of the Mithraic cult should be accepted as historically more likely. We argue that the analysis of the diffusion of Mithraic communities over the Mithraic network might possibly shed some light on the formation process of the Roman cult of Mithras and lead to the identification of a geographic region from where the cult probably began to spread, given its late distribution across the Roman Empire. The results of such an analysis may help scholars to evaluate competing scenarios of the Mithraic origins and to partially overcome the problem of the lack of relevant evidence. We assume that a quantitative network analysis of the spatial and temporal distribution of the archaeological and epigraphical evidence related to the Roman cult of Mithras may shed light on the process of the formation of the Roman cult of Mithras. This may lead to an identification of a geographic region from where the cult most likely started to spread. Results of such an analysis can help historians to better evaluate competing scenarios of Mithraic origins and partly “bridge“ lacunae caused by the lack of relevant evidence.

(Aleš Chalupa, in collaboration with Eva Výtvarová, Jan Fousek and Tomáš Hampejs)

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