The Early Byzantine Christian Church

An Archaeological Re-assessment of Forty-Seven Early Byzantine Basilical Church Excavations Primarily in Israel and Jordan, and their Historical and Liturgical Context

by Bernard Mulholland (Author)
©2014 Monographs XVI, 234 Pages


The observation that domestic artefacts are often recovered during church excavations led to an archaeological re-assessment of forty-seven Early Byzantine basilical church excavations and their historical, gender and liturgical context. The excavations were restricted to the three most common basilical church plans to allow for like-for-like analysis between sites that share the same plan: monoapsidal, inscribed and triapsidal. These sites were later found to have two distinct sanctuary configurations, namely a Π-shaped sanctuary in front of the apse, or else a sanctuary that extended across both side aisles that often formed a characteristic T-shaped layout. Further analysis indicated that Π-shaped sanctuaries are found in two church plans: firstly a protruding monoapsidal plan that characteristically has a major entrance located to either side of the apse, which is also referred to as a ‘Constantinopolitan’ church plan; and secondly in the inscribed plan, which is also referred to as a ‘Syrian’ church plan. The T-shaped layout is characteristic of the triapsidal plan, but can also occur in a monoapsidal plan, and this is referred to as a ‘Roman’ church plan. Detailed analysis of inscriptions and patterns of artefactual deposition also revealed the probable location of the diakonikon where the rite of prothesis took place.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of tables
  • List of figures
  • Summary
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Domestic artefacts in Early Christian churches
  • Chapter 2: Methodology
  • Overview of Byzantine archaeology
  • Research method
  • (i) Artefacts
  • (ii) Repeated patterns
  • (iii) Early Byzantine basilical churches
  • (iv) Early Byzantine basilical churches in the Levant
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: What can church sites reveal about liturgy?
  • Archaeological evidence for Early Byzantine basilical church plans
  • (i) Constantinopolitan church plan
  • (ii) Syrian church plan
  • (iii) Roman church plan
  • (iv) Syrian-to-Roman church conversion
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: A second focus of liturgical activity
  • Where is the diakonikon located?
  • Archaeological evidence
  • (i) Constantinopolitan church plans
  • (ii) Roman church plans
  • (iii) Syrian church plans
  • Are there two types of diakonika?
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: Other activities in Early Byzantine basilical churches
  • Archaeological evidence
  • Liquids
  • Solids
  • Imported wares
  • Historical evidence
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Gender analysis: is there evidence for segregation of the sexes in Early Byzantine basilical churches?
  • The segregation of the sexes
  • Historical evidence
  • Archaeological evidence
  • (i) Burials
  • (a) Osteologically sexed skeletal remains
  • (b) Anthropologically sexed burials (using artefacts)
  • (ii) Inscriptions
  • (iii) Artefacts
  • (iv) Images
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 7: Conclusion
  • Chapter 8: Postscript: the ‘God phenomenon’
  • Church plans
  • Syrian-to-Roman church conversions
  • The diakonikon
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

← viii | ix → List of tables

Table 2.1. List of Early Byzantine basilical church sites, arranged geographically and with primary sources

Table 2.2. Abandonment processes: Constantinopolitan church plan

Table 2.3. Abandonment processes: Syrian church plan

Table 2.4. Abandonment processes: Roman church plan

Table 2.5. Abandonment processes: indeterminate church plans

Table 3.1. Constantinopolitan church plan: apsidal plan and configuration of the sanctuary

Table 3.2. Constantinopolitan churches: side chapel, ambo, synthronon and bishop’s seat

Table 3.3. Syrian church plans: apsidal plan and configuration of the sanctuary

Table 3.4. Syrian churches: side chapel, ambo, synthronon and bishop’s seat

Table 3.5. Single-aisled Syrian churches with south chapels associated with Syrian plan: south chapel, ambo, synthronon and bishop’s seat

Table 3.6. Roman church plans: apsidal plan and configuration of the sanctuary

Table 3.7. Roman churches: side chapel, ambo, synthronon and bishop’s seat

Table 4.1. Diakonikon inscriptions

Table 4.2. Constantinopolitan church plans

Table 4.3. Syrian church plans

← ix | x → Table 4.4. Roman church plans

Table 5.1. Whole and fragmentary artefacts: Syrian church plans

Table 5.2. Whole and fragmentary artefacts: Roman church plans

Table 5.3. Imported pottery (Grey Ware or Constantinopolitan Ware, PRSW, ARSW, CRSW & Coptic RSW. Also Gaza & bag jars are included for Nicopolis ad Istrum)

Table 6.1. Constantinopolitan church plans

Table 6.2. Syrian church plans

Table 6.3. Roman church plans

Table 6.4. Indeterminate church plans

Table 6.5. Images: Syrian church plans

Table 6.6. Images: Roman church plans

Table 6.7. Images: indeterminate church plans

← x | xi → List of figures

Figure 2.1. Typical layout of Early Byzantine monoapsidal basilical church, with common terms used in the text

Figure 2.2. Apsidal variation

Figure 3.1. Three church plans evident in the catalogue of sites

Figure 4.1. Second focus of liturgical activity located in side chapels

Figure 4.2. Location of diakonikon, and also the second focus of liturgical activity in side chapels

Figure 8.1. Roman church plan and diakonikon, with a ‘step-wise’ hierarchal structure← xi | xii →

← xii | xiii → Summary

In this book the object of study is institutional behaviour in the Early Byzantine Church in which ritualised activities occur with great frequency. The aim of the book was to examine a large sample of church sites to determine whether there might be evidence for repeated patterns of artefactual deposition in the archaeological record that could provide evidence for some of these activities. Chapter 2 establishes the method used, why artefactual evidence is restricted to those artefacts associated with the site when it functioned as a church, and re-arranged into their original context and stratigraphy to allow like-for-like comparative analysis across sites with a similar church plan.

The church sites were limited to the three most common basilical forms. However in Chapter 3 it is observed that evidence from post holes for the altar table and chancel screen posts, together with whole or fragmentary liturgical furniture, indicated that there are two distinct internal layouts that can affect artefactual deposition, i.e. a Π-shaped sanctuary in front of the apse, and also a T-shaped or bar-shaped sanctuary that extends across each of the side aisles. This observation led to three new groups of church sites: Constantinopolitan, Syrian and Roman. Detailed analysis of each group revealed further characteristics associated with each group. The same evidence identified a second focus of liturgical activity located in side chapels which is examined in Chapter 4, and further evidence from five inscriptions indicates that these side chapels functioned as diakonika.

The appearance of relatively large quantities of domestic artefacts, including amphorae, is examined in detail in Chapter 5 and in the next chapter the archaeological evidence is scrutinised for any evidence that the sexes were segregated in the Early Byzantine Church. The evidence is summarised in Chapter 7, and further avenues of research discussed in the last chapter.← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | xv → Acknowledgements

Any work of this magnitude and complexity has some input from many sources. I should like to thank those who have read the contents and commented upon them. These include Professor Gabriel Cooney, Dr. Ken Dark, Dr. Mark Gardiner, Dr. Helen Gittos, Professor Stephen Hill, Dr. Mark Jackson, Dr. Luke Lavan, Professor Margaret Mullett, Dr. Dion Smythe, and especially Professor Theresa Urbainczyk. I would also like to thank Dr. Eliya Ribak and Dr. Ellen Swift who read and commented upon extracts. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to Professor Andrew Poulter, who made excavation data available to me from the site at Nicopolis ad Istrum.

Byzantine Studies is a very complex area of research, and I have also learnt a great deal from fellow members of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies (SPBS), and I should particularly like to thank both Antony Eastmond and Kathleen Maxwell for keeping me informed of SPBS/BSANA activities. The same must apply to those who attended the Institute of Byzantine Studies at the Queen’s University in Belfast, either as lecturers or students, particularly Professor Jim Crow, Dr. Robert Jordan and Dr. Dirk Krausmuller. I received invaluable feedback to papers from those who attended the 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 Oxford Byzantine Society postgraduate conferences, the 2007 and 2008 ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ Postgraduate Forum in Byzantine Studies at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Trinity College in Dublin, the 41st Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies 4th–6th April 2008 in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, and the 2005 and 2007 AHRB Centre for Byzantine Cultural History Graduate Day at the Institute of Byzantine Studies at Queen’s University in Belfast. I also had the great pleasure of working in Israel with Ken Dark on the Nazareth Project 2009 and with Luke Lavan on the Berlin-Kent Ostia 2010 and 2011 missions in Italy. These periods of fieldwork proved valuable in refining my thoughts in relation to this book.

← xv | xvi → Professor Marie-Therese Flanagan, Professor Peter Gray, Professor David Hayton and Dr. Anthony Hirst have provided invaluable assistance for which I am grateful. I would also like to thank all the librarians at Queen’s University, and particularly Florence Gray from the interlibrary loan section who has been indispensable. I owe a great debt to the secretaries at the Institute of Byzantine Studies at Queen’s University, Belfast including Valerie Miller, Shema Mondal, and Joanne Robinson. However special thanks must go to Marie George and Angelina Rotchford who were of immense help to me. At the School of History and Anthropology I must thank Catherine Boone and Frances Mercer. Lastly, I benefited enormously from grants provided by the DHFETE and DEL, which helped to fund my postgraduate research.

On a personal note, I would also like to thank the staff of Portadown library and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) for keeping the light of intellectual inquiry burning. In the same vein I would also like to thank Ken Twyble, Brendan McStravick and family, Sean and Jean McConville, Alf O’Muiri and his wife and family, Pat McFlynn and his wife, and many others who were very supportive over the years.


XVI, 234
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (February)
monoapsidal plan inscribed plan triapsidal plan sanctuary configurations
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2014. XVI, 234 pp., 6 b/w ill., 26 tables

Biographical notes

Bernard Mulholland (Author)

Bernard Mulholland graduated with a PhD in History from the School of History and Anthropology at Queen’s University, Belfast after having enrolled in its Institute of Byzantine Studies. He has delivered research papers based upon his thesis at the annual Oxford University Byzantine Society International Graduate Conference in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He is a member of the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies, New York Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and the Council for British Archaeology.


Title: The Early Byzantine Christian Church
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