Key Fowden, Saint Sergius (1999)

Key Fowden, Saint Sergius (1999)
Form of publication

Elizabeth Key Fowden, The Barbarian Plain: Saint Sergius between Rome and Iran, series The Transformation of the Classical Heritage XXVIII (University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London 1999)

ISBN 0-520-21685-7

During the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. there arose on the Euphrates frontier, between the empires of Rome and Iran, a city girded with glittering gypsum walls. Within these walls stood a great church, a shrine for the relics of Saint Sergius, who was martyred there, at Rusafa, in the early fourth century. Round about stretched the “Barbarian Plain,” inhabited by Arab tribes in unstable alliance with Rome. When these people became Christian, they took the soldier-martyr Sergius to their hearts and made of him a rider-saint in their own image. Emperors of both Rome and Iran, as well as princes of the Arabs, courted the martyr’s favor. Pilgrims entreated him to heal their afflictions. Merchants traded, and treaties were negotiated under his protection.

In this study of the growth of a martyr cult in late antiquity, Elizabeth Key Fowden draws on literary accounts, inscriptions, archaeology, images, and the landscape itself to construct a many-faceted picture of the role of religion in a frontier society–as much in the lives of the ordinary faithful as in the strategic calculations of hostile empires. In the seventh century, the frontier between Rome and Iran collapsed as Syria and Mesopotamia were over-whelmed by the rapid expansion of Islam. But that expansion created less tangible boundaries between the followers of Jesus and those of Muhammad–boundaries that Sergius was potent enough to bridge. In the eighth century, the Caliph Hisham saw no alternative but to build a large mosque right up against the pilgrimage church of Rusafa.

Devotion to Sergius illustrates the power of the late antique cult of saints and also forms part of the prehistory of the Muslim world. Addressing itself to what was most vigorous in Arab Christianity, underlining its context in the culture of the late Roman East, and concluding with a sketch of the Sergius cult’s persistence until the present day, The Barbarian Plain is the product of a scholarly climate increasingly less disposed to sever the study of Islam’s formation from that of antiquity’s–and indeed Christianity’s–transformation.


List of Illustrations, Preface, Acknowledgements, Note on Transliteration, Abbreviations, Maps pp. IX-XXII. Introduction pp. 1-5. 1. Portraits of a Martyr pp. 7-44. 2. Martyr Cult on the Frontier: The Case of Mayperqat pp. 45-59. 3. Rusafa pp. 60-100. 4. The Spread of the Sergius Cult in Syria and Mesopotamia pp. 101-129. 5. Frontier Shrine and Frontier Saint pp. 130-173. 6. The Cult of S. Sergius after the Islamic Conquest pp. 174-191. Bibliography pp. 193-217. Index pp. 219-227.

Total pages 232 (hard cover).

Key words
Anastasius I, emperor.
Antioch / Antakya.
Arab sources / Arabic sources.
Bacchus, saint.
Byzantine sources.
Caliphate of Damascus.
Christian pilgrimage.
Christians of the East.
Cisterns / Water reservoirs.
Clergy, clergymen.
Constantinople / Polis / Istanbul.
Dedications / Votive offerings.
Early Byzantine buildings.
Early Byzantine period.
Early Byzantine Syria.
Ecclesiastical history.
Edessa / Urfa.
Euphrates, river.
Han / Inn.
Holy Land.
Homs / Emesa.
Justinian I.
Kawad I.
Khusrau I / Chosroes I.
Khusrau II / Chosroes II.
Late Antiquity.
Martyrium, building.
Middle East.
Northern / Upper Mesopotamia.
Palmyra / Tadmur.
Patriarchate of Antioch.
Procopius / Prokopios of Caesarea.
Prophet Muhammad.
Sasanid civilization / Sassanid civilization.
Sasanids / Sassanian Persians.
Sergius, saint.
Stock-breeding society.
Syria southern.
Thecla, saint.
Theodora, augusta.
Theodoret of Cyrrhus.
Theodosius II.
Theophylact Simocatta.
Umayyad, dynasty.