The Cultural Life of Domestic Objects in Late Antiquity

This thesis will reconstruct the cultural meanings of the ‘home’ in late antiquity. Both aristocratic and more modest houses were, then as now, not simply foci of luxury and social display, but also places of meaning and memory. Whilst objects used in public rituals, both ecclesiastical and secular are fairly well-known for their symbolic cultural meanings, this is not really true of the treasured objects of aristocratic houses, which have been studied mainly in terms of status and gender identity. However, we know that many of the great houses of late antiquity contained items of great age, as well as items of personal and cultural value. There were reasons for curating objects that could only be appreciated by those who understood the personal and private stories which went with them. This thesis would seek to establish cultural artefact biographies and patterns of use for artefacts where pure function was a secondary consideration. The age, past owners, length and nature of ownership, gift status of objects will be considered, as well as their role as domestic insignia and their relationship to divine and demonic powers. The role of these objects when taken outside of the home will be considered, as well their relative importance for those engaged little and entirely with the private sphere (slaves, children etc). Although urban aristocratic dwellings will be the primary focus of the thesis, the nature of artefact use in the imperial household will also be considered, as comparanda and contrast with those of leading households.

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