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Arabella Cortese: Cilicia as Sacred Landscape in Late Antiquity. A Journey on the Trail of Apostels, Martyrs and Local Saints (= Spätantike - Frühes Christentum - Byzanz. Kunst im ersten Jahrtausend. Reihe B: Studien und Perspektiven; Bd. 53), Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag 2022, 480 S., 43 s/w-, 301 Farbabb., ISBN 978-3-7520-0637-7, EUR 198,00
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Rezension von:
Hugh Elton
Trent University, Peterborough, ON
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Matthias Haake
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Hugh Elton: Rezension von: Arabella Cortese: Cilicia as Sacred Landscape in Late Antiquity. A Journey on the Trail of Apostels, Martyrs and Local Saints, Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag 2022, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 11 [15.11.2023], URL:

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Arabella Cortese: Cilicia as Sacred Landscape in Late Antiquity

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This large volume, derived from a 2020 PhD by Arabella Cortese from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, uses the motif of an imagined traveller to explore the sacred landscape of late antique Cilicia. Our notional pilgrim has already read Egeria's Itinerary before arriving at Selinus by sea at the end of the sixth century, visiting 27 sites in Isauria and Cilicia and then embarking at Aegeae on a ship to Jerusalem. Each chapter has the same structure, the thoughts of the traveller in introductory (italicized) text, then a discussion of church architecture and what can be said of the Christian holy men and women associated with the site. Many of the martyrdoms discussed are unpublished in translation; this was part of the PhD thesis and publication is promised (11). The site descriptions are preceded by a short introductory chapter and are followed by a conclusion and a large quantity of colour illustrations.

The site-based chapters relate holy men and women and their literature to each site and to their cult beyond Cilicia. At the same time, these descriptions highlight the difficulties in relating local hagiography to particular buildings (30), especially as some sites are well known archaeologically but not textually (Alahan, Kanlıdivane, Sebaste), others well known textually but not archaeologically (Aegeae, Mopsuestia). An enormous amount of work has gone into the site descriptions, the necessary archaeological narrative so that one can write analysis, but the original site reports will still need to be consulted. There are occasional observations from site visits, and the detailed description of the churches at Sebaste (165-170) is useful as a preliminary report before their final publication. Good use is made of Turkish-language publications, though work by Aydınoğlu at Uzuncaburç and Kanlıdivane, Ceylan at Kanlıdivane, and Morel at Akkale is either omitted or inadequately referenced. The final chapters cover discussion of pilgrimage routes by land and sea (to which add French, "Roman Roads and Milestones of Asia Minor 3.7: Cilicia, Isauria, et Lycaonia", 2014), relationships between holy men and women and cities, and the concept of sanctity. In this part Tables 7 and 8 provide useful checklists of texts and sites associated with holy men and women in Cilicia.

There are numerous rewarding moments: the idea of pilgrimage as a term covering not only long-distance travel for famous figures but also local travel for local holy men and women, the concept of visibility both to and from sites, inter-city rivalry (283), and the constant sense of pre-Christian religion at sites in the region (especially 287-289). Cortese is often cautious, hesitant to relate the known church outside Zenonopolis to an inscription removed from the city (54-55), reluctant, since there is no ancient evidence, to accept the coastal church at Mylae as being dedicated to Theodore or to being a monastery (60-61), and doubtful of the fame of Alahan as a pilgrimage centre (106-107, but cf. 270).

The book is less effective at discussing how architecture relates to a sacred landscape and the idea of change over time, to some extent the result of combining undatable hagiography with the concepts of collective memory and experience of the site. People, buildings, and landscapes cannot exist with the same timelessness as literary views of past places, especially when the hagiographies as we have them were written by multiple chronologically distinct authors. This timelessness sometimes leads to missed opportunities, so that a good discussion of the multiple phases of construction at Ayatekla is followed by a description of arriving at the site, but focussing on its late-fifth century phase (83-84). Similarly, although the phasing is clearly laid out at Alahan (105), changing visitor experiences over time are not discussed. Good use is made throughout of the Miracles of Thecla, but more could be said about non-hagiographic Christian literature, e.g. Moschus' Pratum Spirituale, to present a view of a sacred landscape more focussed on people than buildings.

The work still shows signs of its origin as a thesis, with numerous typos and minor errors, many of them historical. Zeno's brother Longinus is confused with Longinus of Selinus (37n16), Justin I with Justinian (44), and the Appalis inscription from a Kuru Dere at Corasium is wrongly located at another Kuru Dere at Sebaste (159). There are several citations not in the bibliography and some minor repetition; some references are mis-cited, e.g. ND 7 and XI Prima Armeniaca should be ND Or. 7.49 and Prima Armeniaca (49 and n72), Mitchell 1993 2.24 does refer to the cult of Hermes, but says nothing about Çatıören (129n29), and Stephanus of Byzantium wrote an "Ethnika" not an "Ethika" (130n38). The Calycadnus River is described as navigable (18) which is what Ammianus says but is not true. The history of research in Cilicia (23) omits Evliya Çelebi who is referenced later though with the wrong gender (94), Gough's ideas on the Peaceful Kingdom mosaics (47, 130) are now outdated (recently Abdallah, Journal of Mosaic Research 2016), and the description of Antiochus at Corycus would be easier to understand if he were identified as the Seleucid king Antiochus III (129). The division of Cilicia into two provinces is dated to 408, following Hild and Hellenkemper TIB V 38-39 on Malalas 14.24 (193), though this does clash with the eastern parts of the Notitia Dignitatum which has two Cilicias and is usually dated to c.400. The province of Lycaonia was created c. 371, not under Diocletian (254n67). The term Metropolis is seen as descriptive, rather than reflecting the status of provincial capital, with Corycus being wrongly placed in Isauria, an error also made by Egeria (285-286).

Overall, the site-based format is appropriate for a PhD thesis, but unfortunately hasn't made for a successful monograph. There's too much Cilician church architecture for those interested in late Roman sacred landscapes, but not enough theory to help those who already know about Cilicia. At the same time, those interested in hagiography will want the texts and a holistic analysis, not one that is site-based. There's much to learn from this large volume, but its insights are often hidden in the 20 chapters of dense description.

Hugh Elton