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TOPOI, Research Area: C, Research Group: C I a Languages: Description of Spaces in Times of Change: Locations of Discourse: Rome and Milan in Late Antiquity

TOPOI, Research Area: C, Research Group: C I a Languages: Description of Spaces in Times of Change: Locations of Discourse: Rome and Milan in Late Antiquity

The focus here is on Rome and Milan in the 4th and 5th centuries, meaning on Rome as the cultural capital and Milan as the political one. This subproject, therefore, aims to “describe” two “spaces” that served as the sites of intellectual and cultural changes over these two centuries, and therefore to focus on the people who were active and wrote in these locations as actors, and the institutions present there as platforms for their interactions.


Rome and Milan are termed “locations of discourse,” meaning places where – in the representations advanced by the people involved – certain discussions took place, positions were negotiated or determined through authority, and where power, culture, knowledge, and/or ideologies played out as a result of these negotiations. Prominent figures in these locations – in Rome: Ambrose, Symmachus, Nicomachus Flavianus, Jerome, Augustine, Pelagius, Servius, etc., in Milan: Ambrose, Augustine, Manlius Theodorus, Claudian, etc. – are the focus of interest solely due to their relevance to the history of culture, philosophy, and dogma. At the same time, the effort to understand their literary statements as part of discourses or to understand the authors as participants in discourses is also aimed at asking to what extent the thought systems they conceived can be characterized as the result of interactions among certain non-literary factors, including political and cultural events and personal encounters in these locations. If the thought systems conceptualized in these discourses are viewed as the outcome of the interplay among these factors, they can even be considered to be contingent upon them to a certain degree. In this way, individual phrases and theorems, some of which have been considered problematic in the history of their effects, can often be explained only when the real-world context – the role in real life – of these statements is reconstructed.


With the research perspective prompted by New Historicism in mind, the project aims to analyze and understand texts from different sources – not only “salon literature,” but also letters, sermons, religious council files, and inscriptions – as documentation of these kinds of negotiations in their historical context. The aim is to demonstrate that either the locations where events of this kind (encounters, discussions, etc.) evidently took place were, in the literature, often in fact defined as the stages where significant events in intellectual history played out, or that the development of certain systems of thoughts and teaching concepts in literature – in letters and philosophical dialogues – were often clustered in a specific location and are therefore to be understood against a local backdrop. The project aims to use Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration as its theoretical and methodological basis: This approach offers the instruments needed for the analysis of interactions or sequences of interactions (also termed “episodes”) that are defined by specific spatial and temporal boundaries, but also by specific human actors who hold specific positions within society and communicate with each other. How these kinds of sequences of interactions play out is defined on the one hand by the social system in which each episode takes place, meaning by institutions and structures that have persisted over a longer period, and on the other hand by the coincidence of events and actions and the shared presence of different actors within a sequence (in the same location). This means that a specific constellation of actors and communication possibilities, typically a contingent one, within specific spatial and temporal limits, can bring about a new situation or form the point of departure for very specific developments in the history of events.


This examination is aimed at showing that certain specific features of the teaching systems conceived of at that time, in which individual elements, schools of thought, argumentation strategies, and so on seem strange and sometimes even disturbing to modern audiences, can be explained when placed in context, in Rome and Milan, as the product of specific events or chains of events, encounters, and disputes with opponents or even with others of the same opinion. Because these schools of thought and teaching systems had, in some cases, a very pronounced impact on the intellectual history of Western cultures, the conditions under which they emerged, which include the locations of their genesis just as much as they do the figures who engaged in these thoughts and expressions, are still deserving of explanation for a number of present-day phenomena.