The Cyclades in the late antique period: churches, networks and Christianization

Rebecca Jane Sweetman, Alice Devlin, Nefeli Piree Iliou

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

3 Citations (Scopus)


While new research on the Cyclades in the Roman period is challenging traditional ideas of the islands as pirate infested backwaters, little is known about them in the Late Antique period (c. 400-700 C.E.); in fact they have been largely written off as too provincial by ancient and contemporary historians. Some 41 Late Antique churches are known from 12 islands, but the synthesis and contextualization of this data has been lacking. Consequently, detailed analysis of Christianization of the East Mediterranean is restricted by a significant gap in the evidence. Scattered data from the Cyclades suggest that they were Christianized earlier than many of the surrounding areas. Other than the Christian catacombs on Melos (1st -4th century), there is literary evidence of an early and energetic Christian community on the islands. For example, some of the islands had early Bishoprics like Amorgos and Santorini. A number of Cycladic bishops also attended the early Ecumenical councils (Bishops from Paros and Naxos attended the 3rd and 4th Councils). Excavations at church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani, Paroikia, Paros, indicate a 4th century foundation, and literary sources tie its establishment to Agia Eleni of the Imperial family. This positive data is bolstered by recent research on surrounding areas, such as the Peloponnese and Crete, which provides clear indications that the Cyclades were conduits for Christianization in the Aegean. However, the processes of how and why this was the case were unknown in part because of the skewed perceptions (often from an Imperial top-down view) and the difficulties of synthesizing the data from the islands. To address this issue, we undertook an architectural and topographic survey of the churches to understand how Christianity was adopted on the islands. It became clear that locations were chosen to draw on tradition and memory to help peacefully situate the new religion in the community. This analysis, combined with a study of the architecture and excavation data (including mortuary and epigraphic) sheds light on the diverse local communities as well as agents of conversion. Rather than insularity, the innovative aspects of church building and early conversion indicate the receptiveness to new ideas on the part of island communities. Altogether, this paper provides an original synthesis of the Late Antique Cyclades from the perspective of the islands themselves which highlights their vibrancy, innovativeness and important roles they played on network routes in the Aegean.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCycladic Archaeology and Research
Subtitle of host publicationNew Approaches and Discoveries
EditorsErica Morais Angliker, John Tully
Place of PublicationOxford
ISBN (Electronic)9781784918101
ISBN (Print)9781784918095
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'The Cyclades in the late antique period: churches, networks and Christianization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this