Field of Study:
Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven
In modern use, a letter of recommendation ascertains that a given person (candidate) meets certain expectations in terms of character, qualifications and skills. In ancient times, however, recommendation letters (litterae formatae) had a much broader scope in the context of client-patron relationships and the communication system of the Roman Empire. They could entrust a person or object for safekeeping, delegate a legal matter to be settled by someone else, or they could function as identity / travel documents. In late antique Christian practice, recommendations became instrumental in hospitality, ecclesial communication, and mobility.
This project focuses on a selection of Christian litterae formatae from the fourth and the fifth centuries AD, a period of profound transformations following the acceptance of Christianity as legitimate religion in the Roman Empire. The selected sources can be grouped in three categories: acts of the early Church councils; letters penned by major Christian authors; and papyri. Through an in-depth study of these sources, this project seeks to investigate the use of litterae formatae in a variety of ecclesial and social contexts, such as: ecclesiastical politics, personal advancement, asceticism, or pastoral care of the socially vulnerable – women, children, slaves, the needy, merchants, pilgrims and wage labourers.
The results of this research will contribute to our understanding of the social impact of Early Christianity. In addition, finds will offer fresh insights into late antique networking and mobility, as well as Christian epistolography.