What I'm working on over summer: Lisa Bailey

07 February 2017
An inscription from the late 6th century found in La Tronche in the alpine region of France.
An inscription from the late 6th century found in La Tronche in the alpine region of France.

We’re catching up with our researchers to find out what they will be working on over the summer.

Associate Professor Lisa Bailey will be spending the summer researching slavery and the church in the late antique world. She will initially be focusing on Gaul c. A.D. 400-900, but might expand her geographical scope as her work progresses.

Lisa is interested in both the legal relation between slaves and the church during this period, and the social realities of slavery behind the legal texts of the time, as well as the ways that slavery was used as a metaphor for a relationship with God.

She has spent the last semester on research leave, and has been busy visiting libraries and giving talks around the United States and United Kingdom.

This research has yielded rich primary sources in the form of legal texts and collections of inscriptions on early Christian gravestones. Lisa is especially excited about delving into the gravestone inscriptions, saying that “there are thousands of them, and they are very under-studied”.

Many of these gravestones describe the deceased as “servants of god”, and this raises fascinating questions in an era when slavery was commonplace.

As a primary source, the gravestones give access to a broader range of people than through texts, and demonstrate that the idea of being a ‘servant of god’ was not just reserved to clergy.

“Many family members found this a way of describing them as pious. I am interested in why something so demeaning as a status was used to indicate piety.”

Lisa’s current research grew from her last project on the religious worlds of the laity in late antique Gaul, where she initially came across people being described in this fashion.

Most of her work this summer will be working through hagiographies and legal texts, in order to probe the conjunction of social and cultural history in the rhetoric and reality of slavery at this time.

Find out more about studying Ancient History or History