Karen Britt is assistant professor of art history at Northwest Missouri State University. As an art historian engaged in archaeology, her research focuses on the eastern Mediterranean. She has worked on archaeological projects at various sites in the region, and is currently the mosaics specialist for the Huqoq Excavation Project (huqoq.org) in Israel. In her scholarship, Britt explores how architectural decoration, in particular mosaics, can illuminate culture and society in the late Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic worlds. Her research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of State’s division of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the J. William Fulbright Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the Council of American Overseas Research Centers. Her lengthy collaboration with Ra‘anan Boustan has resulted in the publication of numerous articles and a monograph. For more information on her research, visit https://nwmissouri.academia.edu/KarenBritt.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XXV, October 8 & 9, 2022
Dreams of the Big City: Depictions of Cities and Urban Spaces in Rural Churches and Synagogues
This presentation focuses on images of cities and their urban spaces in the floor mosaics of rural churches and synagogues in Palestine, Arabia, and Syria from Late Antiquity (third to eighth centuries CE). The symbolic importance of urban life was especially pronounced in the eastern Mediterranean, where an archipelago of great cities held the Roman world together. Archaeology demonstrates that, throughout this period, cities were regularly sites of building projects that were intended to reshape their built environments and reorient their urban designs in order to accommodate changing civic, imperial, and religious practice and institutions. Contemporary written sources produced by civic and religious elites likewise reflect these developments. Attracted to the intellectual environment and professional opportunities provided by cities, authors often lavished attention on their buildings, monuments, and urban designs as the setting for the civilized way of life they so prized. But how did the residents of small towns and rural villages, who lived beyond the charmed spaces of the big city, perceive this vast investment of both economic resources and ideological value in urban life? Did they turn away from the allure of the big city? Recent discoveries and research suggest that rural populations were no less interested in big cities than those who happened to live in them. Shining a light on this understudied body of visual materials from rural churches and synagogues, we show that these communities likewise used urban imagery to articulate their sense of belonging within the wider world of the Roman east.