Sarah Yeomans is the Director of Educational Programs at the Biblical Archaeology Society and an archaeologist specializing in the Imperial period of the Roman Empire with a particular emphasis on religions and ancient science. She is also faculty in the department of Religious Studies at West Virginia University and is pursuing her doctorate at the University of Southern California. A native Californian, Sarah holds a M.A. in Archaeology from the University of Sheffield, England and a M.A. in Art History from the University of Southern California. She has conducted archaeological fieldwork in Israel, Italy, Turkey, France and England and has worked on several television and film productions, most recently as an interviewed expert on Fox’s “The Nativity: Facts, Fiction and Faith.” She is a Mayers Fellow at the Huntington Library and Museum in Los Angeles and a Provost Fellow at the University of Southern California. Her current research involves ancient Roman medical technology and cult, as well as the impact of epidemics on Roman society. She is generally happiest when covered in dirt, roaming archaeological sites somewhere in the Mediterranean region.
Bible & Archaeology Fest XX, November 17 – 19, 2017
Pandemics and Panic: Health Crises and the Religious Transformation of Imperial Rome
The Antonine Plague, the Plague of Cyprian, Justinian’s Plague: Three pandemics that swept across the Roman Empire between the second and sixth centuries CE. These were crucial, transformative centuries that saw the “fall” of polytheistic, Imperial Rome and the rise of a burgeoning Christian empire that bore little resemblance, at least religiously, to the world inhabited by the likes of Augustus, Trajan, and Hadrian. While the factors that led to such radical and far-reaching cultural shifts during this period are widely varied (and, in some cases, hotly contested), the increasing emphasis on both historical demography and environmental history in ancient studies – and the exciting, scientific advancements that have contributed to both – have allowed us to gain greater insight of the ways in which population-impacting natural events, such as epidemics, set the stage for religious transformation in the Roman Empire. This presentation examines the evidence for these three plagues and explores the ways in which they contributed to the titanic shifts in the religious landscape. Finally, such a study lends itself to a thought-provoking question: What might happen if such an event were to occur today?