The 13th Biennial meeting of Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity

“Communal Responses to Local Disaster: Economic, Environmental, Political, Religious”

March 14-17, 2019

Dominus Julius Mosaic
“Dominus Julius,” Carthage, early 5th century

The Society for Late Antiquity is pleased to announce the thirteenth biennial meeting of Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity, to be held at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California. Specialists in art and archeology, literature and philology, history and religious studies, working on topics from the 3rd to the 8th century CE, will present a series of papers examining the impact of disasters on late-antique communities, including their susceptibility to disaster, the means by which they coped, and factors that increased resilience and facilitated recovery from disasters. In order to foster the thematic breadth and interdisciplinary perspective for which Shifting Frontiers is well-known, the papers will consider the full range of traumatic events, and also long-term processes, that could distress communities: economic, environmental, political and religious. The aim of this conference is to move beyond the descriptive and stimulate analytical and theoretical approaches to understanding how distressed communities behaved in the short and long term. Local communities developed daily and seasonal rhythms to mitigate vulnerabilities and fragility. The dread of disaster shaped the late-antique psyche and, in some ways, the cultural landscape of communities. And disasters of various kinds had a wide range of impacts, depending upon severity and the nature of communal resilience. Therefore, presentations will query the extent to which the economic, cultural, political or religious resources of communities (or their lack) determined levels of susceptibility, impact, response or resilience. To what extent do late-antique sources acknowledge vulnerability and fragility? What mechanisms created durability and resilience? What were the emotional and intellectual responses to disaster? Does an awareness of the psychological impact of fragility and disaster alter our interpretation of various forms of evidence in Late Antiquity?

Please read below for information about travel/lodging and the full conference program.


Registration for the event is $100 (includes continental breakfast service, coffee service throughout the conference, one keynote lecture dinner, one keynote lecture reception and the conference banquet). The registration fee is waived for speakers, although all speakers must register for the event. Please register with the following link.

For those traveling from afar, it is recommended that you book flights into Ontario International Airport (Ontario, California), which is approximately 15-minutes from campus by car. Cabs and Uber drivers are easily obtained at Ontario International. Those arriving via the Los Angeles International Airport are advised to purchase a ticket (approximately $18 at baggage claim) for a Flyaway Bus. The Flyaway Bus connects with Union Station in downtown LA, where travelers may purchase a Metrolink (train) ticket to Claremont on the San Bernardino (Red) Line. The train trip from downtown LA to Claremont is approximately 50 minutes.

For accommodations, a block of rooms has been reserved at discount at the Double Tree Hotel on Foothill Blvd. The hotel is approximately 15-minutes from campus by foot. The number of rooms available at the discounted price ($149 per night) is limited, so placing early reservations is recommended. Rooms at the Double Tree may be reserved online. Closer but more expensive accommodations may also be reserved in the Claremont Village (5-10 minute walking distance from campus) at Casa 425. Finally, visitors may also book a rooms at the Sheraton Ontario Airport Hotel, which offers a free shuttle service. Shuttles to campus would need to be arranged at the time that you place a reservation.

For those driving locally, all street parking in Claremont is free. To avoid congested parking areas, if you are not leaving a vehicle at a hotel, it is recommended that you park in the vicinity of North College Avenue, between 8th and 10th Streets.

The main conference venue is located at McKenna Auditorium. For an interactive map of the campus and surrounding area, visit this website. The opening reception and keynote lecture on the first evening (Thursday, March 14) will be held at the Athenaeum, directly across from the McKenna Auditorium. For those staying at the Double Tree Hotel, a conference organizer will meet conference attendees in the hotel lobby at 5 PM and walk the group to campus.

Please note that for a conference of this size, it will not be possible for the conference organizers to arrange transportation or accommodations on an individual basis. Speakers and attendees are asked to make all travel arrangements and hotel reservations.

Triumph of Neptune Mosaic
“Triumph of Neptune,” Tunisia, early 3rd century

Conference Program
Thursday, March 14

Reception, Dinner and Keynote Lecture I, Kyle Harper, “The First Plague Pandemic, From Global to Local” (Athenaeum, 5:30-8:00 PM): opening remarks by Hiram Chodosh, President of Claremont McKenna College

Friday, March 15 (all sessions at the McKenna Auditorium except session 3B)

Continental Breakfast (8:00-8:30 AM)

Session 1 (8:30-10:30 AM): Sketching the Contours of Late Antique Disasters

Chair: Cavan Concannon

Ryan Abrecht (University of San Diego), “Dust Clouds, Droughts and Domino Effects: Local Responses to Environmental Disasters in Late Antique Eurasia”

Nadine Viermann (University of Konstanz), “Coping with Contingency: Patterns of Sensemaking after Urban Disasters in Late Antiquity

Maria Doerfler (Yale University), “An Earthquake for Pulcheria: Children and Natural Disaster in Late Ancient Christian Discourse”

Cam Grey (University of Pennsylvania), “Living with Vesuvius: Towards a Late Roman Culture of Risk”

Coffee Service (10:30-10:45 AM)

Session 2 (10:45-12:45 AM): Military and Political Disaster I

Chair: Shane Bjornlie

Ralph Mathisen (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), “Fight or Flight?: Local Roman Responses to the ‘Barbarian Invasions’”

Kevin Feeney (Yale University), “The Elevation of a Regional Usurper as a Response to Local Disaster in Late Antiquity”

Jonathan Arnold (University of Tulsa), “Disaster on the Danube? Ennodius, Eugippius and the Fate of the Western Empire”

David Gyllenhaal (Princeton University), “’That through a king’s due advertence disaster to both city and people might be avoided’: Divine Providence and Human Agency in the Last Great War of Antiquity (602-628)”

Lunch, independently in Claremont Village (12:45-2:15 PM)

Session 3A (2:15-4:15 PM): Bishops and Barbarians I (Gaul, Italy, Spain)

Chair: Elizabeth Digeser

Audrey Becker (Université de Lorraine), “Bishops in 5th-century Gaul: Negotiations with Barbarian Kings in a Time of Emergency”

Emily Hurt (Yale University), “’Nunc locales gentium singularum miserias’: Networks of Disaster in Late Antique Memory”

Madeleine St. Marie (University of California, Riverside), “Civic Dissention and Barbarian Incursion: Communal Responses to Disaster in Sidonius Apollinaris’ Epistles

Samuel Cohen (Sonoma State University), “’O Tempora! O mores!’: Gregory I, Constantinople and the Rhetoric of Suffering in the Aftermath of the Lombard Sieges of Rome, 592-593”

Session 3B (2:15-4:15 PM): Religious Resources of Response I (Davidson Lecture Hall, Adams 106)

Chair: Michele Salzman

Mark Anderson (California State University, San Bernardino), “The Roles of Hospitals, Guesthouses and Shelters for the Poor in Late Ancient Disaster Relief”

Mark Roosien (University of Notre Dame), “Commemorating Earthquakes in Late Antique Constantinople: From Trauma to Propaganda”

Daniel Eastman (Yale University), “Feeling the Apocalypse: Monastic Strategies for Remembering and Coping with God’s Judgment”

Travis Proctor (Northland College), “Environmental Disaster, the Acts of John and Shifting Cultic Landscapes in Late Antique Ephesus”

Coffee Service (4:15-4:30 PM)

Reception and Keynote Lecture II, Laura Nasrallah, “A Small Disaster: Doing Things with Words in Fourth-century Antioch” (Roberts Pavilion, 5:00-7:00 PM)

Saturday, March 16 (all sessions at the McKenna Auditorium except session 6B)

Continental Breakfast (8:00-8:30 AM)

Session 4 (8:30-10:30 AM): Climate, Environment and Natural Disasters

Chair: Edward Watts

Daniel Alford (University of Oxford), “Ctesiphon and the Tigris: The Effects of Flooding and Progressive Shifts in the Flow of the Tigris on the Expansion and Decline of the Royal Capital of the Sassanian Empire (224-651)

Merle Eisenberg (Princeton University), “Rejecting Catastrophe: The Justinianic Plague and the End of Antiquity”

Andrew Donnelly (Loyola University Chicago), and Justin Leidwanger (Stanford University), “The Marzameni “Church Wreck”: A Multi-Scalar Approach to Economic Loss in Late Antiquity”

Edward Schoolman (University of Nevada, Reno), “Crisis and Resilience in the Paleoecological History of Late Antique Italy”

Coffee Service (10:30-:10:45 AM)

Session 5 (10:45-12:45 PM): Textual and Rhetorical Responses to Disaster I

Chair: Nicola Denzey Lewis

David DeVore (California State Polytechnic University, Pomona), “’We alone endured all the harm they inflicted’: Eusebius’ Disaster Narratives as a Riposte to Greek Historians”

Yuliya Minets (Princeton University), “Tower of Babel: Blessed Catastrophe or Catastrophic Blessing?”

James Shire (University of Toronto), “’The God in our stars’: Shifting Attitudes Towards Astrology in the Syriac Chronicle of Zuqnin

Matthew Chalmers (University of Pennsylvania), “’Shadows of their former selves’: Late Antique Samaritans, Disaster Narratives and Historiographical Loss”

Lunch, independently in the Claremont Village (12:45-2:15 PM)

Session 6A (2:15-4:15 PM): Military and Political Disaster II

Chair: Shane Bjornlie

Edward Watts (University of California, San Diego), “Reconstituting after Disaster: Local Identity and the Integrity of the Roman Imperial Space in the Later Third Century”

Vince VanThienen (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main), “Local Responses to Structural Collapse in the Late Roman Urban Hinterland of Atuatuca Tungrorum (Germania Inferior)”

Jeroen Wijnendaele (University of Gent), “’State of Emergency’: The Impact of Odoacer and Theoderic’s ‘forgotten war’ on Italy”

Scott Kennedy (Bilkent University), “The Arab Conquest in Byzantine Historical Memory”

Session 6B (2:15-4:15 PM): Bishops and Barbarians II (North Africa) (Davidson Lecture Hall, Adams 106)

Chair: Nicola Denzey Lewis

Alexander Evers (Loyola University Chicago), “Cyprian of Carthage and ‘the turmoils of the world’: pestilence, persecution and persistence in the third century AD”

Alex Petkas (University of California, San Diego), “Local disaster response and the rhetoric of war reports in late Roman Libya”

Stanisław Adamiak (University of Warsaw), “’Inter tantas strages, ruinas, captivitates et mortes’: the response of Quodvultdeus of Carthage to the Vandal invasion of Africa”

Eric Fournier (West Chester University), “Relaxing Religious Coercion in the Wake of Military Defeats: The Case of Late Roman North Africa”

Coffee Service (4:15-4:30)

Session 7 (4:30-6:30 PM): Religious Resources of Response II

Chair: Michelle Berenfeld

Jacob Latham (University of Tennessee), “Processions as Crisis-Response: Social Formation and Ecclesiastical Authority”

Norman Underwood (New York University), “’Inopia competentis auxilii’: Clerical Recruitment, Disasters and Depopulation in Late Antiquity”

Robert Wiśniewski (Warsaw University), “Stones, Bones and Statues: How Holy Objects Protected Late Antique Cities”

Gregor Kalas (University of Tennessee), “The Image of Pope Sabinianus (604-605) and Imperial Responses to Roman Famine”

Conference Banquet and Dinner Address by Michele Salzman, “Late Antiquity in California: The Final Frontier” (Gann Quadrangle​, 7:00-9:00 PM)

Sunday, March 17 (all sessions at the McKenna Auditorium)

Coffee Service (7:45-8:00 AM)

Session 10 (8:00-10:00 AM): Textual and Rhetorical Responses to Disaster II

Chair: Edward Watts

Christian Barthel (Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main), The Prophecy of Carour: Coping with Crisis in Pachomian Monasticism”

Mark Roblee (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), “’There will come a time…’: Catastrophe and Epistrophē in the Latin Asclepius

Ilaria Ramelli (Oxford University), “Analysis of the Theory of Disasters and their Relation to God in the Letter of Mara Bar Serapion and Connections with Philosophical Doctrines of Disasters”

Amanda Kenney (University of Missouri, Columbia), “The First Plague Pandemic, Sanctity and Memory”

Coffee Service (10:00-10:15 AM)

Session 11 (10:15-12:15): Antioch as Case Study

Chair: Elizabeth Digeser

Jonas Borsch (Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften), “God’s Wrath over Antioch, 526-528 CE: The End of a Metropolis?”

Laurent Cases (Università degli Studi di Pavia), “Disaster and Social Trauma at the Frontiers: The View from the Sixth Century”

Kathryn Langenfeld (Clemson University), “’So great was the terror’: The Magic and Treason Trials in Rome and Antioch”

Jamie Marvin (University of California, San Diego), “Julian’s Misopogon and the Food Crisis in Antioch—Imperial Criticism of Community Response”

Conference Lunch and Meeting of the Society for Late Antiquity (Freeburg Forum, 12:30-2:30 PM)

End of Conference (2:30 PM)

For inquiries, please contact the principal conference organizer, Shane Bjornlie (Claremont McKenna College) at Conference steering committee: Michelle Berenfeld (Pitzer College), Cavan Concannon (University of Southern California), Beth Digeser (UC Santa Barbara), Nicola Denzey Lewis (Claremont Graduate University), Michele Salzman (UC Riverside), Edward Watts (UC San Diego) and Ken Wolf (Pomona College).

This event has been generously funded by the Departments of History at Claremont McKenna and Pomona Colleges, the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies and the Offices of the Dean of Faculty and the President of Claremont McKenna College.