“Communal Responses to Local Disaster:

Economic, Environmental, Political and Religious”


14-17 MARCH 2019

Claremont McKenna College

Organizer: Shane Bjornlie







The 13th Biennial Meeting of Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity


               Communal Responses to Local Disaster:

        Economic, Environmental, Political and Religious


                               March 14-17, 2019

                        Claremont McKenna College


Principal conference organizer: Shane Bjornlie (Claremont McKenna College); 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).

Event Assistants: Michael Gaston (Claremont Graduate University), Engin Mert Gökçek (UC Riverside), Richard Rush Ray (UC Riverside)


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 Peter Uvin, Dean of the Faculty at 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: Michele Salzman

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: Elizabeth Digeser

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)