Leibniz project „Polyphony of Late Antique Christianity“

Paternosterkirche Jerusalem

The project “Polyphony of Late Antique Christianity“ started work on October 1, 2015 supported by the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation. It explores the diversity of Christianity in Late Antiquity, especially the period from the 4th century until the arrival of Islam. In order to better understand long term processes of development, the analysis includes forms of early Christianity and investigates persistence and transformation of other religious practices in Antiquity.

One core area of our project lies in the exploration of the diversity of Christianity in Late Antiquity from a deliberately historical perspective. In addition to examining different forms of Christianity within the Roman Empire, the project also concentrates on so-called “Oriental Christianities". The principal texts of these Christianities were not written in Latin or Greek, but e.g. in Armenian, Syriac, Georgian, Coptic and ancient Ethiopian languages and their intellectual centers often lay outside of the Roman Empire. Our particular focus is on linguistic, intellectual, religious and political exchanges between Christian cultures both inside and outside the Roman Empire, in order to gain a global and nuanced perspective on the history of late antiquity.

Our second area of research focuses on how to integrate Christianity and its developments in Late Antiquity into a global historical context. Particular attention is paid to the relationship of religion and empire. To what degree does a universal religion support the stability of empires or does it pose a counterbalance? Was tolerance more likely to prevail in an empire due to its diversity? Or did empires in fact promote religious minorities that depended on the goodwill of the ruler?

[Fotos: Croberto68]

Paternosterkirche Jerusalem




We were pleased to host Dr Michael Hanaghan (ACU Melbourne, November 2022) and Prof Dr Luise Marion Frenkel (University of São Paolo, November 2022 - March 2023) as guest researchers in the winter term!

On Oktober 1, 2022 the long-term research project Commentary on John of Ephesus's Ecclesiastical History under the auspices of Prof Dr Hartmut Leppin und Prof Dr Philip Forness (Leuven) has started. We wish them every success!


The Leibniz-Seminar took place again in summer term 2022 on Tuesdays, 4-6 pm (programme).

In the summer term 2022 a public lecture series on „Christen in Ostafrika und Westasien – Alte Traditionen und neue Herausforderungen“ has been taken place as part of the "Science and Society" Visiting Fellowship, which is generously funded by the Deutsche Bank AG. The lecture series was held under the auspices of Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin and Prof. Dr. Dorothea Weltecke. More information at: www.uni-frankfurt.de/stiftungsgastprofessur-wissenschaft-und-gesellschaft


We were pleased to host Dr. Emanuele Zimbardi (Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia) as a guest researcher in May 2022.

Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin was in conversation with Anthony Kaldellis on his podcast "Byzantium & Friends". He talks about "Being Roman in Syriac".

We were pleased to host Dr. Michael Hanaghan (Australian Catholic University, Melbourne) as a guest researcher (Humboldt stipend) from November 2021 onwards.

We congratulate Prof. Dr. Caillan Davenport and Dr. Meaghan McEvoy on their new positions at the Australian National University, Canberra!

Hartmut Leppin was in conversation with Anreas Bomba on h2-kultur (series "Doppelkopf") on January 7th at 12 am.


We are happy to announce that Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin in collaboration with Dr. Philip Forness successfully solicited funding from the German Reaearch Foundation (DFG) to support the long-term research project Commentary on John of Ephesus's Ecclesiastical History. Congratulations!

Project description
John of Ephesus's Ecclesiastical History forms one of the most extensive historiographical sources for the Eastern Roman Empire and the Middle East on the eve of the long-lasting political and cultural changes that began in the seventh century. The Ecclesiastical History offers a distinct vantage point on the understudied late sixth century: it was written in a dialect of Aramaic called Syriac, and it comes from the pen of a bishop from an ecclesiastical body that competed with the imperial church. Only the third part of this work survives intact, and John of Ephesus wrote it while living—and indeed while intermittently imprisoned—in the imperial capital of Constantinople. Although historians and theologians have both made extensive use of the Ecclesiastical History, these perspectives have rarely been brought together. The proposed project will bridge this divide by integrating historical and theological research on the Ecclesiastical History in a new critical edition, translation, and comprehensive commentary on the third part of this work. Open access digital and print versions of the edition, translation, and commentary are planned, and preliminary digital publications in several repositories will invite feedback from the scholarly community during the course of the project. Collaboration with several digital humanities projects will also result in a suite of didactic aids to support students and scholars learning Syriac. Finally, this project will draw attention to one of the literary achievements of a community in antiquity which many recent immigrants to Germany and the European Union count as their heritage.


Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin was granted the “Preis zur Förderung der Übersetzung geisteswissenschaftlicher Werke - Geisteswissenschaften International” for his book “Die Frühen Christen” (C.H. Beck) in October 2021. The Translation of his work in English will be financed by the “Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels”, the “Fritz Thyssen Stiftung”, the “VG Wort” and the Federal Foreign Office.

The Leibniz-Seminar has taken place in winter term 2021/22 on Tuesdays, 4-6 pm (programme). 

On the Historikertag” 2021 the Leibniz-Projekt contributed a panel titeled “A Decentralized Late Antiquity? On the Emanation of East Roman Cites and Regions beyond their Borders” on October 5th.




The main focus area of the Journal „Antike Welt“ (Issue 6/2021) is about the “Diversity of Ancient Christianity" and the research of the Leibniz project.

Philip Michael Forness, Alexandra Hasse-Ungeheuer, Hartmut Leppin (Hg.), The Good Christian Ruler in the First Millennium: Views from the Wider Mediterranean World in Conversation, Berlin/Boston 2021 (Proceedings of the Leibniz conference „Good Christian Ruler“).

Igor Dorfmann-Lazarev (Hg.), Apocryphal and Esoteric Sources in the Development of Christianity and Judaism. The Eastern Mediterranean, the Near East, and Beyond, Leiden/Boston 2021

Wolfram Brandes, Alexandra Hasse-Ungeheuer, Hartmut Leppin (Ed.), Konzilien und kanonisches Recht in Spätantike und frühem Mittelalter. Aspekte konziliarer Entscheidungsfindung (Forschungen zur byzantinischen Rechtsgeschichte. NF 2), Berlin/Boston 2020. (Proceedings of the Leibniz conference „Konziliare Entscheidungsfindung“)

Hartmut Leppin, Die Frühen Christen. Von den Anfängen bis Konstantin, 3rd edition, München 2021.

Philip Forness, Preaching Christology in the Roman Near East: A Study of Jacob of Serugh. Oxford Early Christian Studies, Oxford 2018 


*** OUTREACH ***


Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin delivered the first DFG-RFH-Leibniz-Lecture on “Humility and Power. The Christian Emperors of Late Antiquity" as part of the Leibniz Project in Russia at the Russian State University for the Humanities on June 9th, 2015. He visited Moskau again in April 2016 and gave a seminar on Religious Violence in Antiquity at Lomonossow University as well as a lecture titled The Roman Empire in John of Ephesus' Church History: Being Roman, Writing Syriac at the Higher School of Economics (more information).

From March 17th to 29th Hartmut Leppin visited China and gave lectures on Identities of Syriac Christians in Antiquity at Peking University and the Northeast Normal University in Changchun as well as the Institute for the History of Ancient Civilizations (article in the Chinese newspaper Wen Hui Daily).

PD Dr. Philip Niewöhner, visting scholar at the Leibniz-Projekt in cooperation with the Forschungskolleg Humanwissenschaften Bad Homburg (theme year “Christianisations"), gave a public lecture August 22nd, 2018 on Byzantinismus oder Wilhelminismus? Die Mosaiken der Erlöserkirche in Bad Homburg and offered guided tours at the “Erlöserkirche".
Newspaper reports:
Führung mit vielen Interpreationen. Erlöserkiche: Stehen die Mosaiken für Byzantinismus oder Wilhelminismus? (Taunus Zeitung, 29.08.2018, p. 11).
Mosaik in der Erlöserkirche: Bezug zu Byzanz nicht eindeutig (Bad Homburger Woche, 30.08.2018, p. 10).

Articles and interviews in newspapers

Was Konstantin wirklich verfügt. Köln anno 321 by Hartmut Leppin
Warum das Gedenkjahr '1700 Jahre jüdisches Leben in Deutschland' eine zweifelhafte historische Kontinuität suggeriert." (FAZ 01.03.2021, S. 11)

Vom Nutzen des Tadels by Hartmut Leppin
“Die alten Athener hatten ein Mittel, das die Demokratie am Laufen hielt. Greta Thunberg kennt es auch." (FAZ 11.03.2020, p. 12)

Vi ville ikke betragte mange af de første kristne som kristne i dag, interview with Hartmut Leppin by Tobias Stern Johansen. (Kristeligt Dagblad 08.06.2019, p. 4)

Article Wetterauer Zeitung: Discussion on "Römerspuren bei Rendel - die frühen Christen im Römischen Reich" with Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin near Rendel/Karben on Sunday, 26th of May, 2019.

Wieso denn fasten, wenn man heiraten kann? by Hartmut Leppin
“Die Radikalität, zu der er viele anstiftete, kam in Rom nicht gut an: Heinrich Schlange-Schöningen kennt den Lebensweg des Hieronymus."
Review H. Schlange-Schöningen, Hieronymus. Eine historische Biografie, Darmstadt 2018. (FAZ 12.12.2018, p. 12)

Preprint: Chapter of the new monograph H. Leppin, Die Frühen Christen. Von den Anfängen bis Konstantin, München 2018 (publication date 15.9.2018).
Das Paradies in der Einöde
Die Wüstenväter des frühen Christentums gaben asketischen Praktiken einen neuen Sinn. Mit Anerkennung ihrer Verzichtleistungen konnten sie aber nicht nur bei ihren Glaubensbrüdern rechnen." (FAZ, 10.9.2018, p. 13)

Einfach mal das Leben ändern by Hartmut Leppin
“Erfolg und Wohlstand machen noch lange nicht glücklich. Wie man zu echter Erfüllung findet, zeigt das Beispiel des Augustinus." (FAS 26.6.2016, p. 43)

Gebt dem Kaiser, was des Kaisers ist by Hartmut Leppin
“Jeder ordnet sich der Obrigkeit unter. Und zahlt seine Steuern. So steht es in der Bibel." (FAS 29.7.2018, p. 31)

Der Dichter hadert mit seinem Gott by Hartmut Leppin
„Fernsehbilder dieser Tage drängen sich auf, wenn man diese Verse liest (Carmen Nisibenum 10), und doch: sie stammen von einem Autor des vierten Jahrhunderts, von Ephraim dem Syrer.“ (FAZ 9.7.2016, p. 20)

Christianisierungen und kulturelle Vielfalt im Römischen Reich by Hartmut Leppin, in: Offener Horizont. Jahrbuch der Kael Jaspers-Gesellschaft 3, 2016, 277-294

Solcher Verzicht zahlt sich aus von Hartmut Leppin
“Denn die Kirche kann Gaben vertragen: Peter Brown erzählt, wie sich das frühe Christentum mit Geld und Besitz arrangierte, um Rom zu beerben." (FAZ 6.4. 2017, p. 10)

Von der Umkehr eines Karrieristen by Hartmut Leppin
“War Augustinus nur ein egozentrischer Ehrgeizling, der rechtzeitig aufs richtige Pferd setzte? Robin Lane Fox sieht das anders und macht das am Bildungsweg des Kirchenvaters fest." (FAZ 10.10. 2017, p. 10)

 Alte Texte tun nicht, was wir wollen by Hartmut Leppin
„Die Übertragung heutiger Wertvorstellungen auf historische Ereignisse ist unzulässig: Warum die neue Version des Vaterunsers, die Papst Franziskus vorschwebt, in die Irre führt.“ (FAZ 13.12. 2017, p. 13)

Sterben in der Arena by Bernhard Mackowiak
“Christenverfolgungen in Römischen Reich gehören zu den grausamsten Ereignissen der Geschichte. Heute wissen wir: Der Grund hierfür war nicht die Religion, sondern das Verhalten Ihrer Anhänger, von dem man meinte, es gefährde das Gemeinwesen." (30.07.2016, p. 7)

Interview with Hartmut Leppin by Stefan Toepfer (FAZ 23.12.2015)

TV, Videos and Radio

Hessischer Rundfunk, Podcast “Der Kaiser als Arbeiterfürst? 1.700 Jahre freier Sonntag" (aired 26.02.2021)

Deutschlandfunk, “Hartmut Leppin über die Anfänge des Christentums. Im Gespräch mit Andreas Main" (aired 04.03.2020)

Deutschlandfunk Nova, Beitrag “Dreikaiseredikt 'Cunctos populos'. Christentum wird Staatsreligion" (aired 24.01.2020)

HR, Hessenschau, “Latein Abi-Prüfungen in Hessen" (aired 15.03.2019)

SWR 2, “Von der Urgemeinde zur Weltreligion. Wie kam es zum Aufstieg des Christentums?", Disskussion mit Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin, Prof. Dr.Christoph Markschies und Prof. Dr. Eberhard Schockenhoff (aired 08.02.2019)

ZDF TV Production “Paulus Gefährliche Mission" (aired 5.6.2017)

DFG Video: Leibniz Prize

City Lecture in cooperation with the Cluster of Excellence “Normative Orders": “Im Namen Gottes? Monotheismus und Gewalt."

Press reports to the award of the Leibniz Prize:

Geschichte neu denken. Der Leibniz-Preisträger Hartmut Leppin erforscht die Verbreitung der Religionen von Franziska Schubert (FR 17./18.1.2015, p. 23)

FNP online, 11.12.2014

FAZ online, 10.12.2014

EurekAlert! online, 17.12.2016

Press reports to the award of the Erwin Stein Prize

FAZ, 8.02.2019, p. 9

Gießener Anzeiger, 12.3.2019

WDR, 07.03.2019