Byzantine borders

One of the best overviews of Byzantine Palestine is an article by S. Thomas Parker: An Empire’s New Holy Land: The Byzantine Period. It was published in 1999 and reviews the information available then. I want to highlight two aspects that Parker discusses at length. The first is the indication that during the Byzantine Period there was a slow process of Christianization, especially around the Byzantine border. Using funerary inscriptions on the Karnak plateau (east of the Dead Sea), it seems that only in the late 5th century (AD, CE) Christianity became widespread there. Most of the tombstones come from the late fifth century or later. With Christianity the religion of the Empire, the pagans of several cities nevertheless “fought vigorously on behalf of their temples” (Sozomen Historia Ecclesiastica). Throughout the land there is evidence that several religions existed alongside each other during that period, even though Christianity achieved some prominence.

Such a diverse population, densely settled over the land and under the rule of a sometimes oppressive imperial government, may be expected to lead to conflict. But there are few indications that such conflict was significant in the Byzantine Period. It was a time of economic prosperity like few others and the threats and conflicts which we read about in literary sources mainly refer to threats from raids by desert tribes. This is also consistent with both the archaeological and literary information on troop placement in the Byzantine Holy Land. If the security threat were internal, one would expect garrisons to be stationed throughout the territory, along major roads and in cities. But the garrisons were in fact stationed along the desert fringe to protect against desert raiders. The perceived security threat in Roman-Byzantine Palestine was external, not internal.

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