Welcome to the Presbyters in the Late Antique West. Our project aims at constructing a freely-accessible database that will collect all the evidence concerning Christian n the Latin-speaking provinces of the Roman empire and the successor kingdoms up to ca 700.
Early Christian communities were governed by ‘elders’ or ‘overseers’ (presbyteroi or episkopoi). This changed over the second century, with the presbyters becoming subordinate to the bishops. Unsurprisingly, even though the presbyters were more numerous, the surviving evidence tells us much more about the bishops, and even when it does refer to the presbyters it usually mentions only the more prominent figures rather than the rank and file. In consequence, we know very little about the social and ecclesiastical roles and functions of ordinary presbyters. How often did they administer the Eucharist? How many of them ever preached? What was their social background? What did they do for a living and where did they live? What were the particular features of their mentality? These are only a few of many questions which our project is seeking to answer. This objective will be pursued by a systematic consideration of all the available evidence (literary sources, normative texts, and epigraphic data) from all the western regions of Christianity up to the end of the 7th century. This research will yield prosopographical information, both about outstanding individuals and about hundreds of average clergymen. It will also collect information about anonymous presbyters, and evidence on the duties and conduct of an ideal presbyter, both regarding his activities in the Church and within society more generally. All this material will be assembled into a searchable on-line database, which will allow the user to find and sort data covering many different aspects of the life of the early Christian clergy.