Empires of Faith
- Dr Jas’ Elsner, Senior Research Fellow, Corpus Christi College
- Jonathan Williams, Director of Collections
- JD Hill, Research Manager
- Roger Bland, Keeper of Prehistory
- Belinda Crerar, Curator, Late Antiquity
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Why did new religious imagery and iconographies emerge in different religious traditions across Asia and Europe in the period AD 200-800?
Did these developments influence and inspire each other, or were they separate evolutions occuring independently thousands of miles apart?
These questions, and more, will be addressed by a major research project conducted in partnership between the British Museum and the University of Oxford. Taking the broadest possible view, the project will examine imagery from those religions that have survived and many lost religions, from the cults of the Roman Empire to Manichaeism, from Britain and Spain in the west to the Indian subcontinent and the borders of China in the east.
The project will focus on a broad range of political entities of the period.
From the later Roman and Sasanian Empires, to the Gupta and Kushan dynasties of South Asia, the Aksumites of Ethiopia and Yemen, and on to China, and south-east Asia, diplomacy, trade, migration and the spread of religions brought these diverse cultures into close contact.
The research undertaken by this project will focus around a number of key questions.
These include, why did new religious imagery and iconographies emerge across a huge area at this time; to what extent were these independent or interdependent developments, and how did they enable the rise of new forms of political and religious authority?
Images: top, seated Buddha from Gandhara, about 2nd - 3rd century AD; bottom left, silver plate showing Shapur II, Sasanian, 4th century AD; middle, the Hinton St Mary Mosaic, Roman Britain, 4th century AD; bottom right, Gold coin of Kumaragupta I, north India, about AD 415-50.