This project studies the letters and letter-collection of Basil, bishop of Caesarea (ca. 330-379 AD), as means for lobbying, persuasion, and self-presentation. While the letters of Basil have always been of interest to historians, sociologists, and theologians for the richness of data they provide, the focus of this project is on the letters themselves and their function in the context of lobbying, persuasion and self-presentation.
The role of the bishop changed radically during Christianity’s process of transformation from a minor Jewish sect in the first century to the state religion of the Roman empire in the fourth. The intersection of state and Church affairs meant that bishops were as much involved in state affairs as in ecclesiastical politics. Letters were an important instrument for bishops in their interactions with both church and secular figures.
Basil’s letters provide a fascinating example of a bishop in action. His educational and rhetorical background provided him with the skills to create a persuasive self-image that he promoted through his letters. His letters circulated widely and were read by many. As such, they were the perfect medium for building and maintaining networks – which Basil badly needed in a time of conflicts between church and state and between different factions within the Church.
Just like letters, late-antique letter collections could also serve a (self-)promotional goal. Recent research on ancient epistolography has showed that letter collections were not random bunches of letters, but a conscious and highly selective compilation that presented the reader with a particular image of the author. Using earlier work on the manuscript tradition of Basil’s letters, the second half of the project starts from the manuscript order of the letters to examine which image(s) of Basil are promoted in the collection as a whole.