About the project

Sunday Observance in Late Antiquity

Research project funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), project P 31428-G32.

Implemented in collaboration with the Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage (ACDH-CH) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW).

January 2019 - December 2023

General remarks

The four-year project investigates the significance of the Sunday or Lord's Day between about 300 and 700 AD, in particular the period after Constantine's law on Sunday rest (handed down for 321 AD) until the end of Late Antiquity. As a basis source texts of the Greek and Latin language of this time are consulted. We are looking for passages that treat Sunday as a day of rest and a holiday: How is rest from work interpreted? What sanctifies this day? What behavior is appropriate? What theological arguments are used to emphasize the importance of the day? To what extent does the seven-day week structure the lives of people, monks, clergy, slaves, business, other social life? The importance of the Christian Sunday grew as feature of Christianization and sacralization of Christian society in late antiquity, leading to a uniformization of festive cultures that were formerly maintained in different social and religious groups, each in its own right. The research project is part of a widening research interest in phenomena concerning "structuring of time", a useful complement to preceding searches for "spaciality". The functioning of a society relies substantially on agreeing on a structuring of common time (e.g., time to work, to celebrate and sacrifice, to learn/school, to buy and sell, to assemble, to litigate in court, to pay debts or taxes, to travel) in order to coordinate and synchronize supra-individual activities. Structured time, as social time, is therefore a temporal ordering pattern that unifies society. The structured time of a society therefore also creates identity: everyone follows a common rhythm, experiences sacrificial rituals, processions, games, theater performances, weekly markets, even if not everyone actually participates in all activities. Of course, the research project cannot pursue all these questions - we focus on one day, Sunday, and related phenomena.


Relevant source texts are entered into a database. There we record passages, assign them to a date, an author, a language, a genre, connect them with further text passages if necessary, mark the designation of the Sunday, quoted biblical passages and provide them with keywords about groups of people, activities (from traveling, eating to dying) as well as so-called Sunday Benedictions (Creation, Resurrection, donation of the Manna; Pentecost etc. - i.e. everything from the biblical history of salvation that is supposed to have happened on Sunday). The database is presented in the front-end with the help of three areas, a) with a search mask, b) with points on several timelines, which e.g. refer to text passages at a certain point in time, and c) with a detailed view, where the text passage can be viewed in its original language version, in a German or an English translation as well as with an evaluation and relevant literature. From here you can also search directly and interactively separated from the search mask.