We haven’t blogged in a while, but that doesn’t mean that our project hasn’t made any progress! Quite the contrary: Jörg, Jakob and I have signed a contract with Peter Lang to publish the contributions to our workshop at Oxford Patristics 2015 in an edited volume that will appear in the series Early Christianity in the Context of Antiquity (ECCA) and both the project team and the other speakers are at the moment busily drafting their chapters. More on the content of this volume soon!

But also our database is progressing nicely. As of today we have recorded 223 exile cases, involving 468 individuals or groups and 652 relationships. As the database is becoming very substantial we have started thinking about how best to construct search facilities, so the extraction of data can support the widest range of research questions possible. For this reason  our IT technicians have given me and the team the task to impersonate an ‘imaginary user’ and come up with a list of research questions around clerical exile that we would hope the database would support. This is the list that we produced:

Possible User Questions

What was the legal and practical nature of clerical exile?


  • who was involved/responsible?
  • what legal type of exile was usually imposed and for what kind of (alleged) offenses?
  • what locations were exiles sent to? Where did they actually go? How did they travel there (i.e. by which locations & means)?
  • Were synods involved in the imposition of exile, or return of exiles?
  • How did return of exile come about?
  • Did all of this change over time?

What kind of experiences for exiles and what kind of (new) communities did clerical exile create?


  • How isolated, socially and geographically, were clerical exiles?
  • Which individuals or groups were affected by exile?
  • Which geographical locations were affected by exile (of origin, destination, location along journeys, cult sites, locations of contacts etc)? Were there exile ‘hotspots’ and if so, why? Were some regions particularly affected and why? Is there a relationship between the choice of exile locations and exiles’ ‘attributes’ (e.g. status, office, location of office) or the legal context of exile (exile type, whether also deposed by synod, whether preceded by asylum etc)?
  • Who did clerical exiles meet and what kind of relationships did this create? Were these ‘physical’ relationships, or relationships maintained by ‘correspondence’? i.e were communities ‘space’ based, or ‘institution’ based?
    • who accompanied clerical exiles? What was their experience?
    • who funded their travel/maintenance?
    • What was the role of women in the creation of exiles’ communities and their experiences?
  • Did clerical exile lead to new saints cults/cult sites?
  • Did all of this change over time – during exile (how did an exile’s contact change), and over the course of the period studied?

What was the impact of these new communities and relationships? Did they cut across institutional structures? Did they influence individual behaviour? Did they bring about significant ‘events’?


  • How close did these new communities get clerical exiles to decision makers, e.g. about law and doctrine?
  • Did exiles’ networks help to spread information e.g. about theology, or other; were exiles central to their networks, were they brokers? Who was central in exiles’ networks?
  • Were exiles central to conversion (to Christianity, or a particular brand of Christianity)
  • Did exiles still manage to influence affairs ‘back home’?
  • Did exiles’ networks help to secure exiles’ return?
  • Did clerical exile create communities and contacts that would otherwise not have existed? Did this influence certain kinds of behaviour?
  • How did an exile become a saint? Compare e.g. people/groups responsible for cult, cult locations
  • How did an exile’s activities influence other people’s thinking about theological doctrine (or their own)?

In addition, our IT technicians also asked us to come up with a number of desiderata for how we would like searches to be able to be constructed and how we would like to data to be visualised, so they best support the kind of research questions detailed above.

On the basis of what we told them this is the overall search and visualisation model they developed :


 Users will be able to start searches either by a key word search or by combining a number of data categories, such as exile cases, names of individuals, locations (by specific locations, or supra-regions such as late antique dioceses or post-Roman kingdoms), person attributes (office, gender, religious status, religious affiliation etc) or by browsing A-Z lists of all our data categories, as shown here:


Results from a key word or data category search can then be ordered and manipulated further in a number of ways. Users can choose to see full exile case records, but they can also narrow down results by filtering out certain categories, and through faceting (most internet users will be familiar with this from sites like ebay: it’s a column on the left hand side where boxes can be ticked or unticked to refine searches – only that here users are ‘shopping’ for late antique clerical exiles!):


If a user chooses to see the full record of an exile case, it will contain information as shown here, with the possibility to follow links to related records (other exile cases, or information on individuals involved in this exile case) and, crucially, to a map of locations related to this exile case, or a route map of an exile’s journey:


The record of an exile case will also allow visualising the data as graphs. For example, individuals’ names will include a link to the network diagram of their relationships, which will include the following information:


Of course, these are early days, but we’ve already seen some prototypes of search results that look very promising. For example, here is the top of the table that shows a list of all our 223 exile cases (the top result is slightly misleading, as we haven’t actually entered data on Athanasius’ exiles yet; what you see here is just our very first test entry – of course Athanasius returned and not just once!):


As you can see, the facet on the left hand side allows us to refine this search by gender. If we narrow our search down to just female exiles, this is what the database comes up with – eight interesting cases of clerical or ascetic women sent into exile (or women becoming ascetics when in exile):


And finally, here is a map of locations currently in the database that have played a role in clerical exile – as places of office, departure, arrival, return, or contacts of exile – with the Isles of Scilly highlighted!



We’ll be testing the interface at our next project workshop in early January 2016 to which we have invited colleagues who run similar digital projects, such as Presbyters in the Late Antique West, Cult of the Saints, and Mapping Medieval Conflict. For this event our search facilities have to be in good shape, so there is still much to do!