PhD Scholarship in “Epitaphs and Social Change in Late Antique Italy (300-600 CE)” at St Andrews

Posted on behalf of Carlos Machado

Application window December 2019 to 16 January 2020, for entry in autumn 2020

The University of St Andrews is pleased to offer a full scholarship funded by St Leonard’s Postgraduate College, to support an exceptional student undertaking doctoral research in the following project:

Remembering the Dead on the Edge of Empire: Epitaphs and Social Change in Late Antique Italy (300-600 CE)

Project Desciption

This project will examine the transformations of north Italian society between 300 and 600 CE, analysing key developments in the relationship between memory, identity, and social power. Focusing on funerary inscriptions as part of the strategies for social promotion used by inhabitants of Italian cities – including both migrant and ‘indigenous’ groups – it will examine their contribution to the redefinition of the communities in which they lived. The resulting thesis will provide an original picture of late antique Italy, giving voice to new and often neglected social groups and identities. It will also focus directly on a relatively neglected, yet crucially important, set of Late Antique data – inscribed epitaphs. Scholars have recently paid great attention to funerary rites as a means of establishing social standing within a community. Our proposed project goes one step further, focusing on how this activity continued beyond death and burial – through the medium of inscribing words on stone. In doing this, it will represent an innovative and ground-breaking study in late antique studies, whether in terms of its interdisciplinary methodology, approach, and results.

Late antiquity was a period of profound transformations, as imperial structures of power crumbled, Christianity redefined traditional cultural values, and social hierarchies were redrawn. North Italian society was particularly marked by these developments, as Roman emperors and ‘Barbarian’ kings established their courts in the region, fostering social and cultural changes that gave the area North of Rome a specific identity. This project will challenge existing frameworks through an analysis of this area’s rich but still neglected corpus of funerary inscriptions, placing our understanding of late antique history on a much firmer and sophisticated base. Christian epigraphists consider this material in terms of its religious aspects, overlooking its potential for historical studies. Epitaphs recorded the name and standing of a variety of agents across a wide social and economic spectrum; being commissioned by the living, they affirmed social and cultural identities, publicising different views of the social world. They provide information about social structures, gender relations, and personal identities. They thus constitute a crucial source of information for the social history of a world otherwise only accessible through the writings of a narrow group of men. In spite of being relatively overlooked, late antique epitaphs are readily available to scholars, being published in epigraphic collections like Inscriptiones Christianae Italiae and the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum.

This project will require establishing a corpus of inscriptions that will serve as basis for the research and identifying potential case-studies such as well documented cities like Aquileia or provinces like Tuscia et Umbria, for which there is a wealth of comparative material. Quantitative analysis will help to identify the trends that defined the period, and the qualitative and stylistic examination of these texts will be used to assess the forms of personal display adopted by different agents in affirming their ambitions, identities, and standing in late antique society. Focus on case studies will not only make this study feasible, but will also allow the incorporation of archaeological evidence (including field trips), providing a more comprehensive and complex picture of local life, including migrant populations. Probing the chronological and geographical edge of the later Roman empire, sitting at the crossroads between history, archaeology, and Christian epigraphy, this project will thus provide a crucial reconsideration of social and economic developments which shaped the very construction of Europe and the modern world.

The successful candidate will be supervised by Dr Carlos Machado and Professor Caroline Humfress and based in the School of Classics and the School of History.


Geographical criteria

No restrictions.

Domicile for fee status

No restrictions.

Level of study

Postgraduate Research (Doctoral)

Year of entry

2020-2021 academic year; applicants should be able to start their degree in September 2020. In exceptional circumstances, candidates may be allowed to start their degree at any of the approved entry points during the 2020-2021 academic year.


School of Classics and School of History

Additional criteria

Applicants must not already (i) hold a doctoral degree; or (ii) be matriculated for a doctoral degree at the University of St Andrews or another institution.


What does it cover?

Duration of award

Up to 3.5 years. The successful candidate will be expected to have completed the doctorate degree by the end of the award term. The award term excludes the continuation period and any extension periods.

Value of award

The award covers full tuition fees for the award term as well as an annual stipend payable at the standard UK Research council rate (the 2019-2020 annual rate is £15,009).

Tuition or maintenance award

Tuition and maintenance.


Finding out more

For more information, see the university’s website.

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