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by Archaeology Newsroom

Dance in Late antiquity. Textual and representational evidence

In pre-Christian communities, dance was closely related to the worship of nature and of the gods. After the prevalence of Christianity and until the end of late antiquity the ritual character of dance was eliminated not only because of its obvious reference to paganism but also because of the strict ethical code of the new religion. It seems, however, that in spite of the fierce polemic of the Church Fathers, dance as a primeval corporeal expression closely connected with human nature, remained an important component of social life throughout the entire era of Late Antiquity. Eloquent and valuable accounts of dance occur in texts, in spite of their admonishing character. There are also many depictions of dance in other art forms. Music and dance were indispensable to fairs and festivals surviving from the idololatric antiquity, but were also performed at the feasts venerating saints and martyrs. This phenomenon was especially castigated by Christian writers. Dance played an important part at social events such as the matrimonial ceremony, while at the symposia, professional dancers were often invited to entertain the guests. Dionysiac figures such as satyrs and maenads are depicted in art forms of the times such as on mosaics and textiles. Dance was also related to the funerary iconography of the time. Dances are to be found represented in mosaics and wall-paintings of tombs of the second and 6th century AD.