Portrait of Dr David Walsh

Dr David Walsh

Lecturer in Classical and Archaeological Studies

About

Originally from Kent, Dr David Walsh left the county to study for BA in Ancient History and Archaeology at the University of Reading, and then an MA in Roman Archaeology at the University of Leicester. He returned to do his PhD at the University of Kent, and his thesis was entitled Development, Decline and Demise: the Cult of Mithras in Late Antiquity

Between his stints in academia, David has worked for various commercial archaeology units and excavated in Cyprus, Italy, and Kosovo. He hosts a weekly podcast, where he talks to people about their research and work relating to Roman archaeology and history.

Research interests

David’s main research focus is religion in the late Roman world, particularly non-Christian cults. In 2018, he published a monograph based on his PhD exploring the end of the Mithras cult, as well as an article arguing for the identification of another temple to Mithras in Britain. Prior to this, he published an article on the end of temples along the Danube frontier. 

He has strong interest in the archaeology of the late Roman frontiers and public perceptions of archaeology.

Teaching

David's teaching focuses on the Roman and post-Roman periods, as well as an introduction to archaeology.

Publications

Article

  • Walsh, D. (2018). Reconsidering the Butt Road "Church," Colchester: Another Mithraeum? Journal of Late Antiquity [Online] 11:339-374. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/jla.2018.0021.
    In recent decades, archaeologists in regions such as Germany, Italy, and France have developed an increasingly robust approach to the identification of early churches and thus dismissed a number of formerly misidentified examples in the process. In Britain, however, various supposed "churches" discovered in the twentieth century continue to be referred to as such despite a lack of strong evidence to substantiate this. One such example is a structure found at Butt Road, Colchester. In this article, the issues surrounding the interpretation of this building as a church are revisited and enhanced, while it is illustrated why other interpretations, such as a "pagan funerary banqueting hall," are also unlikely. Following this, the possibility that the building served as a mithraeum is put forward, for mithraea offer stronger parallels that account for the building's size and structure, as well as its faunal and small-find assemblages. As such, it will highlight the need to revisit other previously identified "churches" from Roman Britain and to apply a more rigorous analysis, which may yield alternative conclusions.
  • Walsh, D. (2016). The Fate of Temples in Noricum and Pannonia. American Journal of Archaeology [Online] 120:221-238. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3764/aja.120.2.0221.
    The abandonment and destruction of temples in late antiquity has become the subject of widespread discussion in recent years. However, the provinces of the Danubian frontier have been left largely understudied in this respect. This article seeks to add new data and observations to this debate by determining several points regarding the temples of Noricum and Pannonia, including when a decline in their construction becomes evident, how sources of temple benefaction alter over time, and how these changes relate to building work undertaken across the civic sphere. It also looks at the abandonment of temples, focusing particularly on when they became common sources of spolia for other building projects, what evidence there is for the violent closure of temples, and who might have been responsible for this. I argue that there is an evident decline in the construction and restoration of temples from the early third century onward, while temple building materials became increasingly used as spolia from the Tetrarchic period onward. I also show that the violent destruction of temples in the fourth century was uncommon, and, in instances where it did occur, the identity of the perpetrators is open to interpretation.

Book

  • Walsh, D. (2018). The Cult of Mithras in Late Antiquity: Development, Decline and Demise ca. A.D. 270-430. [Online]. Leiden: Brill. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/9789004383067.
    In The Cult of Mithras in Late Antiquity David Walsh explores how the cult of Mithras developed across the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. and why by the early 5th century the cult had completely disappeared. Contrary to the traditional narrative that the cult was violently persecuted out of existence by Christians, Walsh demonstrates that the cult’s decline was a far more gradual process that resulted from a variety of factors. He also challenges the popular image of the cult as a monolithic entity, highlighting how by the 4th century Mithras had come to mean different things to different people in different places.

Conference or workshop item

  • Walsh, D. (2016). Understanding the Status of the Cult of Mithras in the Tetrarchic Period: A Socio-Archaeological Approach. in: 25th annual Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference. Oxford, UK: Oxbow Books, pp. 141-152. Available at: https://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/trac-2015.html.
    A number of inscriptions from the Tetrarchic period indicate that various Mithraic communities received the patronage of governors, duces and even the emperors themselves. Such support for a so-called mystery cult is striking given that in other cases the imperial government failed to restore the temples of more traditional cults that had fallen into decay. In this paper I will demonstrate that such anomalous building activity associated with mithraea is evident in proceeding generations, for while the construction and repair of temples generally declined significantly in the third century mithraea continued to be erected and maintained unabated throughout this period. I then go on to argue that there is evidence to indicate Mithraic congregations took the conscious decision to divide upon reaching a certain number followers, hence why newly constructed mithraea continued to remain small in size and are often to be found in close proximity to pre-existing mithraea. By applying sociological theory, it is clear that such circumstances provided the ideal situation in which to foster a particularly high level of commitment among the Mithraists, thus making them willing to continue contributing to the construction and repair of mithraea even when resources became scarce, while other cults that had a popular, but less committed following, saw their temples fall into disrepair. When the imperial government provided for support for various Mithraic communities in the Tetrarchic period this was not due to any religious reasons, but rather as a political move designed to channel this commitment into support for their own rule.

Review

  • Walsh, D. (2018). Book Review: Visual Conversations in Art and Archaeology: Images of Mithra. Cambridge Archaeological Journal [Online] 28:512-513. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0959774317000932.
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