Good Behavior/Bad Behavior: Asserting and Advocating Behavioral Norms in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

Panel at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo May 14-17, 2015.

In art, architecture and literature from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, we see good behavior defined, defended, explained, extolled and urged. We see bad behavior defined, denounced, exposed, excoriated and urged against. Ecclesiastical building programs sought to inculcate model behavior and stave off impropriety; letters contained evaluations of the good or bad behavior of their carriers; legal contracts offered a veneer of legitimacy for illegal acts or a sheen of lawlessness for formerly legal acts; preachers railed against unmanly (and unwomanly) behavior. In this session we seek to explore what the constructions of good and bad behavior were in late antiquity and the early middle ages. What can these constructions tell us about early medieval life, society and aspirations?

But we are also interested in the process by which these good behaviors and bad behaviors were inculcated. How did late antique and early medieval “culture-makers” use visual or verbal rhetoric to regulate behavior in their audiences? What techniques did they use to assert their constructions of good and bad behavior, or to argue against the acceptance of previous definitions? How does a preacher tell a rich man he’s wrong to steal his neighbor’s land? How does a baptistry mosaic help define good behavior? How do laws, poetry, theological tractates and political actions help their authors define bad behavior and instill good behavior? In this session we seek to explore how constructions of good and bad behavior were argued for and made persuasive. How could behavior be justified as “good” and how vitiated as “bad” in the various media available in the early middle ages?

Please submit 300-word abstracts to Diane Fruchtman ( by September 15, 2014.

Participant Information form available at

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