Cosmopolitanism as Hospitality: Christian Charity and the Archaeology of the Medieval Silk Road in Armenia


Kate Franklin
Birkbeck, University of London

How was a caravan inn a metaphor for the medieval self?
In this paper I will explore the materiality of charity in high medieval (13th-14th century) Armenia, and in particular the space-times made at the intersection of local politics and expansive worldviews, which worked to contain and produce the mobility and exchange now referred to as the medieval Silk Road. The paper will start from the perspective of the medieval caravan inn– or karavanatun in Armenia– and consider both the broader landscapes of piety and the everyday practices of hospitality which held together complexly interwoven cultures and identities in the medieval period. Bringing together archaeological as well as historical and epigraphic evidence, the paper will examine how nested metaphors of self, space, society, and cosmos linked religious tradition to trade worlds, as well as knitting together the edges of Christian and Muslim identities in the transformative period of the Mongol conquest.

Kate Franklin is an anthropological archaeologist and Lecturer in Medieval History at Birkbeck, University of London. Her work is focused most closely on Armenia in the Mongol period, and specifically engaged with techniques of world-making and Silk Road cosmopolitanism. Dr. Franklin’s dissertation (University of Chicago, 2014) centered on excavations at the Arai-Bazarjul caravanserai in the Kasakh Valley. Her current research explores the layered cultural landscapes of Orbelyan-era Vayots Dzor. Prior to her position at Birkbeck she has taught anthropology, archaeology and history at the University of Chicago as Dumanian Visiting Professor in Armenian Studies, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has published on caravan infrastructure, medieval embodied politics, landscape, memory, and everyday life; her book Everyday Cosmopolitanisms: Living the Silk Road in Medieval Armenia will be published (in print and Open Access) in September 2021 from University of California Press.


The interior of the 14th century caravan inn at Selim, Vayots Dzor, Armenia
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