Prof.dr. Leonard V. Rutgers is an archaeologist and historian of religion. At Utrecht University he holds a chair in Late Antiquity. His work focusses on the history and archaeology of Diaspora Judaism in the Roman and Medieval periods, on early Christianity, and on the history of Jewish-Christian relations. He is particularly interested in migration, Diaspora studies, historical demography, the dynamics of intergroup relations, especially those involving religious minorities, identity formation, quantification, language use, epigraphy, archaeology as a source to study history, heritage managment and archaeological ethics, and in the analysis of rhetorical strategies used to pidgeonhole "the Other."

Furthermore, over the course of several major archaeological fieldwork projects he has conducted in the Jewish and early Christian catacombs of Rome, Rutgers has developed a strong interest in how to operationalize techniques from sciences. Starting with groundbreaking work in the field of radiocarbon dating, as applied to the Jewish catacombs of Rome and published in Nature, Rutgers and his team have used isotopic analysis to throw new light on the diet of early Christians in Rome. In current work (details below) he is trying to take full advantage of what has been called the third revolution in archaeology, namely the study of aDNA. Rutgers is a firm believer in interdisciplinary research. He also believes that the study of archaeology has the power to fundamentally alter our understanding of the past, because it allows one to add nuance through the study of people who often remain invisible in more traditional historical accounts.

Finally, Rutgers is also an active popularizer of scientific research. In addition to writing a popular weekly column in the Dutch Financial Times from 2015-2018, so far he has published three popular books entitled, respectively, Subterranean Rome: In Search of the Roots of Christianity in the Catacombs of the Eternal City (2000), Israel on the Tiber. Jewish Life in Ancient Rome (2023; in Dutch, translations into English and Italian in preparation), and De klassieke wereld in 52 ontdekkingen (2018; a more general book on the ancient world). The latter book, which won the Homerus prize for best book in classics in 2019, is a bestseller.

Research Projects

Previous research projects include Reconfiguring Diaspora: The Transformation of the Jewish Diaspora in Late Antiquity and The Rise of Christianity: A New Interdisciplinary Perspective. Currently, Rutgers is directing Genetic Legacies. A collaboration with David Reich of Harvard Medical School and a large group of research partners from all over Europe, from Israel, the US and Cananda, this project looks at the history of Jewish migration into Europe from its beginnings in the early Roman period all the way up to 1500. It does so from a combined genetic, isotopic, and historical/archeaeological prespective. Preliminary results indicate that this project is about to throw a revolutionary new light on the history of intergroup relations in Europe, and on the history of the single most important minority group in European history, the Jewish community. 

Further projects focus on 3D imagining and research in the field of digital humanities. Work includes engagment with  the PEACE Portal (Portal of Epigraphy, Archaeology, Conservation and Education on Jewish Funerary Culture--  an initiative of O.P. Saar) as well as the development of An Interactive Geo-Spatial Platform for Modelling Jewish Historical Migration--a FAIR IT project in collaboration with the Digital Humanities Lab at Utrecht University.  


Rutgers is the author of the award-winning The Jews in Late Ancient Rome. Evidence of Cultural Interaction in the Roman Diaspora (2000), and other publications in the area of Jewish-Christian relations, including The Hidden Heritage of Diaspora Judaism (1998) and Making Myths. Jews in Early Christian Identity Formation (2009). He has edited several volumes including The Use of Sacred Books in the Ancient World (1998), What Athens Has to Do with Jerusalem. Essays on Classical, Jewish, and Early Christian Art and Archaeology in Honor of Gideon Foerster (2002), Letters in the Dust. The Epigraphy and Archaeology of Medieval Jewish Cemeteries (2023), Frontiers. The Transformation and Christianization of the Roman Empire between Center and Periphery. Proceedings of the 17th International Congress of Christian Archaeology (in press), the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Late Antique Art and Archaeology and Languages of the Jews (both forthcoming).



Late Antiquity, with special emphasis on the interaction between Jews, Christians, and Others