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New books on Roman religion in 2020

Although this year was about the deepest crisis of our recent history, the academic production of this year was still impressive, although in comparison with the previous years the number of major works on Roman religion published in this year was much more modest. Around 25 major works were published (monographs), focusing especially on general aspects of Roman religion from the French school of religious studies, but also numerous archaeological monographs (especially focusing on the cult of Mithras and Isis). Urban religion and ancient magic is also a booming topic.

Most of these works are the products of the previous years. I am curious, what happened in 2020, without conferences and the necessary mobility for researchers. Let’s hope we will have a much better year for research too in 2021!

The full list of recent books you can download HERE. (last pages are from 2020).

Big projects on Roman religion

The Lived Ancient Religion project (2012-2017) coordinated by prof. Jörg Rüpke was one of the most influential research projects in Roman religious studies in the last few decades, proving the essential idea and aim of the ERC research grants, that of changing disciplines and uniting sub-disciplines long term. The LAR project in its 5 years united hundreds of PhD students, postdoctoral researchers, visiting fellows and senior researchers and well established professors and authorities of the field of Roman religion, classical archaeology, religious studies, philology from the EU, USA and even beyond. The major works of the project (Raja-Rüpke 2015, Albrecht et al. 2018, Rüpke 2018, Gasparini et al. 2020) already produced a significant impact in the field and created several side- or pilot projects in Erfurt, London, Graz, Madrid and many other academic centers. Pilot-projects or methodological continuations of the LAR project we can find also in the Lived Ancient Religion in North Africa Project (LARNA) of Valentino Gasparini, the Sanctuary Project of prof. Greg Woolf or the Resonant Self interdisciplinary graduate school from Graz – just to name a few.

Since the LAR project, numerous other important international collaborations were formed in the EU and USA. The Empires of Faith Project (2013-2017) coordinated by J. Elsner was also a very influential one in the UK especially in visuality and religious communication. Important contibutions were made also by the Votive Project focusing on the great varieties of anatomical and material religious votives, ex votos, religious souvenirs. The GEHIR project (Generative History of Ancient Religions) coordinated by Ales Chalupa focused on religious networks in the Roman Empire. The materiality of early Christianity in the Danubian provinces is also currently re-analysed in a broader, much more interdisciplinary approach by the projects of Levente Nagy, Renate Pillinger and Dominic Moreau and his team. The Open University has a wonderful research center focusing on the materiality of religion, with numerous important studies on ancient materiality of religion. Jaime Alvar Ezquerra has a project in Madrid focusing on the Gens Isiaca in Roman Hispania. The project Synaesthaesia produced also numerous important studies on ancient sensescape.

The ERC Project Mapping Ancient Polytheisms is a monumental, ongoing research coordinated by prof. Corinne Bonnet focusing on the role of divine epithets, names, personifications in the Meditteranean world. The project unites numerous important scholars focusing on the epithets of the gods, an aspect which comes as a useful and essential addendum for the LAR project, which had no similar side-projects. Numerous smaller postdoctoral or international, interregional projects are focusing on Roman or ancient magic and its materiality too. Jörg Rüpke and Susanne Rau’s new project is focusing on urbanity and religion, named by them as citification in religious communication. A new Polish project will focus on Roman republican religion and the collegium septemviri epulones.

The number of relevant projects are certainly much higher and I am sure there are many other important projects in Germany, France or the USA focusing on Roman religion and its aspects.

The final conference of the Lived Ancient Religion project in Eisenach, April 2017

Roman Dacia in the digital era

The province of Roman Dacia is one of the last territories conquered by the Roman Empire and one of the earliest, which was left already in the late 3rd century AD. Still, in less than 170 years, Romans changed the natural environment, built at least 10 urban centers, 100 legionary or auxiliary forts and around 300 other military buildings, more than 4000 inscriptions and thouands of other figurative monuments, small finds and other archaeological material. This huge materiality of Roman presence will mark deeply the history of this area of Europe even after the collapse of the Empire. The Roman heritage marked not only the history of the people from the Balkans – especially the neo-latin speaking Romanians – but also the cultural, economic and political events in early Medieval and also, during the Renaissance period. The Roman heritage was always known in ethongraphic traiditions, foklore, and since the 15th century built and used in the political and cultural narratives and identities in the 19th and 20th century.

The academic study of Roman Dacia produced thousands of articles and books in the last 150 years. Only on Roman religion there are around 1400 titles “produced” in the last two centuries.

However, in the last few years, digital humanities changed also the study of Roman Dacia. There are numerous studies already available online in or Sci-Hub. The EDH Epigraphic Database from Heidelberg has now more than 3500 inscriptions of the province, the Clauss-Slaby has 4222 inscriptions online. A complex and interactive population database is available for Dacia on the Romans1by1 project.

More than 2200 figurative monuments were photographed by Ortolf Harl from Roman Dacia and inclued in his amazing project. Without the CSIR volumes of Romania – which are still not done – the work of Harl is indispensable. Few objects from Dacia are digitized also in the LIMC and Arachne projects. A part of the Roman bronz statuettes are available online too. Numerous books and articles on Roman Dacia are digitized by the National Institute of Heritage on their page too. 3468 arhaeological sites from Roman period are included in the National Archeological Repertory. 12.000 archaeological objects are introduced in the National Heritage, however many of them are without photographic documentation and only a part of them are from the Roman era. The archaeological sites of the Roman Limes are under documentation by the National Limes Comission. A very useful holistic digital map of the Roman Empire you can find also on the page. Numerous other cartographic representations of the Roman World – the ORBIS, Pelasgios or the Barington map – represents also Dacia.

The coin hoards of the province were systematically published by C. Găzdac. Cities, mines and other economic unites were also included in the various databases of the Oxford Economic Project. The RGZM has also numerous databases on terra sigillata, or Roman provincial archaeology, each with few mentions on Dacia too.

Finally, as part of my project focusing on Roman religious communication in the Danubian provinces, I finished the Digital Atlas of Roman sanctuaries from Dacia.

Annotation 2020-03-24 125758

Sanctuaries of Roman Dacia

Religious syncretism in Roman Dacia

In the Romanian historiography there are 3-4 important books or works on religion of Roman Dacia: the monograph on religious interferences written in Romanian by Mihai Barbulescu in 1984, the micro-monograph of András Bodor on Roman religion from 1989, the work of J.R. Carbo-Garcia on the Oriental cults of Dacia from 2010 and perhaps 2-3 other books on sanctuaries.

The 2005 book of Sorin Nemeti on religious syncretism in Dacia – his PhD thesis written in the early 2000′ in Cluj – was published 15 years after its original, Romanian publication in French too, therefore it is one of the few books on religion from Dacia available for the international academic public too and not only for the local colleagues.

A review of the book was published in November 2020, you can read it HERE.


New titles on Roman religion in 2019

0848200_political-religions-in-the-greco-roman-worldSimilarly to the last years, 2019 was also pretty  rich in  “producing” around 35 books on Roman religion from Republican to Late Antique Roman religion. Most of the works published in this year however, are dealing with specific details, especially on some particular literary sources, divinities, cities or religious phenomena.

This year produced again a  book on Roman Mithras too, a book on Roman augury, Porphyry, religious life in Bath and Ephessos, sanctuaries and Roman magic too. Numerous proceedings were also focusing on Roman religious stuff, one of them on Mithras in the Danubian provinces.

There were numerous books published on early Christianity too, one of them is the monumental book of H. Leppin on Early Christianity.

The list of recently published books on Roman religion you can see here: ACTUALITIES_IN_THE_STUDY_OF_ROMAN_RELIGION 2019

Sacralised spaces in Pompeii – a visual guide

I don’t even need to tell, that the bibliography on Roman religion in Pompeii is tremendous.  I presume, that there are hundreds of articles and books exclusively on this topic. Even the issue of Christianity and the cult of Mithras in Pompeii – although there are almost no evidence of the existence of these new religious movements before 79 AD – produced a huge number of articles.

From the great number of articles focusing on Roman religious communication in public, secondary and private spaces in Pompeii, the best work was written probably by William van Andringa in 2009: Quotidien des dieux et des hommes : la vie religieuse dans les cités du Vésuve à l’époque romaine. Another important work is focusing on the so called spatial aspects of religious communication written by Miko Flohr.

Although it might seems, that Pompeii is a treasure for researchers to understand the details of Roman religious communication in urban context, unfortunately, the 250 years long research history and archaeology of the site destroyed many of the evidences and we have issues to reconstruct the interior of a temple even in the most well known cases.

here are some photos from public temples, sanctuaries and house shrines of Pompeii:

The Mithraeum near Circus Maximus

In 1931-1932, during the reconstruction of a mill into the warehouse of the Teatro dell’Opera, a large sized, almost perfectly preserved Roman building-complex was discovered under the building. Because the warehouse is not accesible for the greater public, the sanctuary can be rarely visited, only through a touristic association. They are former students and archaeologists, well prepared in Roman history and classical archaeology and also in local topography of the finds – a necessity in such a city, as Rome, where every serious archaeologist should know by hearth the archaeological guide of Coarelli at least.

The sanctuary is preserved in a stunning state, almost perfectly: arches, vaults, pavimentum, the marble decoration of the walls, porphyr objects are in situ in the sanctuary. Even some parts of the original wall paintings and decorations are visible, however these seems to be heavily damaged in the last 80 years.

The building was part of the Forum Boarium and the area of the Ara Maxima Herculis Invicti, the big central altar of Hercules, which is partially preserved under the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The Ara Herculis was rebuilt after 64 AD, so what it might be preserved under the Cosmedin is actually the new, Principate-period building and not the Republican altar. In any case, this area was one of the central sacralised spaces of Rome with high significance, especially for men. This might be a good reason to establish a mithraeum here, although the building where they identified it originally was a horreum or a similar, economic structure (something similar was found also in the port of Caesarea Maritima).

The original building was transformed in the period of Diocletian, additional walls were added, to create the three major area of the sanctuary: the pronaos, the apparatorium and the naos, the central nave with podia. The marble decoration, the spheres on the pavimentum and the rich ex voto decorations, statues and statue bases are dated also from the end of the 3rd beginning of the 4th century.

The central relief now is lying on the left bench of the naos, originally was found in theIMG_0625.JPG central area of the sanctuary. It represents the canonical, classic tauroctony, with stars near the head of Mithras. Another, ex voto relief is still in its original position inserted in the wall of the sanctuary. Several other niches suggest, that the walls of naos were heavily decorated with inscriptions and reliefs. Some of the inscriptions are on the walls of the pronaos, probably put there by archeologists. Another important inscription is walled in one of the statue bases near the central area. This might suggest, that in the 4th century the building was again, reused and left by the Mithraic group. Several, badly preserved graffiti can be observed on the wall. As far as I know, this was never been studied with contemporary technologies. The case of the Caesarea Maritima mithraeum shows, that with infrared and other laser technologies, badly preserved graffiti and frescos can be identified. I’m almost sure, that would be the case in this amazing mithraeum too. One of the most discussed graffito of the sanctuary is the one which mentions the word of “magicae” (CIMRM 454). Guarducci and H. Solin wrote also some important works on this topic.

The sanctuary was published in several short reports and articles in the 1930’s by Pietrangeli, Colini, Luigi and others. Later, M. J. Vermaseren had a long entry in his monumental corpus about the sanctuary and its inscriptions too (CIMRM 434).

Vermaseren collected all the material he could from A.M.  Colini and the few reports existed in the 1950’s when he wrote his entry for CIMRM. It is clear from the epigraphic material, that many of the inscriptions are from the 2nd century AD, which is in a slight conflict with the pavimentum, which clearly suggest, that it was built in its recently IMG_0623known form during Diocletian’s period. The mithraeum might have therefore at least two phases: a Hadrianic one and a later, 3rd century one. It could be also, that a Mithraic group moved from an older sanctuary into this new one, moving the old inscriptions (CIMRM 449, 453) with them. One of the inscriptions (CIMRM 449) mentions, that the sacrarium (the mithraeum?) was built by Publius Aelius Ur(banus?), when A. Sergio Eutycho was sacerdotes, priest (of Mithras?). The name of Ur(banus?) suggest, that we are in the period of Hadrian or post-Hadrian. None of the early publishers of the sanctuary named this mithraeum as “mitreo di Circo Massimo”. The building was at least 20 m distance from the Circus Maximus, separated by a Roman road from the edges of the circus. It is clearly not part of  the monumental structure, but a separate building, part of the economic area of the Forum Boarium and the sacralised spaces of the Ara Herculis. Still, since the 1970’s Italian and later, English literature cites this sanctuary as the “mithraeum from the Circus Maximus”, which is very misleading.

The sanctuary of Publius Aelius Ur(banus) or Sergio Eutycho could be more authentic denomination.  The sanctuary would worth a monograph too.

Some photos from the interior of the sanctuary:

The “mithraeum” in the Museum of Sibiu

The Bruckenthal Museum – which is the oldest public museum of today Romania (Transylvania) – has a very rich Roman collection. The oldest part of the archaeological collection – inscriptions and figurative monuments – comes from the period of Samuel von Bruckenthal, the founder of the museum, who  – as a governor of Transylvania – was a passionate intellectual, intersted in ancient history too. He collected Roman statues, inscriptions and glyptic material from all the places of Roman Dacia and even beyond.

Among the first objects arrived in the collection of Bruckenthal, there were the Mithraic finds from Apulum, discovered in 1786 by Franciscus Kastal (or Kaftal), who was responsible for the salt-trade in Marosprortus (Partos today), south part of the Colonia Aurelia Apulensis. He discovered probably the first mithraeum of Dacia, at least the fascinating material suggest an intact sanctuary: a beautiful Mithras Tauroctonos representation (signum), a middle-sized relief, a statue base and possibly the most stunning Mithras Petrogenitus representation from Dacia too.  The discovery was mentioned by Bartalis Antal in his history of Roman Dacia few years later.

Kastal sent the finds to one of his relatives in Sibiu, who later donated the spectacular material to Bruckenthal. Today, these finds are in the Altemberger House in the Roman Lapidarium, where an artificial mithraeum was established to immitate the mysterious environment of a Mithraic sanctuary.

As in many museums where a mithraeum is reconstructed or recreated, the “Sibiu mithraeum” has objects from the discovery of Kastal but several other pieces too from Apulum and other Roman settlements of Dacia.

Because this material is so exceptional and the discovery itself was mentioned by literary sources and it is the very first mithraeum which was documented in Dacia, this recreated sanctuary in the museum would need a serious and professional rebranding and reorganisation. Obviously, there is no hope and chance for such amazing investment, as we can see in the London Mithraeum, but there are some really good examples with minimal investment (3-4000 euro) and great effects for tourists and students too.

I would reorganize the the podia which is too large and would be useful to establish a pronaos in front of the entrance. The space needs a new light-system too, to establish the ancient, mysterious dark spelaeum feeling of the sanctuary. There must be 2-3 bigger posters with beautiful photos and reconstructions, drawings perhaps about Mithras and his mysteries and the cult in Roman Dacia. Audio-visual effects would help to recreate also the mystery aspect of the cult.

I hope we can manage that in the future.

The London Mithraeum

The Mithras sanctuary of London is one of the most well known remains of Londinium, the Roman city of London. The building has a fascinating history also in antiquity and in modern times, the last sequence of its biography was begun 1-2 years earlier, when the brand new EU headquarter of Bloomberg transformed the site into a new archaeological museum.

The story begins in the 1st century AD, when this area of Londinium was dominated by wooden houses, a very rich and crowded domestic insulae-system. The fascinanting remains – wooden structures, textiles, shoes and wooden tablets – were discovered in 2012-13 in this area of the Walbrook, an area dominated by the brook and a very instable soil. There are no evidences, that in this early period, a sanctuary was functioning here.

Around 240 AD a pater and its small Mithraic group founded a mithraeum in this area. The building itself was a large one, although not the biggest mithraic sanctuary as many claims nowadays.  It has a typical shape and internal structure, having two massive benches (podia), possibly with a colonade on them.  It is presumed, that the sanctuary was founded by a group, who probably moved from a previous sanctuary – form Britain or another province. This might explain the strange amount and consistence of the materiality of religion discovered here. The large head of Mithras – today in the Museum of London – and several pieces of a large tauroctony could be a composite statue with several reused material.

The sanctuary was functioning till the end of the 3rd century, when probably was replaced by a bacchium, a sacralised place dedicated to Liber Pater. Some studies proved, that the presence of the Cambodunum 306 type of pottery in this place shows a striking similarity with the Liber Pater shrine in Apulum, Dacia.

The sanctuary was later abandoned and forgotten, although this part of Londinium was inhabited already in the 7th century AD.

The site was constantly reused and rebuilt, even Thomas More had a house here.

In the 19th century, a beautiful, but small sized ex voto was discovered here, representing the tauroctony. The discovery indicated, that in this location might be a sanctuary, but there were no excavations in this period.

After the severe bombing of London in the II WW, the Walbrook area was rebuilt. In 1952-54 archaeologists discovered the Mithras sanctuary, which is officially named as the birth of Brittish public archaeology, a case study of how to promote urban archaeology in the postmodern era. It was also the beginning of the MOLA, the Museum of Archaeology of London, which later became an etalon in field urban archaeology and public archaeology too. So the discovery of the sanctuary had a huge impact in the promotion of London’s archaeological heritage too. It was the biggest Mithraic sanctuary  discovered in Britain and some of the finest Roman sculptures ever revealed here.

The site was later moved in a new, artificial place, later abandoned and less and less visited.

After 2013, the Bloomberg company bought this area of the city and revitalised the old site of the sanctuary, moving back the Roman site near the original place. It was a great  example of experimental archaeology and archaeological reconstructions too, although many of us might be sceptical also here, if this methodology is useful or not.

The museum itself is indeed, a great example of public archaeology: modern technologies helping the contemporary society to understand the Roman past through fascinating audio-visual effects. Unfortunately, the site is not much about the archaeological material – which is mostly remained in the Museum of London – but on the visualisation of religious experience, made with the help of several academics from the UK (R. Tomlin, R. Gordon, H. Bowden).

There is a nice collection of archaeological pieces discovered in 2012-13 from the 1st century AD period of the Walbrook area. The material from the excavations in 1954 however is not exposed. There are few photos about the excavation, and although the space is very generous and large, it is extremely empty and minimalist: I would imagine much more information on the discovery, a general introduction on Londinium, on the cult of Mithras, on Roman religion, ancient mobilities and so on. This might be replaced by a fantastic phone app, which presents the site and the archaeological material by voice and texts.

In the “pronaos” of the sanctuary, the visitor can see some nice monitors with photos on the Roman cult of Mithras, reliefs, complex Mithraic narratives. One of the examples are from Dacia, Apulum – mentioned strangely there as “Mures Port”, refering to the Marosportus or Partos, the former territory of Colonia Aurelia Apulensis.

Inside the sanctuary the visitor can experience a 10-15 minutes long “religious” initiation, with audio-visual effects, although without a proper introduction, few of the visitors can understand what the choir and the male voice of the pater is speaking (the texts are from Santa Prisca, Dura Europos and other literary sources, mentioning the known phrases of the initiations).

In conclusions: the place itself is beautiful, fascinating visual effects, but not much about archaeology. Definitely better than most of the archaeological sites one can visit, but maybe a bit more information would have been useful there.




Gods in Roman Dacia – booklet for free

Gods in Roman Dacia5 years ago we have published a book on the bibliography of Roman religion in Dacia, a pragmatic tool for all who are interested in Roman religion in this part of the Empire. We had there also the first comprehensive dictionary of Roman divinities of the province.
The book – which had a great visibility since than – unfortunately didn’t have photos, so we decided to publish an updated version of the dictionary with a rich corpus of illustrations, based on the free access works of Ortolf Harl and his amazing project.

You can download for free our booklet HERE.