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Maps and Roman religion

Maps are the best tools for visualising big data, especially in the age of Google Maps and modern network studies. Numerous big projects focusing on Roman history are using already this surface to present their database also in form of maps, which help us to understand many specific details and local particularities of provinces or larger entities within the Roman Empire and beyond. There are fantastic maps focusing on global maps of the Graeco-Roman worldepigraphic material of the empire, the Roman cities and settlements, a map which compares ancient and medieval Europe,  the terra sigillata production sites, the amphorae and other pottery production sites, Roman economy and their sites and the Roman roads and networks. 

When it comes to Roman religion however, we are in a pretty bad situation. Although there are monumental projects focusing on mapping Roman sanctuaries and religious sites in Gallia, Italy or Germaniae,  none of these projects has a digital map yet. Some projects are focusing on individual divinities or religious groups, such as the Isiac cults,  Mithras or early Christian communities. These new projects tries to visualise the monumental work and heritage of M. J. Vermaseren and the EPRO series, where numerous maps were also published focusing on individual divinities or small group religions.

A new project will focus on mapping all the Roman sacralised spaces (known commonly as sanctuaries) in the Danubian provinces. Stay tuned!

Photo_Mithorig Project 2

Mithras sanctuaries and groups in the Roman Empire (source:


Monographs on Roman religion: the big books of our field

There is no systematic history of Roman religious studies. Most of the studies were focusing on the 19th century or the 20th century and their dominant personalities, biographies, correspondances. Important to highlight the contributions of Corinne Bonnet, C. Robert Phillips III and  James B. Rives.

9783406034060-usDuring the 20th century there were at least 20 big books on Roman religion, each of them presenting original methods and approaches on the same topic, however few of these became paradigmatic. The first big book – and one of the most influential one – was the monumental work of Georg Wissowa from 1902 (second edition n 1912). His work was followed by important monographs by Vsevolod Basanoff[1], Albert Grenier[2], Herbert J. Rose[3], Franz Altheim[4], Jean Bayet[5], Kurt Latte[6], Georges Dumezil[7], John Fergusson[8], Robert Schilling[9], Robert Turcan[10] , Mary Beard-John North-Simon Price, John North and John Scheid[11]. From these 41P6jka-blL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_books, the most popular and paradigmatic work was that of Beard-North-Price from 1998, which is still one of the best manuals on Roman religion. Since the early 2000′ Jörg Rüpke and Clifford Ando produced numerous important works on Roman religion. Jörg Rüpke’s introduction on Roman religion from 2007 and the companion edited by him from the same year was also a paradigmatic work. His most recent synthesis on Roman religion presents a radically new approach on the topic, in slight contrast with Scheid’s  new work.




[1] V. Basanoff: Les dieux des Romains, Paris, 1942.

[2] A. Grenier: La religion romaine. In: Les religions de l’Europe ancienne III, Paris, 1948, 81-233.

[3] H. J. Rose: Ancient Roman religion, New York, 1948.

[4] F. Altheim: Römische Religionsgeschichte, Baden-Baden, 1951-3.

[5] J. Bayet: Histoire politique et psychologique de la religion romaine, Paris, 1957.

[6] K. Latte: Römische Religionsgeschichte, München, 1961.

[7] G. Dumezil: La religion romaine archaïque, Paris, 1966.

[8] J. Fergusson: The Religions of the Roman Empire, London, 1970.

[9] R. Schilling: Rites, cultes, Dieux de Rome, Paris, 1979.

[10] R. Turcan: The cults of the Roman Empire, New York, 1997.

[11] J. Scheid: La religion des Romains. Paris, 1998.


Actualities 2017 – the study of Roman religion in this year

Since I’m following the major publications on Roman religion (2013-2017), more than 120 monographs and major books were published on this topic. This shows clearly, how 9780198792536abundant became this scholarship, it is hard even to follow the speed of “production”. The publish or perish phenomenon invaded Roman religious studies too, which has positive and negative aspects too: lot of books were focusing in this year on brand new topics too, while others tried to reinterpret old questions or to give new, paradigmatic approaches. Another positive aspect, that numerous books from Central-East Europe were published too, integrating this part of the EU in the international scholarship. This year was marked by numerous imortant works on Celtic religion, a new wave of Mithraic studies and as the ending year of the paradigmatic Lived Ancient Religion project, it produced some programmatic works (and more will be followed next year). The list of the major works in 2013-2017 you can find HERE.




Mithraic studies: why is it so popular?

Studying the Roman cult of Mithras is still a “fashion” among the scholars of Roman religious studies and Roman archaeologists. Although since the seminal work of Franz V. Cumont, the literary sources didn’t really increase, the archaeological material of the cult is much more significant since Cumont’s or Vermaseren’s  monumental corpora were published. The “Mithraic studies”, as John Hinnells named it, is flourishing since the 1970’s, having a renaissance in the last years again.

After Roger Beck’s published his great book in 2006 where he introduced the notion of startalk, a series of new studies and books were published on the Roman cult of Mithras.  First, an entire volume was dedicated for the detailed analysis of Beck’s book in 2012.  In 9780198792536the same year, Manfred Clauss published a second edition of his seminal work on Mithras. Then, a largely debated article was published by C. Faraone in 2013, which contextualized the visual language of the Mithraic reliefs in a much larger picture of Roman art and religion. Following this idea, A. Mastrocinque published a book on the mysteries of Mithras, where he tries to argue, that the cult is originated in the Augustean religious reform and visual language of that age.

10964_00_detailIn 2014, M. Luther published a book on the Mind of the Mithraists, focusing on the cognitive aspects of this religion. A very similar book was published in this year by Roger Beck and Olympia Panagiotidou. A new project focusing on the network of “Mithraic” groups is run by A. Chalupa and his team, while I. Elsner and his team has another project focusing on the Images of Mithra(s) in a historical perspective. A recent book was just pubished in this year by Elsner’s students. A conference focusing on the cult of Mithras in the Danubian provinces was organized in 2016, while another focusing on the archaeology of the mithraea in 2017. In 2018, David Walsh will publish his PhD on the sanctuaries of Mithras in late antiquity at BRILL. As far as I know, Jaan Lahe is also working now on a new book on the evolution of Mithras from Iranian to Roman periods and professor R. L. Gordon is also preparing to publish his Kleine Schriften, which even if won’t have new articles on this topic, will be certainly an important collection of the most influential Mithraic studies of the second half of the 20th century.

The big question is: why is this topic still, so popular? Hard to answer this question. 52111044Perhaps, the large amount of archaeological material, the numerous unanswered questions related to this cult, the increased number of scholars in classics and Roman religious studies? An interesting and very important review however can highlight some of the mistakes of this “sub-discipline”. Worth to read it to avoid notions as “Mithraists” or to analyze this cult as a separate entity within the large variety of Roman religious communication.

Our blog is in the top 25 blogs on ancient Rome

Just received the email, that my blog is in the top 25 blogs on ancient Rome.

Let’s hope we can keep the good work together!

Many thanks!

See the list: here

Jupiter Dolichenus in the Kunsthistorisches Museum

In the Romanian literature focusing on the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus there is a wrong interpretation of a monument, copied and repeated in the last 40 years.

9568-1Ion Miclea and Radu Florescu published a book in 1979 presenting the Transylvanian monuments of the Kunsthistorisches Museum from Vienna (fig.1.). In this book, the authors presented a beautiful Dolichenian statue. The authors presented the monument as originated from Surducu Mare (Nagyszurduk) Caras-Severin (Krassó-Szörény), identified as the Roman settlement of Centum Putei. Their interpretation was based on the wrong reading of the original inventory sheet. Radu Florescu (1925-2014) was one of the prominent historians of his age, but he probably didn’t read Hungarian and German very well. The same was true for Ion Miclea (1931-2000), the Communist photograph of Nicolae Ceausescu. They interpreted the toponym of Szlankamen with Szurduk, mostly based on the phonetic similarities.

Unfortuantely, their mistake was repetedly copied later: all the major works on the so called Oriental cults (the works of Silviu Sanie, Sorin Nemeti, Carbó-Garcia and Imola Boda) mentioned the famous statue of Jupiter Dolichenus from the Kunsthistorisches Museum as discovered in Nagyszurduk (Surducu Mare).

_j_k_p_3_Actually, the statue was discovered in the first half of the 19th century in Zalánkemén (Стари Сланкамен / Sztari Szlankamen / Stari Slankamen), today Serbia. The settlement was identified as Acumincum already by Th. Mommsen. The monument was later bought and donated by Dr. Kiss Ferenc from Pest and it is part of the Kunsthistorisches Museum since 1851. The monument first was published shortly by Katancs and in 1854 by Seidl in his seminal work on the cult of Dolichenus (fig. 2, 3.). It was published also in the CIL (CIL III 3253) and in the major corpus of the Dolichenian monuments (Merlat, CCID) too. This is why it is highly surprizing that nobody from the Romanian scholars observed till now, that the “monument from Surducu Mare” is actually, the statue from Acumincum. The CIL III 3252 was probably also discovered in the same time and same spot, as part of a possible Dolichenum from Acumincum.




Szilágyi János György and the Hungarian classical studies

Szilágyi János György (1918-2016) was the last living student of Karl Kerényi, one of the leading scholars of the Hungarian classical studies (Altertumwissenschaft). As a doyen of his field and a well known etruscologist, art historian and classical-philologist, Szilágyi was respected not only in Hungary, but also in Italy, where he was known as one of the biggest etruscologists of the 20th century. His almost one century long life and carrier was the living book of the Hungarian classical studies in the 20th century and Szilágyi János György. Photo of the author from 2011beyond. He was active already in the 1930’s and remained a cited and active person even in the 2010’s. Coming from an intellectual Jewish background of Budapest – the city dominated by the Jewish middle-class intellectuals in the beginning of the 20th century – due to his family, he had already as a child and student a very rich network with the Hungarian intellectual, cultural and political elite of the 1920’s and 30’s. He preserved this attitude of openness and holistic view on the world till his death, having probably one of the biggest network in academia and beyond.

I was privileged to speak with him and made an interview in 2011, focusing on his life, work and the perspectives of the Hungarian classical studies, but we discussed also about the Hungarian roots of Angelo Brelich – a project which I still keep in standby, hopefully I will have the opportunity to continue.

After his death, there were numerous Hungarian obituaries of Szilágyi, however the most detailed  biography published recently is the life-interview of Szilágyi, made in 2003 by György Litván and Adrienne Molnár, published in two special volumes of the Enigma journal (nr. 87-88, 2017). The volumes contains also numerous letters and special writings related to the life of Szilágyi, written by his friends and colleagues, mostly writers and literary persons. The interview (173 pages) is the longest life-interview made with a Hungarian classical scholar. Litván – who died shortly after this interview in 2006 – was a well known historian of the 19th and 20th century, so his IMG_4395questions and the entire structure of  the interview was consciously built up to present not only the life of a single person, but it’s a detailed and obviously subjective kaleidoscope of the Hungarian classical studies from 1918 till 2003. Szilágyi was not only the oldest member of the Hungarian Classical Association, but also with the biggest academic network in Hungary and abroad (Europe and even the United States).  His bird eye perspective and ability to synthesize his life in a historical context made this interview actually the most detailed history of Hungarian classical studies published till now.  With more than 500 footnotes, the editors of the volume (especially Géza Komoróczy) made a great job, uniting the entire literature on the  history of Hungarian classical studies published till now. From these footnotes and the interview of Szilágyi we get an impression how monumental is his life and how rich was his academic network (almost 1000 personalities are mentioned in the text).

These two volumes – together with the rich historiographic bibliography of Szilágyi János György, Ritoók Zsigmond, Török László and others – could consist basically the starting point of a project which would focus on a comprehensive history of Hungarian classical studies in the 20th century.

(photos made by myself in August 2011 in the office of Szilágyi János György from the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest)