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Roman religion in the forts: notes on Heidenreich’s book

February 6, 2015

Christoph S. Heidenreich is a great name and authority in Roman military studies and Latin Epigraphy. His new book, Le Glaive et l’Autel  camps et pieté militaires sous le Haut Empire romain (Paris, 2013) is an essential work and epigraphic corpus for studying Roman religion within the forts, but generally, in military context too. It is essential also for some sites from Roman Dacia.

1386321609Mapping more than 550 votive monuments inside of the forts, Heidenreich’s study is an important milestone in the historiography. He enrols at least twenty places inside of the fort where votive monuments were found, dividing the places in four main groups: public, semi-public, private and intermediary/uncertain. These places where inhabited by various divinities (at least 30 groups attested) and mention all groups of the army. His tripartite typology (places, gods, actors) are indeed, a new approach in the historiography of Roman religion within the forts, but use the same, old discourse when it’s about to analyse the details.

The major problem with his work is the topographic aspects of the finds: he mentions that only 12% of the referenced inscriptions came from the territory of the forts and 35% of the 550 inscriptions have a precise topographic location. This problem is a general phenomenon in the cases of urban archaeology or forts within a modern settlement. He forgets also to mention the possibility of Late Roman spolia and secondary use of altars, as a very common phenomenon in forts.

He didn’t mention the relationship between different spaces within the fort, their communication and relation with actors, objects and external buildings, spaces. From his analysis is also missing to focus on movements, processions, festivals, calendar and their religious purpose or meaning. Some basic notions, such as sacrifice, sacred landscape, ritualization of the space and even the legal and religious definition par excellence of the fort is missing from his work. Although it is the most important and complete epigraphic collection of it’s own kind, it can’t pass over the traditional positivist – epigraphist approach on Roman religion. This is obvious also in his massive bibliographic list, from which members of the Religionswissenschaft is present very poorly. This tendency however, is going in a new, promising direction, already glimpsed in the recent studies on epigraphy, military history and religion.

Hopefully, the section dedicated to Roman religion in the army at the Limeskongress in Ingolstadt in this year will continue and accelerate the interdisciplinary between Roman religious studies and military history.

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