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New perspectives in the study of Roman religion in Dacia

Roman religion and the archaeology of religion became a popular topic also in Romanian research in the last decade. Due to the internationalisation of the humanities, the accessibility of Western literature and the mobility of Romanian scholars in Europe and beyond positively stimulated the research of Roman religion in Dacia.

With more than 1100 titles published on Roman religion, the research was focusing especially on creating catalogues, analysing individual cults and social aspects of some divinities or the religious “life” of some cities. Some of the topics, such as early 10367786_827479320605025_5899925886689648426_nChristianity was a priority, even if there is no direct proof of Christian groups in Dacia or even in later periods.

The new tendencies of the research (Lived Ancient Religion approach, new methods and approaches in the archaeology of religion) offered also for the Romanian scholars alternatives to interpret the materiality of Roman religion from Romania in a different way. New excavations opened opportunities to reform our view on archaeology of religion and a newly emerging theoretical discussion on this topic will be hopefully useful for further researches.

Our new edited volume – a special edition of the Studia UBB Historia Journal – is a first step for such an attempt. Many of the articles are trying to introduce a new approach and to interpret the material beyond iconography or typologies, but focusing on use, production, material and the relationship with human and divine agencies.


Actualities of 2016

2016 was again, a very prolific year in the research of Roman religion. More than 40 monographs and volumes were published focusing on general and particular aspects of this topic. The list you can find HERE.

80140100037550lAll the 3 “big” names of the discipline, Jörg Rüpke, John Scheid and Clifford Ando published new volumes, expressing at least two or three different methodologies and views on Roman religious communication. Numerous archaeological monographs on sanctuaries were published too. Some of the volumes are still focusing on individual divinities, while others are worth to open mostly because of their amazing photographs. In long term approach, the most important contribution of this year are the books of Jörg Rüpke and John Scheid, although Roman religion, 15442as religion of books, senses and emotions are also open new doors for further researches. Numerous publications were focusing also on medicine and religion and studies on Roman magic are also flourishing.

Conferences and workshops of this year were focusing on new approaches on materiality and Roman religious communication, small group religions (especially Mithras), medicine and Roman religion and finally, the relationship between Roman economy and religion.

The projects of John Scheid on sanctuaries in Italy and the Lived Ancient Religion project are still running, preparing their last stand and big conferences for the next year.

Hopefully, 2017 will produce also new and interesting books and contributions in the study of Roman religion.


Mithraeum of Marino

Participants of the international conference focusing on the mysteries of Mithras and other mystery cults in ancient world had the opportunity to visit in June, 2016 the famous mithraeum of Marino, recently reopened for the greater public in a modern subterranean museum. Here you find some photos from this truly amazing site. Important to note, that the modern lights within that marvellous space created already a unique environment and religious sensescape, but if one imagine the same space with small Roman lamps and other lighting objects, it would increase the mystical aspect of this tableau vivant, as recently L. Dirven named the sacred cave of Mithras.

Mithraeum of Vulci

Participants of the international conference focusing on the mysteries of Mithras and other mystery cults in ancient world had the opportunity to visit in June, 2016 the famous mithraeum of Vulci. A small booklet presenting the cult of Mithras in Vulci and the newly reopened exhibition focusing on the rich and  exquisite finds of the mithraeum were also presented on this occasion. Here you find some photos from the site and the museum:


International conference on Mithras and other mystery cults

The international conference organized by Attilio Mastrocinque, Patricia Johnston, Alfonsina Russo and László Takács was one of the largest gatherings focusing on the cult of Mithras in the last decades. It was a collaboration of several institutes from Italy, USA and Hungary and was part of a series of similar workshops and conferences, initiated by the above mentioned organisers few years ago.

With more than half hundred participants, the majority of the papers were focusing on the specific and general patterns of the mysteries of Mithras, presenting new finds, archaeological reports and general discussions on various old or new aspects of the cult. Beside this, several articles were dealing with the Isiac cults, Magna Mater, the Samothraken cults, Adonis, Attis and other divinities too. Although a majority of the scholars were from religious studies and ancient history, archaeology of religion and classical philology were also represented by few contributions.  Unfortunately, none of the three, most influential Mithraic scholars were present (R. Gordon, M. Clauss, R. Beck), although the contributions of R. Gordon and R. Turcan were presented in absentia. Several “big” names of Mithraic studies (S. Gasparro, Ch. Faraone, A. Mastrocinque, L. Martin) were present however.

From a historiographic and methodological point of view, the contributions reflected the “crisis” and eclecticism of Mithraic studies, once self-defined as a sub-discipline of Roman religious studies, now struggling to find its position between the cultural-historical approach and the cognitive studies. While in some papers, the long time ago deconstructed and questioned “doctrine” of F. Cumont was highly present, some papers presented new waves of methodological approaches, such as the Lived Ancient Religion or the cognitive studies. The papers reflected also the long term influence and durability of some studies written by D. Ulansey, R. Gordon, R. Beck and M. Clauss. Surprisingly few papers presented new results from recently excavated mithraea, although a Supplement for CIMRM would be essential on an Empire scale.  In this sense, the panel focusing on the Danubian provinces offered probably the most numerous case studies with new archaeological sources. Among the recently found mithraea, the sanctuary from Kempraten was the only one presented.

Due to the various schools and theoretical backgrounds, the conference didn’t have a coherent methodological framework and didn’t really offer significantly new results such as happened in some influential Mithraic conferences (Tehran 1975, Tienen 2002). Despite of this, it definitely represents an important step in the historiography of this sub-discipline and was a good example for international collaboration and presented the recent state of research.

The conference was organized in three different places in Tarquinia, Vulci and Marino, which proved a remarkable coordination of various institutions, local authorities and a large number of staff, which need to be acclaimed. The participants of the conference visited the recently recuperated statue of Mithras Tauroctonos from Tarquinia, the mithraeum of Vulci and Marino and the Etruscan necropolis of Tarquinia too.

Above you find some photos from the conference.

The present state and future scope of Roman archaeology of Dacia

In almost every decade, there is an article or study which ask the question: where are we and what should we do in our discipline? Since Greg Woolf’s great article from 2004, Roman archeology, as a discipline evolved rapidly and produced numerous important works and  new approaches. In this seminal work, he stated, that a synthesis focusing exclusively on a single Roman province is indeed, a great work and prove of encyclopedic knowledge, but inevitably will missing the focus point of the “bigger picture”, the Roman Empire, as a whole.

Despite of this, writing syntheses on various Roman provinces is still a popular genre, although numerous modern works are trying to use more often larger economic, administrative, cultural or geographic units, such as the area of Lower Danube, Illyricum, Roman North, North African provinces, Roman East, etc.

transterk-map2Several syntheses exist on Roman Dacia too. In Romania, the most well known, and still in use monograph is the 1969 seminal work of Mihail Macrea and the 2010 companion of History of Romanians (II. volume). None of these are used by foreign researchers. In Germany, the most well known work is that of N. Gudea and Th. Lobüscher from 2008.  In Latin speaking world, perhaps the recent synthesis of R. Ardevan and L.Zerbini. The most important work however on Roman Dacia is the volume of numerous studies edited by I. Haynes and W. Hanson in 2004 and the seminal work of I. Oltean from 2007.  Important to note, that the long time ago outdated work of V. Parvan was recently republished in English.

From these works, only the one edited by Haynes-Hanson and Oltean deals with Roman Dacia, as a small puzzle of a much larger picture, focusing on general and specific patterns of the Roman consumer society and its local manifestation and dynamics. A similar method is used – although presenting only the economic aspects of the province – by the seminal work of C. Gazdac from 2010 too.

Due to the large amount of prime material discovered since 2004 and the emerge of important works and currents in the study of Roman archaeology and history, a synthesis on Roman Dacia, as a specific case study within the Roman Empire would be necessary. Such a work  would serve first of all as a manual for Romanian and foreign scholars and students, but also would reposition Dacia in the abundant field of various disciplines.

The recent panel organized in March, 2016 by C. Gazdac and myself in the framework of the Roman Archaeological Conference presented some new aspects and results and highlighted the necessity of such a work.

Mercurius in danger: notes on the Serbian black market of antiquities

Moesia Superior was one of the richest from the Roman provinces from Illyricum. Giving numerous emperors for the Empire, the soil of Serbia still contains a tremendous amount of archaeological heritage from Roman times (but also from other periods).

_j_k_p_5_b(1)Although the country signed numerous international chartas and introduced new laws, the reality shows a tragic situation. While the archaeological heritage of Syria and Libia is destroyed by evil terrorism and human madness, the Roman past of Serbia is slowly, but constantly looted by a new generation of “amateur archaeologists”: the metal detectorists.

After the Oxford Handbook of Public Archaeology, only in the UK there are more than 11.000 metal detector users. The difference is, that in the UK many of them are organized in various associations and official groups with even a severe deontologic code and law accepted by the members, called themselves as “responsible metal detectorists”. There is no doubt, the biggest threat of field archaeology, as a legitimate discipline of humanities  is represented nowadays by the metal detector users. This conflict between “professionals” and “non-professionals” – which will be even more and more intense in the future – was already highlighted by few articles and conferences (see also: Musteata 2014).

But why this topic on a blog about Roman religion? Because a large amount of the looted material since the 1960’s is represented by votive small finds, such as ex-votos for the so called Danubian riders, small plumb mirrors and bronze statuettes of various divinities. Most recently, a bronze statuette of Mercurius was sold on a Facebook page for 2000 euro. Since the corpus of Dumitru Tudor, the number of the votive plaques dedicated to the Danubian riders rise significantly, now counting hundreds if not thousands (see the Ertl collection and the Manfred Clauss private collection). Most of these finds were looted in Serbia, where numerous Roman sanctuaries, sacralized spaces were destroyed in this way.

The situation is similar in Bulgaria too, which represents now the biggest market of antiquities in Europe.