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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.

Notes on the Apollo statuette from Vienna


ANSA_VI_2848_08Recently in an article, I highlighted the severe damages made by the railway builders in 1867 in Apulum (Alba Iulia). Similar destruction happened in numerous other archaeological sites of the Austro-Hungarian Empire too (in Brigetio, for example).

Gooss mentioned in 1870, that many of the most spectacular finds disappeared shortly after the railway was finished (3 from the 4 silver vessels were melted and a beautiful bronze Venus statuette get lost too).

Based on Paul Zanker‘s seminal work, Alexandru Diaconescu analysed in his new book from 2013 (Clasicismul in plastica minora din Dacia romana, Mega, Cluj, 2013 – Classicism in minor arts of Roman Dacia) the famous Apollo statuette from the Kunsthistorisches Museum (photo). Zanker claimed, that the statuette was found in Dacia (p. 91-92.) while Diaconescu mentions (p.50.) that Günter Dembski verbally confirmed, that the statuette was donated by a railway engineer in the 19th century. This could indicate, that one of the finest bronze statuettes ever found in Dacia comes from Apulum (see also: Teposu-Marinescu-Pop 2000, 34-36, fig. 15.)

Further investigations will help us to solve this mystery.

The silver cup from Apulum: some remarks

One of the few silver objects from Roman times ever discovered in the territory of Transylvania, the famous silver cup from Apulum had an adventurous and tragic fate.

Discovered in August, 1867 in the territory of the Colonia Aurelia Apulensis as part of a larger, silver  treasure (with at least three other pieces) the cup was the only one which survived the building of the railway. It was published by Karl Gooss in 1870 who made the first sketches and drawings of the object. His publication was totally ignored till 2015.

The cup entered in the collection of the Transylvanian Museum from Cluj (Kolozsvár) in 1868. Later in the end of the 19th century, the cup was sent to the RGZM from Mainz, where a copy was made. The artefact was returned and was part of the Roman collection of the museum from Cluj.

It was described and photographed by Mihail Macrea who published a short description of the collection in 1937. This was the last time, when the object was still owned by the Transylvanian Museum.

In 1959, D. Tudor already cites the object as a missing one. That means, the silver cup was lost during the II World War, when the collection of the museum suffered serious changes and a large part of it was transported (there and back again) between Budapest and Cluj (Kolozsvár). The Hungarian National Museum, which hosted a large part of the transferred material confirmed, that the silver cup is not there. This could mean, that 1) it is still somewhere in the deposits of the Museum from Cluj 2) was stolen and now it is part of a private collection 3) was lost, melted during the War

The copy of the silver cup from Mainz was published and the iconography of it was analysed by E. Künzl in 1980. The author didn’t know the article of Gooss, the editio princeps.

Recently, the report of K. Gooss – and the findspot of the silver cup –  was contextualized in an article.


The last photo of the original silver cup from 1937

A Jupiter temple attested in 1867 in Apulum

In a recently published article, I presented the detailed report of Karl Gooss, enthusiasted scholar of antiquity and author of the first monograph on the XIII Gemina legion and Apulum. Due to his detailed description, we know, that he identified a Jupiter temple. Some of the elements – two altars and a statue – are still exist in the Brukenthal Museum.

His article was essential also to identify the context of discovery of the biggest silver treasure of the province of Dacia and – from an indirect citation of Béla Cserni – we relocated the Apulum I coin hoard.


New titles in 2015

csm_RRE_01_3ea6c8ba6dThis year was again, a very fruitful one. More than 20 books were published on Roman religion. In the age of publish or perish it is always impossible to follow the number of conferences, workshops and panels organized on some particular aspects of Roman religion.

This year, conferences were focusing on the sensescape of religion, medicine and religion, sanctuaries and their inventories and  lived ancient religion.

An incomplete list of the recently published books you can find HERE.

News and updates you can find on the Facebook page: Roman religion.

Hopefully, 2016 will be also a good year for our discipline too!