Université d'Erfurt

Lived Ancient Religion: Questioning "cults" and "polis religion" (2012-2017)

Specific projects

Janico Albrecht, M.A.

Superstitiones and Religiones. The Construction of Religious Deviance in Rome (2nd Century BC – 2nd Century AD)

Roman discourse on religion can mostly be read as a negotiation of normative boundaries: In a religion without textual authoritative fixations, societal processes had to take their place. Those processes comprise efforts to construct, dispute and affirm definitions of religious norms and deviance without necessarily relying on religious specialists. It was a singular characteristic of the Roman Republic that these so-called ‘construction- processes of deviance’ were extensively tied to the social standing of those participating in them, namely members of the senatorial elite. For them, taking part in those processes not only required a firm grasp of the often complicated and even conflicting mental outlooks on religious normativity. Furthermore, they were expected to a certain degree to ‘live up to expectations’ by embodying their idealized community’s values.

The project is centred around these agents who as ‘moral entrepreneurs’ (Howard Becker) try to assert individual or group interests and claim authority over definitions of right and wrong. Focusing on them allows for further insights into the society: Who formulates norms, who may formulate norms and what conditions were necessary in an elite keen to ensure its idea of consensus?

Building upon the central assumption of the ‘Sociology of Deviance’ that the normative boundaries of a society can change without correlation to effective behaviour of deviants, the deviant agents themselves will only play a subordinate role. Instead the focus lies on processes of social stratification, identifying strategies and the appropriation of religious motives.

In a first approach the question will be raised whether the emergence of discourses on individual religious deviance can be linked to the Middle Republican phenomenon of an increase in acuteness of inner-senatorial competition and the resulting appropriation of religious self-profiling modes. Historical agents who at that time lead the way could as exempla become later generation’s fuel for arguments as well as authoritative references within them. Said Late Republican successors (e.g. Cicero) used the reference to those earlier discourses, their content and established results as a medium for anchoring an (imagined) senatorial normative cosmos. These well attested Late Republican discourses represent the central sources which can be used to track operative modes of deviance and their relatedness to many of those ‘moral entrepreneurs’ who as political authorities also controlled the fate of the res publica.

The second part of the project concerns Rome in Imperial times when the domestic political and external changes wrought by the Principate resulted in a shift of debates as well as a change of rules in the game of deviance construction. The original fronts of normative religious definitions blurred increasingly, allowing for new handlers and application areas for the definitions of deviance. By including further exemplary cases a more comprehensive picture will be drawn which can be linked to the detectable change and changeability of Imperial Roman religion.

 Website by Janico Albrecht

Dr. Marlis Arnold

Cult in Public, Cult in 'Hidden' Spaces: How Visible was Religion in So-Called Small Sanctuaries?

Under the term "small sanctuaries" a number of cult sites have been summerised, which differ in form and/or size from the Roman temple buildings, above all the Roman podium temple, known throughout Republican and Imperial times. Mithraea, sanctuaries of Jupiter Dolichenus or the one of the so-calles Syrian Gods from the Janiculum in Rome as well as the cult sites of collegia, all kinds of shrines and sacellae have been referred to with this term. This handling of these sanctuaries neither allowed a satisfying analysis of the remains – the heterogeneity of the material forbids a typology of the sites – nor has the role of these sanctuaries within the religious life ever been defined. With focus on the evidence in Rome and Ostia the project outlined here to collect the evidence of these sanctuaries for the first time and to discuss the visibility of the structures and the rituals taking place in them. Behind this approach stands the idea, that only the visibility of the architectures, equipment and rituals from the outside allow differentiate and, hence, categorise these sanctuaries in order to integrate them into an urban system of cult sites. Thus, an alternative to the known approach to sacral topography is being presented, which instead on a particular form and size only focuses on visibility, accessibility and function. From this perspective a mithraeum did not necessarily function in exactly the same way as another.

 Website by Marlis Arnhold

Christopher Degelmann, M.A.

Ritual as Citation. Scenes of Mourning and Supplication in Republican and Early Imperial Rome (3rd Century B.C. - 1st Century A.D.)

Scenes of mourning and supplication were constantly present in the life of the ancient Romans. Our sources are full of passages describing funerals, gestures and signs connected to death and burial. The rich archaeological tradition, which attests to the importance for the Roman people of death and its associated ceremonies, has provided sufficient material for the dozens of historical and archaeological publications that have been dedicated to the topic just in the last few years.

Nevertheless, ancient texts feature a wide range of passages where signs of mourning and supplication have nothing directly to do with specific cases of death. For example, senators wore mourning clothes in the curia to express their opposition to certain decisions or threatened legislation. Private senators - such as Cicero himself - went around the forum in garments of mourning to dissuade the people from voting for (or against) exile, agrarian laws and so on. Defendants and plaintiffs might use signs of mourning during a trial to evoke the jury’s sympathy. Indeed, it was expected that defendants would resort to such behaviour. Resort to funerary semantics was thus a recognised strategy in public life.
My discussion of such cases will focus on how and why these signs and gestures worked or, alternatively, why they failed. One can assume that the scenes described in the sources were often successful because those involved knew the semantics from other social settings where the appropriate emotions were routinely evoked. Analysis of the semantics of mourning- and supplication-routines employed outside their customary settings suggests that they exploited the composite idea of pietas in connection with the family, the res publica and ‘the gods’. Like all strategies, such routines might fail; such failures can throw light on the implicit rules applied in such situations.

Through my study of the relevant passages, I hope not merely to contribute to the understanding of an important political mechanism in the Roman Republic but also to increase our awareness of the role of emotions in Roman religious behaviour.

Website by Christopher Degelmann

Dr. Valentino Gasparini

The Breath of Gods. Embodiment, Experience and Communication in Everyday Isiac Cultic Practice

The sheer mass of materials available for their study assures the Isiac cults - the worship in the wider Mediterranean world of a good dozen Egyptian deities between the early 3rd cent. BC and the early 6th cent. AD - a special place in the study of Greco-Roman religiosity. We have at our disposal a total of almost 1850 inscriptions, 1000 pages of detailed ancient literary sources, 5500 coins, 2000 gems, 2000 lamps, 70 excavated and 7000 bibliographical references.

By combining these sources in an interdisciplinary manner, the project aims to approach Isiac cults not as a monolithic set of collective practices, grounded in ethnic or confessional solidarity, but rather as a sort of hybrid, involving different types of emotional commitments, social relationships and cultural expressions. The aim is to recreate this kaleidoscopic world, constructed by the interplay of innumerable emotional and even physical individual appropriations. Isiac embodiment included practices of shaving hair, emblazoning the skin with tattoos and scars, wearing white linen robes, and leading a virtuous life by dint of purification and several kinds of asceticism, including alimentary taboos and sexual abstinence. Serving Isis and embodying the required discipline were the pre-conditions for entering the ministry of her cult, which involved a further long list of religious experiences and more or less frequently performed acts, including rites of exposure, cleaning and dressing of the cult statue, prayers, libations and sacrifices of specific victims and offerings, shared banquets, organisation of athletic games and ludi scaenici, periodical pilgrimages and processions, reading of holy books, and, in due course, practices of divination, healing and, probably, incubatio. Some other practices were undertaken only sporadically; these culminated in the mors voluntaria of initiation, which represents the final and highest stage in the path of the Isiac mystes.

The project aims to avoid falling into the trap of supposing that commitment to Isis involved merely the mechanical repetition of a few standardized practices in the context of an institutionalised cult. Careful study of the archaeological remains enables us to reconstruct everyday and periodic Isiac worship as experiences based on subjective and highly individual communication between gods and votaries, whose energy in Greco-Roman polytheism (enhanced by its soteriological message) could rise to the level of henotheistic fervour.

Website by Valentino Gasparini

Prof. Dr. Richard Gordon

Religion and Personal Crisis: Curse-Tablets as ‘Lived Religion’

 

Curse-tablets must count as an ideal example of ‘lived religion’ in antiquity, since they were a thinly-institutionalised response to events viewed by the principal as a direct threat to his or her well-being, social standing or reputation, prosperity, integrity, or emotional balance. Although viewed by representatives of collective religious expression as undesirable (‘magic’), the principals considered them a defensible resort in order to maintain their position in a situation they defined as crisitical.

The basic, very widespread, institution was a loosely formulaic performative utterance that aimed to re-assert social parity (‘justice’) after the speaker has suffered a perceived wrong. Given the social bias of ancient literary sources, we know virtually nothing of these. With the spread of literacy, however, a material form (Greek: katadesmos; Latin: defixio), addressed to named local deities, written on lead-sheet and deposited in a shrine, grave or well, established itself. In the Classical period in Greece, these are mainly occasioned by an imminent law-suit, implying a relatively wealthy stratum of principals. Into the Roman period, such texts were mainly written by the principal, implying a widespread awareness of the appropriate form. During the Principate, which is my only focus in this study, three new types appear alongside these ‘traditional’kinds: 1) Graeco-Egyptian temple-practice developed a superior, learned mode, disseminated by itinerant practitioners and written models, expanding the concept to gain customers, esp. aggressive love-magic and the circus/arena; 2) a formalized appeal to a named deity to right a claimed wrong (‘prayer for justice’) originally developed in the E. Mediterranean was adapted to the model of the defixio; 3) a related form, most of which have been found in SW Britannia, aimed to persuade a deity to restore stolen property or to punish the thief horribly.

My main interest is to escape the closure implied by the term ‘magic’, which implies maleficia, and to restore these texts into their social contexts, as perceived by the principals, i.e. as situations of personal crisis or emergency, where the katadesmos/defixio is one option among several. As such, this is intended to be a study in social history. So far, I have focused mainly on materials in Latin.

Website by Richard Gordon

Maik Patzelt, M.A.

Religious Specialists and Religious Experience in Ancient Rome

By engaging with recent psychological and neuroscientific research on experience, and rather specifically on religious experience, this project aims to identify and theorise religious experience in ancient Rome as well as the role of individual agents in generating religious experience in ancient Rome. I therefore concentrate on rituals commonly referred to as ‘prayer’ and their related, mostly denigrating, narratives, such as furor. Scholars generally agree that prayer, as with almost every other ritual in Rome, was widely under the control of the priesthood, most specifically the pontifical college. Whereas this concept of polis religion may suggest a top-down approach, I attempt to look at the individual from the bottom up (lived religion). This approach has important implications for the role of religious specialists (broadly, ‘priests’). An emphasis on agency leads one to, among others, de Certeau’s tactical appropriation as well as Catherine Bell’s ritualization. Both concepts – notwithstanding important differences – indicate a certain degree of creativity in how prayers are finally performed. Consequently, the line between professional and layperson becomes blurred in interesting ways. How may we characterize, then, the competence of a religious specialist within such a bottom-up approach? What role does (religious) experience play in this constellation of appropriation and of the situated performance of prayer?

First results reveal that there was vast scope for individual and tactical appropriation, and thus ritualization, of various forms of prayer. Religious specialists are characterized by their privileged access to contexts of appropriation, one might say personal resources, in these concerns. This includes various forms of ‘elite’ literary discourse, as well as participation in restricted groups. The competency of religious specialists is thereby measured by their ability to impact, or rather drive, the audience by sensory overstimulation, which is realized through the exaltation of performance. Not only what somebody tactically appropriates for the moment, but also how s/he performs it, matters most in order to generate a religious experience. Religious agents, be they specialists or otherwise, thus do not follow formalized patterns of action; they rather perform various strategies defined, in part, by specific contexts in order to impress or psychologically speaking drive the audience. Even more importantly, every individual agent uses these strategies in order to drive him- or herself into various forms of ecstasy, trance and most particularly towards possession.

Website by Maik Patzelt

Dr. Georgia Petridou

Anchoring Innovation in the Cultic Cosmos of the Imperial Era: Alexandros and Aristides as Religious Moderators and Modernisers


I have borrowed the concept of ‘anchoring innovation’ from Ineke Sluiter (Leiden). This new project is thought of as a natural progression from both my previous work on divine epiphany in Graeco-Roman religions and my current research on the close correlations between healing, oracular and mystery cults with the ‘Medicine of the Mind—Philosophy of the Body’ research programme at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.

It is via dreams (somnia), mysteries (mysteria), medicine (medicina), and finally via oracles (oracula) that the immortals help and demonstrate their power to the mortals, or so the eminent emperor and body-conscious philosopher Marcus Aurelius has to believe (Marcus Aurelius in Fronto 3.10, p. 43,15 Hout; Cf. also Meditations 1.17.9). Healing and oracular cults (especially those endowed with distinct mysteric aspects; on divination as inextricably intertwined with healing, see, e.g. Nutton 1969) enjoyed enormous popularity in the vast Roman empire of the first and the second centuries of our era. (Gager 1975; van Nuffelen 2007 and 2011). These cults were also faced with fierce competition with each other to win over new devotees not only from the pious majority, but also from the period’s socio-political and intellectual elite (Chaniotis 2002).

The project proposed here examines some of the most popular and time-resistant healing cults of the imperial period, namely the multitude of the rising new cults of Asclepius. My main hypothesis is that these cults owe their popularity, highly elevated status and ability for constant evolution and innovation to few charismatic and ambitious individuals who succeeded in anchoring religious innovation to pre-existing religious identity and tradition. These individuals recourse repeatedly to preluding ritual grammar and paradigms, whilst simultaneously innovate the cultic universe of their respective communities by introducing new combinations of ritual elements, schemas, and ritual and cultural performance. The results of these pioneering cultic enterprises range from establishing wholly new and unprecedented cults to selectively reformatting older cults by retaining successful ritual schemata and abolishing others.

The main focus of my study is two religious innovators: Alexander of Abonouteichos, who established the previously unattested Asclepian cult of Glykon, the neos Asklepios (Lucian, Alexander the Pseudo-prophet); and P. Aelius Aristides Theodoros, the famous second century AD orator from Mysia and his radical innovations of the Pergamene cult of Asklepios. But while Alexander, the prophet of the new theriomorphic cult of neos Asklepios Glykon has been discussed as a cultic reformer (Victor 1997, Sfameni Gasparro 1999, Chaniotis 2002 and 2007), Aristides is not traditionally thought of as a religious innovator. However, as this study argues, Aelius Aristides ‘lived’, i.e. conceptualised and experienced the Pergamene healing cult of Asclepius as somewhat different—if not darker than, let us say, the Coan, the Cretan, or the Epidaurian cult of Asclepius—perhaps very similar to the cult of Sarapis, and certainly as a healing and oracular cult with a distinct mysteric ambiance (see current research project). In fact, Aristides’ Asclepius seems far more similar to Alexandros’ neos Asklepios Glykon, in that they both employ explicit mysteric language and imagery and they both ‘anchor’ their cultic innovations on the familiar and well-established ritual grammar of spatial and emotional proximity with the divine as articulated in well-known and popular in the imperial era mystery cults such as the Great Mysteria of Eleusis (Burkert 1987, Clinton 2007, Bowden 2010).

Nonetheless, modelling their respective healing cults on prevalent and time-resistant mystery cults of the classical and post-classical world, such as the Great Mysteria of Eleusis, the mysteries Isis and Osiris, and the secret rites of the so-called Mother of the gods and her consort, is not the only similarity between the ritual innovations conferred upon by Alexandros and Aristides. An ad fontes analysis of Lucian’s Alexander the Pseudo-prophet and Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi reveals that there are several more religious ‘trends’, which mark out both Asclepian cults: a) in both cases, the cultic innovation is said to have been instigated by the divine epiphany of Asclepius; b) and in both cases there are unmistakeable henotheistic tendencies; c) in either case, the body of the innovator becomes the locus of communication with the divine; d) both Alexandros and Aristides addressed with their religious innovations deeper needs of the individual, who in a period of increased uniformity longs for privacy and exclusivity and answers to question of eschatological nature; e) they both transform their respective sacred places to popular pilgrimage destinations; f) and, finally, in either case the ritual and conceptual modernisations involve extensive use, and in Alexander’s case perhaps even abuse, of oneiric divination.

This brings us back to Marcus Aurelius and his view of the four most effective ways of mortal-immortal interaction in the imperial era: healing, dreams, mystery cults, and oracles. In that sense our two religious innovators resemble closely other cases of ritual innovation attested by inscriptions all-over the Greek-speaking world, such as that of Xenainetos from Opous, who arranged for Sarapis to receive ritual xenismos in Thessaloniki, and established the cult of the god in the city (IG X, 2 1 255, dated to roughly the first century AD with Sokolowski 1974). More importantly, these ‘trends’ are also recognisable in the Christian cults of the Late Antiquity.

Website by Georgia Petridou

Prof. Dr. Rubina Raja

Cults and sanctuaries of the Tetrapolis region

The aim of the project which I will undertake while being a fellow at the Max-Weber-Kolleg is to investigate the role of the sanctuaries in the zone between culture, religion and society in the Tetrapolis region of late Hellenistic and Roman Syria (app. 100 BC – AD 400) and to view them in a diachronic perspective. A focus will be to examine and compare, by way of the evidence (archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic and literary), the religious life of the Tetrapolis region in northern Syria/partly modern Turkey. Greater Syria was in antiquity as today, a hotspot for cultural, religious and political conflicts. The Tetrapolis in specific also played a pivotal role as a region located centrally in the Hellenistic world and also flowered in the Roman period. Through studying the region in antiquity it is possible to focus on what the background for these conflicts were and how conflict management and solutions were implemented. Furthermore the evidence from this region also provides an excellent opportunity to investigate religious life on the level of the individual and processes of individualization, both over shorter and longer periods of time, through written and archaeological evidence. Due to the nature of the political changes in Greater Syria in the Hellenistic and Roman periods provincial borders fluctuated and changed more than once during the period in concern and the aim of this project will among other things be to examine which changes we can trace in the religious life across changing provincial borders diachronically. The Tetrapolis provides exemplary and important evidence, archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic and literary, which have not yet been collected, compared and analyzed in a major work. The rich and central Tetrapolis region, flourishing already in the Hellenistic period, was the home to prominent cults situated in its main cities, Antiochia, Seleucia, Laodicea and Apamea. However, due to the state of the archaeological evidence most evidence in the region comes from outside these cities and there have been no attempts to collect – both from the Tetrapolis cities and outside – what is known about the religious life and synthesize it. Such an endeavor might provide us with crucial information about the region as a whole and the single sites as such. The location of the Tetrapolis region is in northwestern Syria and partly modern Turkey. The Tetrapolis region was in close contact with Anatolia as well as the regions south and east of it, among these the Hauran that was a region transversed by trade routes from south to north as well as from east to west and the Decapolis region further south. However, the local situations still differed due to a number of factors, such as climate and topography. These are factors, which must be taken into consideration in a study of the religious life of this region. These three regions at one and the same time represent very different scenarios in terms of their economic, cultural and political as well as topographical situations, but in terms of the religious life they all three present us with plentiful evidence with which a useful intra- and interregional comparison can be undertaken. Through a study of the Tetrapolis region it is possible to trace both local and regional variations in the religious life and discuss these on the background of stabile or changing economic, cultural and political factors and fluctuating provincial boundaries within the wider framework of the Roman Empire.

 Website by Rubina Raja

Dr. Anna-Katharina Rieger

Enlivened Spaces – Spatial Patterns and Social Interactions in Sacred Contexts of the Roman Near East

The Near East is known as a region of cultural and religious variety not only in Roman times, which is among other things due to the small and distinct landscape units crossed by interregional routes. In a region of such diversity and differences the question of lived ancient religion allows to overcome approaches concentrated on peculiar religious phenomena and to investigate which collective sacred spaces were used by what persons and groups, how they formed and appropriated them to their religious needs in the tension of global embedding and local ties.

In contrast to former approaches focussing on cultic traditions, cultural identity and iconographic and architectural crossovers, the study will pursue a comprehensive approach that embraces the social dimension of sacred places in different landscapes that often are looked at separately (Kyrrhestike, Hauranitis, Palmyrene and Mount Hermon). Refering to the Actor-Network-Theory, dichotomies will be dissolved (local/regional, indigenous/roman, sacred/profane) to better understand their overlapping and interaction (B. Latour). Thus, the study aims at discerning the differences and appropriations of the sacred places, due to religious and social demands they had to meet, by a comparison of location, layout, design of the places and their “enlivening” by sculpture, inscriptions, utensils and involved persons or groups.

The methodological difficulty lies in differentiating the sacredness of places resp. the actually religious determined spaces in larger complexes as well as the meaning and function of other parts. Furthermore, the archaeological state of knowledge of the sacred spaces varies largely. However, on the level of the landscape embedding the problem is negligible, because spatial distribution patterns and organisational affiliations are focused on. On the level of the single places resp. the persons frequenting them, places with a spectrum of finds will be chosen, that cover all former activities to allow for reconstructing the ranges of religious experiences. In a next step the architecture itself offers hints for an analysis of spatial concepts, experiences and action ranges. What religious activities formed the experience of people in the different regions? What sacred places they went to, and what and who did they encounter there? What was the impact of groups of people on the development and layout of sacred places by situational appropriation of performances and spatial adaptions?

The study approaches sacred contexts in the Roman Near East by crossing borders of life-styles and regions as well as by encompassing different material evidence (landscape features, architecture, sculpture, epigraphy, artifacts) to learn about the group specific relations the places are embedded in. The layouts of shared sacred spaces, their material environment and the social networks interacting there will be contextualized to open a perspective on how spaces as environment of religious life (from a single niche to sumptuous temples or open sacred spaces) were used, how they were “enlivened” to create the setting of any activity, integrating the ways of communication and experiences of ancient individuals as agents of religion.

 Website by Anna-Katharina Rieger

Prof. Dr. Jörg Rüpke

Individual Religious Acting between Legitimate Plurality and Deviancy


Central to the past year was the conclusion of the monograph now published in German as “Pantheon: Geschichte der antiken Religionen” and to be published as “Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion” in an English translation that has been completed likewise (by David M.B. Richardson). In this account I offer a history of ancient Mediterranean religion that is organized by focusing on Rome, thus holding the narrative together. Rome, however, serves as a mirror of cultural techniques, texts, and ideas arriving (building temples, images, rituals, epic, calendars, holy scripture, mystery cults, dying gods ...) from all over the (Mediterranean) world, in particular Greece, Egypt, Syria-Palestine. At the same time Rome is exemplary for other places which are recipient of and changed by the arrival of Greek culture and the Roman Empire. Thus, I am able to talk about change as a story of the subjects' dealing with internal change and ‘foreign’ influences. The narrative would aim at flowing on a time line, but trying to arrive at multiple perspectives, to narrate parts of the story from the perspective of immigrating Italian elites, Greek POWs, women, Jews, merchants from the East, even Christian intellectuals. These need not be present at Rome, but these cultures/religions would be introduced as agents and observers in the common area of the Mediterranean (with a few glimpses towards exchange with Asia even beyond the Eastern Mediterranean).

The time horizon to start is the 9th century BC, i.e. a tableau, in which Greek polis formation and the invention of the temple, the writing of the Homeric epics had still to happen, to the middle of the 4th century CE, when Christianity has appeared as one (of still many) major player, but future developments still seem to be undetermined, temples being still open, pagan intellectuals still writing, rustics still sacrificing, the Roman law trying to conceptualize what is happening.

The book is characterised throughout by the lived ancient religion approach and the possibilities that have been offered by the ERC project. There is no narrative of the history of ancient religion on a comparable scale. Jean-Pierre Vernant had offered such an attempt at the length of an extended essay, the handbook of M. Beard, J. North, and S. Price (Religions of Rome, 1998) offers chronologically arranged chapters, but do not arrive at anything like a comprehensive narrative for the imperial period. All other – Companion (Blackwell, ed. J. Rüpke), and introductions (J. Scheid; J. Rüpke) - do offer only survey chapters. The treatment of Mediterranean religion in its change from late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age religion as part of a wider narrative is unique and offers a radical new view on concepts like “temple”, “altar” and “votive”. The treatment of the imperial period down into full-fledged Christianization renders the account unique in its inclusion of the many religious traditions of the Mediterranean basin. This is not done by juxtaposition, but by analyzing the mutual observation of such religions and showing the influences and crossing of borderlines as the erection of boundaries. Not only Mithras and Isis, but also Judaism and Christianity is treated as a fully integrated part of this history.

Methodologically, the result is unique in its sustained contextualisation of religion not only in political (city states/empire, political/cultural elites), but also in social (economy, immigrants, slaves, trade) and cultural data (for example architecture, media, communication patterns) and its consequent taking into account of gendering of religious practices. It is unique, too, in its application of the perspective of “lived religion”, of confronting the normative and institutional character of religion with its appropriation into the life of individuals and by analyzing the changes of that. By applying perspectives of globalization and regionalization, the results are thus of interest for historians of other areas and periods interested in transfer and global history.

Website by Jörg Rüpke

Benjamin Sippel, M.A.

The Quotidian and Social Life of the Egyptian Temple-Personnel in Roman Fayum

The edition of Egyptian texts from the Fayum-area made huge steps forward in the last couple of years. Especially papyri concerning the temple-administration and temple-libraries in the time of Roman rule have been published, e. g. the volumes of the Demotische Dokumente aus Dime as well as various literary, religious and scientific text. Those sources give us new insight into the organization of Egyptian temples and the roles of their functionaries, as they display previously unknown affairs within the villages and highly detailed information on religious activities. Of course, much work has to be done and numerous papyri still await their publication. Though it is worth to take a first glimpse into the new material, because what we know so far about Egyptian priests in Roman times is based primarily on Greek papyri and inscriptions. So, the new sources surely deliver new results.

My dissertation seeks to demonstrate the value of the newly edited Egyptian texts for social and religious studies by addressing various up until now rather neglected topics. Therefore, I investigate (1) the entanglement of temple-functionaries within their local networks, (2) the limits of influence of their priestly roles and (3) regional differences between the temples of certain villages. In this way I aim to illustrate, whether the temple-servants formed a distinguished elite within their villages. At the same time I seek to make clear that they were not just priests, but rather persons with priestly roles which dealt most of their time with secular issues beyond their sacred duties. The Egyptian texts indicate also that the temple-personnel of each village had a different writing-system, organization, theology and history, but the exact differences still have to be observed.

The project takes the Lived-Ancient-Religion-approach into account by displaying the professional practitioners of Egyptian cults as individuals which appropriate religion in multiple ways, depending on their social, economic and natural environment. Furthermore, the comparison of different temples illustrates the plurality and adaptability of those priests which were depicted once in Christian literature as a rather homogenous and conservative group. In order to achieve this aim, I study the worship, business and domestic life of the temple-personnel in Soknopaiou Nesos, Tebtynis, Narmuthis, Bakchias and Theadelphia.

 Website by Benjamin Sippel

Csaba Szabó, M.A.

Sanctuaries in Roman Dacia. Materiality and Religious Experience. (This project is part of the Sanctuary Project financed by the Award of Anneliese Maier Prize to Prof. Dr. Greg Woolf as pilote-project of LAR)


The study of sanctuaries and generally, the archaeology of religion became a very popular field of Roman history and Religious studies. Traditional approaches interpreted Roman sanctuaries as architecturally definable entities or parts of a competing religious market and social structure. My thesis will use an inter-disciplinary approach, testing the methodological framework of the Lived Ancient Religion and The Sanctuary Projects on a so called peripheral province, where our sources are very limited to particular types of materials.The project is focusing on the sacralisation of urban (Apulum), military (Porolissum, Mehadia) and rural/natural environments (Ampelum, Germisara, Ad Mediam), presenting also various aspects of religious spatiality. This work will be the first synthesis on the religious life of a Roman city from Dacia (Apulum) that emphasizes the phenomena of religious appropriation, embodiment and experience instead of interpreting the archaeological material as a result of an organised, civic religion.

Focusing on case studies of religious appropriation, as occasional or extraordinary events and on religious experience, my work understand these notions of the Lived Ancient Religion project as part of a process of sacralising the space and maintaining it.  The project introduce a taxonomy of sacralised spaces, focusing on the micro-level of objects, semi-micro level of sanctuaries and macro-levels, such as the province and the Empire.. Altars, statues, statuettes and various forms of materiality of Roman religion became tools of human agency (actors, providers, specialists, entrepreneurs) involved in the maintenance of sacralised spaces. This work will be also the first catalogue of sacralised spaces, enlisting the 138 sanctuaries attested archaeologically, epigraphically or presumed on the rich material evidence.

Website by Csaba Szabó

Dr. Emiliano Urciuoli

Forbidden Jobs: Making a Living as a Jesus Follower in the Roman Empire


The project is a thematic expansion of the research conducted in the last three years at the crossroads of early and late ancient Christian studies. The aim of the enquire was to sketch the profile of the Jesus follower engaged in public-political affairs before Constantine. This line of research could be extended to other occupations, which are equally involved in the interplay between Christian normative definitions of a religious conduct, related expectations from both religious authorities and “significant others”, and material interests in accomplishing social duties and running businesses. What is a forbidden job in the eye of the Christian (prescribing and writing) beholders can turn into a matter of religious appropriation from the standpoint of the Christian professional and worker. To advocate an analysis at the level of the individual should not lead to underrate the question of how deep-rooted relations of power create dispositions to act. Why, to what extent, and under which conditions do Christian people obey to normative discourses about “how much religious they are when they make a living in everyday life”? A suitable answer implies a sociological style of reasoning that, while taking institutions and agencies of power seriously, is also acquainted with the idea of a subject storing a plurality of dispositions ready to be activated according to the situation. Succeeding in these performances may be the magic formula of a religious appropriation.

Focusing on early Christian texts, the project have pursued so far four entangled theoretical trajectories: (1) insofar streams of individualization do not overlap with streams of liberty, individual forms of non-passive consumption of the Christian belief system are always triggered by material exigencies arise(n) from historical life-processes; (2) Individualized beliefs and behaviours tend to surface and become more evident when early Jesus followers cannot respect the current standards, i.e. either social standards or Christian religious standards (or both). In their way to individualization, they “limp along” in the intermediate space “between profane routines and imagined ideals” (P.C. Johnson), and, because of their awkward walk, they are wrongfooted and mocked by sharp-eyed inspectors of religious customs. (3) Among a wide range of individualization processes, the need to make a living in a societal system that do not recognize Christianity fosters some job-related and, even, labour market-oriented forms of religious appropriation; (4) such individual appropriations of the Christian belief system may have an accommodationist scope revealing them as comfort-zone religiosities.

Website by Emiliano Urciuoli

Dr. des. Lara Weiss

Lived Ancient Religion in Roman Karanis: the Primary Space


The present project will analyse lived ancient religion in Karanis, a Roman town located in the Fayoum in Egypt. The research focus is on the analysis of the variety of religious experiences in a domestic context rather than communal patterns. The approach draws on Michel de Certeau’s concept of appropriation: the ways in which people do things is not so much a function of fixed structure as of the possibilities open to the individual in a specific temporal-spatial context. In very simple terms, my aim is to establish what religious actions were performed in private houses by whom, where, when, how, and why? In order to arrive at a comprehensive understanding of lived ancient religion in the domestic space, all available sources (archaeological, papyrological, epigraphic and literary) will be analysed and interpreted. The lived ancient religion of the primary space will be compared to that of selected shared spaces, such as temples and granaries: images employed in the domestic context often differ from those in temples. For example, terracotta images of the god Harpocrates were very popular in the domestic context, whereas this god is scarcely attested in temple decoration. On the other hand, the evidence of religious activities from the domestic sphere indicates that the distinction between official religion and popular religion could be rather fluid. Key religious concepts were shared; temple-practices were reproduced as far as possible at home, using such means as came to hand. Related questions to be considered are thus how religion was learned by villagers, who could not – or only very occasionally – gain access to the temples; and how religion was negotiated in the everyday life of individuals and groups.

Website by Lara Weiss

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