Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2005.05.55

Jens David Baumbach, The Significance of Votive Offerings in Selected Hera Sanctuaries in the Peloponnese, Ionia and Western Greece. BAR International Series 1249.   Oxford:  Archaeopress, 2004.  Pp. xvi, 212.  ISBN 1-84171-609-X.  £35.00 (pb).  



Reviewed by Nassos Papalexandrou, University of Texas at Austin
Word count: 2192 words

Most of us, laymen and specialists alike, tend to think of Hera in terms of her panhellenic profile in epic: ravishing, bossy, white-armed, stern, ox-eyed, matronly, pugnacious, zealous, persistent, principled, articulate, firm, a warrior quick to pick a fight as her mood incites her, deceptive (of Zeus) as the need arises, artificially sexy but not necessarily fertile, certainly not motherly (think of poor Hephaistos' plight and her "monstrous" dimensions in the Hom. Hymn to Apollo). Zeus' celestial wife is a distinct, clearly definable character in epic, a primeval and revered force who nevertheless has not attracted attention or excited students' imagination as readily and extensively as, for example, Athena, Aphrodite, Artemis, or Demeter. She certainly does not take pride of place in the typical opening lecture of the undergraduate Greek Civilization course or its equivalent on Greek Religion. Neither could she be, in any form, a catch-piece in art and archaeology classes, this despite a century and a half of Kopienkritique and endless efforts to reconstruct the majestic allure of the Pheidian image at the Argive Heraion. No wonder Paris did not choose her....

Whoever picks up Baumbach's (hereafter B.) book carrying this preconceived, narratively induced gestalt will certainly be surprised by the picture this archaeologist can put together on the basis of the thousands of votive offerings that form the empirical basis of his bold and far-ranging study. Although the material B. focuses on is extremely diverse in terms of quantity, quality, representativeness, material, date, context, origin, findspot, function, iconography, publication, expressiveness, appeal, etc., it projects conceptions and functions of the goddess that have little to do with the formidable luster of the epic diva. The object of devotion that emerges from B.'s analysis reveals instead a divine cult figure deeply embedded in the everyday life, vital concerns, and social structures of worshipping communities as distant as Samos in Ionia and Poseidonia (Paestum) in the colonial west. These communities managed to maintain a reciprocal relationship with her that for centuries worked equally well for both worshippers and worshipped.

B.'s is primarily a study of dedicatory gestures in the form of offerings and their implications for the cultic life of the communities he is preoccupied with. The large number of votive offerings or dedications (anathemata) that have been retrieved in numerous sanctuaries since the onset of systematic excavations in the nineteenth century have always been poorly fitted to the synthetic or interpretive studies regarding their religious significance. Scholars have not investigated sufficiently the specific meanings the offerings were invested with by the dedicants or the meanings they carried by default as expressive media embedded within overarching systems of signification and belief. B's thorough and well-presented study aims to redress this lack of balance by focusing on materials from six important sanctuaries of Hera (Perachora, Tiryns, Argos, Poseidonia: urban Heraion, Poseidonia: Foce del Sele, and Samos). His primary aim is to read each individual offering (or groups of offerings) as the product of a cultic gesture motivated by the need of the dedicant to establish contact (B.'s: "religious dialogues," 1) with Hera. His analysis of the iconography and overall nature of numerous and diverse types of dedications rests on the hypothesis that these objects disclose as much about the dedicants' (and their ambient culture's) conception of this goddess -- the specification of which constitutes the primary focus of investigation in this book -- as about their desires to represent themselves in the public context of the sanctuaries. B. is to be commended for having turned the limelight of research on an impressive number of votive offerings that have hitherto lain dormant in catalogs of publications and for having resuscitated discussion about the capacity of votives to embody not only artistic concepts and sensibilities but also religious ideas, sentiments, and motivations. In this review it is impossible to do justice to B.' valuable (but not always binding, conclusive or unproblematic) insights on each and every one of the numerous votives (or categories thereof) he so patiently and carefully visits. Following the structure of the book, the remainder of this review will first concentrate on B.'s methodological underpinnings and then it will offer some reflections on B.'s illumination of some fundamental aspects of Hera throughout the Greek world.

In the Introduction B. lays out the fundamental premises of his analysis. First and foremost is his belief that there is a certain degree of correspondence between the basic "cult characteristics" or "cult aspects" of the divinity, the choice of the dedications, and the motivations of the dedicant. Given that the votive offerings were meant to function as mediating agents between Hera and her dedicants, it is still possible to "read" in their iconography, material, and category the dedicant's conception of the goddess. If, for example, in a certain sanctuary there is a plethora of examples of the kourotrophos motif among a diverse body of offerings (e.g. p. 137, statuettes from Heraion at Foce del Sele; in general: p. 178), this points to similar concerns of the dedicants, who communicate with the goddess in visual terms that thematize their needs or desires and the corresponding vision of the worshipped divinity. All six sanctuaries in this study have yielded large quantities of dedicatory objects, the detailed analysis of which enables B. to attempt in each case a delineation of the cultic profile of Hera and its development from the Early Iron Age onward. This is not an easy task given that the quality and fullness of the publications at hand vary considerably from sanctuary to sanctuary. B. has, however, made the best of the published data at his disposal, always taking care to warn the reader when limitations, uncertainties, or incomplete information exist. In this respect this book will be a valuable tool for those who are interested in the cultic aspects of Hera both synchronically and diachronically in all six sanctuaries visited by B.

Each of the subsequent six chapters takes the format of a mini monograph dedicated to each of the six sanctuaries of Hera. In each chapter B. first provides an overview of indispensable contextual information (Topography, History of Archaeological Research, Early History of the Site, The Sanctuary's Architectural Development, and Find Information). Against this very useful background he proceeds to the investigation of the cult of Hera on the basis of information gleaned from the offerings. In each sanctuary, B.'s method of analysis hinges upon the application of a classificatory scheme that distinguishes five basic "cult aspects which emerged as most important from an examination of the votive offerings so that the body of the study serves to justify the categories chosen" (p. 7). This means that the author first studied the material by drawing from publications or his own personal examination in museums and collections, or both, and on this basis he determined the existence of a universal cultic profile or model. It is against this model that he examines and categorizes his empirical data from each individual sanctuary. The cult aspects that comprise this model are: concern of the goddess with a) pregnancy, childbirth, growing up, b) marriage, c) home and family, d) agriculture and vegetation, and e) the military. This method works quite well in that it enables B. to master an enormous amount of votive offerings (Perachora: 3417, Tiryns: 1116, Argive Heraion: 1783, Poseidonia, urban Heraion: 747, Poseidonia, Foce del Sele: 338, Samian Heraion: 1105). Moreover, it offers itself as an expository device for the discussion of numerous groups of offerings in each sanctuary.

Classification, nevertheless, entails interpretation -- however rudimentary -- and the application of B.'s quinary method of classification may not find all readers always in agreement. Although B. has tried throughout to exercise caution, one gets the feeling that the material has sometimes been made to fit snugly into one or another aspect of the model. This is especially the case in B.'s discussion of several offerings, the interpretation of which is blatantly open to several approaches. Why concur, for example, with B. when he suggests that a number of sixth-century bone pipes from Perachora have to do with growing up and education when it is no less possible that they could have been used as ritual paraphernalia (p. 29)? Another illustrative case is provided by B.'s take on the significance of the four terracotta building models from Perachora (pp. 32-33), the well-known model from the Argive Heraion (p. 90), and the thirty-five models from the Samian Heraion (p. 160). Following Schattner, B. strongly argues that they are to be understood in terms of Hera's function as protectress of home and family on the basis of other evidence pointing to the same aspect of the goddess in these sanctuaries. In reality, however, there is nothing binding in this interesting approach without independent evidence pointing to the association by their early dedicants of the categories "home" and "family" with the domicile or house and its physical or symbolic manifestations. Likewise B. is all too ready to interpret the frequent occurrence of Egyptian or Egyptianizing Bes figures in sanctuaries of Hera (e.g. Perachora, Samos) during the Archaic period as the result only of perceived affinities between the cult of Hera and Bes, a nourishing deity in Egypt (pp. 29-30, 156-8).

The above quibbles are not at all meant to undermine the value of B.'s insights, which are persuasive in a large number of cases where the quantity, the iconographic nature of the figurines, and, more rarely, the circumstances of deposition explicitly point to the cultic aspects that pertain to the model at work in this book. Especially valuable are the concluding sections of each chapter, in which B. tabulates the development of each cult in terms of statistical fluctuations of offerings/cult aspects from the Geometric to the Classical periods (only in Poseidonia do the offerings provide evidence for the Hellenistic period). This works well when the data are balanced and equally representative for all three periods concerned. This is the case, for example, for the very well excavated and published sanctuary at Perachora where, in terms of numbers at least, B. concludes that Hera remained constantly a deity concerned with growing up, home and family, and agriculture and vegetation from the Geometric through the Archaic periods (p. 49). The usefulness of this type of quantification is limited, though, when B. tabulates in the same way the material from Tiryns where under the category "pregnancy, childbirth, and growing up" he has a total number of only 9 votive offerings dating to the Geometric period, 11 dating to the Orientalizing, whereas the number climbs abruptly to 462 for the Archaic period (p. 72). How representative are these numbers and their correlative value or the tendencies they disclose when there is always the possibility that whatever has been discovered is the product of accidental factors of preservation, recovery, or, as it is the case of Tiryns, inadequate publication?

B.'s conclusion on the basis of his overall assessment of the material is that no cult of Hera fulfills all the specifications of the operative model at work in this book. His analysis provides secure evidence for variation of emphasis from sanctuary to sanctuary and from period to period. This is not surprising considering that, as B. clearly points out throughout the book, the cultic profile of Hera in each location was shaped by particular social or political circumstances and ritual traditions. Nevertheless B. has persuasively concluded that there are indeed some common tendencies. In all six sanctuaries the offerings that can be shown to reflect the dedicants' concerns with marriage are few and distinctly variable in their typology; and the same variability characterizes offerings relating to Hera's protection of procreation, home, and family. These cult functions are uniformly represented in all six sanctuaries by images of women with children. Moreover, in all six sanctuaries offerings disclose a universal association of Hera with agriculture and vegetation (B. argues, though, that Hera should not be thought of as a "fertility goddess" (p. 182)); the same holds true regarding Hera's character as recipient of votive offerings of a military nature.

In terms of appearance, the book is carefully put together. The author is to be commended for accompanying his text with no fewer than 319 illustrations, which help the reader visualize major aspects of the votive offerings or sites under discussion. In this way readers are spared a considerable amount of description while they can immediately check the author's readings or interpretations of the figurative aspects of the material he discusses. This is important in a book that boldly confronts a diverse and numerically impressive collection of artifacts. The text is largely devoid of typographic or other errors (the mistaken "Hieros" Odos -- instead of hiera -- on pp. 148, 151, 152 is a notable exception).

B.'s book is a valuable contribution to the study of Hera and the dedicatory behaviors around her persona. It is going to be of interest not only to classical archaeologists and art historians but to students of Greek religion as well. The light it sheds on the actuality, persistence, and variety of dedicatory practices in the sanctuaries of Hera is commensurate with Hera's centrality in ancient Greek religion and cult.

Read Latest
Index for 2005
Change Greek Display
Archives
Books Available for Review
BMCR Home

HTML generated at 13:30:06, Friday, 03 April 2009