Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.03.47 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.03.47

Michael Blömer​, Engelbert Winter (ed.), Iuppiter Dolichenus: vom Lokalkult zur Reichsreligion. Orientalische Religionen in der Antike, 8.   Tübingen​:  Mohr Siebeck, 2012.  Pp. vii, 306.  ISBN 9783161517976.  €99.00.  


Reviewed by Frederick G. Naerebout, Leiden University (f.g.naerebout@hum.leidenuniv.nl)

Table of Contents

These are the proceedings of a workshop held in Münster, Germany, 24-25 February 2010, published in a series dedicated to ‘oriental religions’ in the ancient world. The previous volumes in this series dealt mainly with aspects of religious life in the Ancient Near East, Egypt and the Biblical world, which of course can all be labeled ‘oriental’, but with this volume we enter the field of ‘oriental religions’ in the narrower sense in which that term was popularized by François Cumont: the ‘religions orientales’ as in the famous Études préliminaires aux religions orientales (EPRO) series published by Brill. Iu(p)piter Dolichenus was the subject of two monographs in EPRO, M.P. Speidel, The religion of Iuppiter Dolichenus in the Roman army, Leiden 1978, and M. Hörig and E. Schwertheim, Corpus Cultus Iovis Dolicheni, Leiden 1987, and relevant articles can be found in several other EPRO volumes, especially the ones conceived as regional overviews. As the editors of the present volume themselves stress, over the past decades progress in the study of Iuppiter Dolichenus has been minimal (pp. 2-3, cf. Haensch about Speidel, p.111). So what has changed now and what has this volume to offer that is new?

Considering the fact that the cult of Iuppiter Dolichenus was an expansionist one that originated in Syrian Doliche but was disseminated across the Roman Empire, there have been important developments on either side of the spectrum. On the one hand the study of the cult’s origins has been put on a new footing: the two editors Winter and Blömer, both of Münster University, are closely involved in the excavations at Doliche, and recent finds from that site are changing our views of Iuppiter Dolichenus and his cult. On the other hand the wider context of Roman imperial religion has been the subject of a large amount of recent research, much of it organized around empire-wide religious phenomena as opposed to the more local, and on ‘oriental religions’ in particular.

Doliche itself is the point of departure of this volume as much as it was of the cult itself, but the main issue is the interplay between what we see happening in Syria and in other parts of the empire. The following questions are being asked here: is there contact between Doliche and other cultic centres where Iuppiter Dolichenus was worshipped? Does it matter that the god is from Syria? What changes does the cult go through in expanding across the empire? What is the cult’s attraction? What, if anything, is special about Iuppiter Dolichenus?

For answers to these questions we can turn to nine articles preceded by an introduction (three in English, six others and the introduction in German, no summaries). The articles range from the very general (Witschel on ‘oriental religions’), by way of the cult of Iuppiter Dolichenus across time and space (Blömer on Doliche and the cult’s diffusion, Collar on the cult’s diffusion as well, Schwarzer on the cult’s sanctuaries empire-wide, Haensch on Iuppiter Dolichenus and the army, and Kreikenbom on the cult and women), to the specific (Fowlkes-Childs on Rome, the Birleys on Vindolanda, and Jobst on the Alpine and Donau region). The main focus of this volume lies in the contributions by Blömer and Collar, supported by Witschel and Schwarzer. This can be seen from a simple page count: not counting bibliographies, appendices and illustrations, the four authors just mentioned have 130 pages at their disposal, the five others 65. We shall see that this is not merely a question of numbers.

Before coming back to what I consider as the four main contributions, I will summarize the other five articles, because they cannot be dismissed: all are highly competent and lead the way to a host of primary material, especially inscriptions, and to the relevant secondary literature. Haensch accepts that there are no specifics of the cult or imperial support that made it especially attractive to soldiers, as Speidel had already argued, but he clearly demonstrates the remarkable fact that we have dedications by complete army units, setting Iuppiter Dolichenus on the same footing as the ‘official Roman gods’. This is not done on an ethnic basis (as in military dedications to dei patrii). Haensch also discusses the distribution across the map of such dedications and of indivual dedications by the military (he includes helpful tables) and concludes that this defies easy explanation: he urges us to look for the individual cult adherent that could have started a ‘fashion.’ Kreikenbom analyzes the role of women within the cult: compared to the 500 dedications by men, we have only some 30-40 which mention females, usually in some secondary role. Kreikenbom shows that whether women are present depends on many factors, such as the status of the dedicators (civil versus military), the nature of the sanctuary, the type of dedication, and local practices. Thus we cannot generalize from any one set of epigraphic evidence. The only thing we can conclude with certainty is that women were not excluded (relevant might be Jobst’s figures that 40 % of dedicators were soldiers, 60 % civilians). Fowlkes-Childs offers a re-consideration of the evidence from Rome, where she distinguishes four, or possibly five Dolichean sites connected with the military, and a Dolichenum on the Aventine intended for civilians (of these six sites only three figure in the article by Schwarzer, cf. below). There are Syrian connections, but at the same time the cult has a local dynamic and becomes fully integrated into the religious life of the city. Fowlkes-Childs also makes the interesting point that influences on the cult in the capital need not come straight from the East but could be mediated by the cult as it developed elsewhere in the empire. Andrew and Anthony Birley discuss the Dolichenum discovered inside the fort at Vindolanda (cf. Haensch on the (semi-)official nature of the cult), in existence from the 3rd into the 4th century. Their contribution is a description of the archaeological and epigraphic evidence, with helpful lists of comparative evidence from Britannia. Jobst concludes on the basis of the evidence from Pannonia that the cult probably was imported into Rome from Syria and that while in Rome it largely lost its Syro-Anatolian character and was ‘romanized’ before being passed on to the armies in the border regions. Five interesting articles, but they do not really address the questions that are supposed to be central to this volume, or do so only in a very oblique way.

Let us move on to the remaining four contributions. Schwarzer presents a first attempt to look at all archaeologically attested Dolichena from a comparative perspective (16; another 15 are epigraphically attested, and a further eight are likely to have been located). The oldest examples are Hadrianic, the high watermark is under the Severi, and in the 3rd century many are destroyed – though a few escape destruction and show continuity into the 4th century. All have some connection to the military, though in most cases not exclusively so. Schwarzer’s comparison with Mithraea is enlightening. There appears to be no single architectural pattern, but the sanctuaries have certain features in common, especially the presence of a banqueting room. Much remains unclear, but Schwarzer provides us with a firm basis on which further research can build. Although Schwarzer does not address explicitly the central questions of the volume either, his comparative approach, besides delivering a number of implicit answers, lays some of the groundwork for that as well. Christian Witschel gives an illuminating overview of the recent discussions about Reichsreligion in general and ‘oriental religions’ in particular – the one part of the book that is not purely aimed at specialists and would deserve a wider audience. He does not deal exclusively Iuppiter Dolichenus, but provides a necessary background.

Collar defends the hypothesis, already presented in earlier work, that a pre-existing social network of Roman army officers enabled the diffusion of the cult. In order to trace how this diffusion might have begun, by a clever diachronic use of network analysis she establishes first that the Danube region was the ‘hub’ in the initial diffusion of the cult, and that, as this region was also where we find army units raised in Commagene (who might be behind the dedications that expressly say that Iuppiter Dolichenus is ‘of Commage’), these might be the ‘missing link’ between Doliche and the occurrences of the cult across the empire. Blömer stresses that the cult of Iuppiter Dolichenus was not an important cult in Syria: it was just one of the many local cults. Thus it can only be called Syrian because of characteristics which it shares with other cults in Syria, not because it was pan-Syrian. This, and the fact that the cult, when we encounter it in the East of the empire, was introduced there by military men coming from the West, shows that it was diffused from Doliche and Doliche only, and that Syrians were not instrumental in doing so, even if the cult came to be felt to be part of a Commagenan identity (by Commagenans abroad). Why this local god became popular across the empire as the aeternus conservator totius mundi remains unknown. Locally, the cult takes on new forms, but some ties with Doliche are maintained. Thus, the romanized iconography of the god is also found in Doliche (or might even come from Doliche, as Blömer interestingly suggests). He agrees with Collar in stressing the importance of military networks, not only for the diffusion of the cult but also to explain its demise. Declining mobility and connectivity in the third-century empire meant a steady decline of the cult. As one can see from this summary, Collar and especially Blömer are the only contributors who explicitly address the questions that Blömer and Winter raise in the introduction – with provisional results.

All in all, this is an interesting and important volume: in directing the attention to Doliche it ties in with what in these post-EPRO days is happening in the field of oriental religions’ and makes a worthwhile contribution to these new approaches. Nevertheless, the thinking about the cult of Iuppiter Dolichenus could still be pushed a bit further. There is still an echo of EPRO in the urge to catalogue the evidence (in this respect it is also remarkable that the editors in their introduction ask for a new critical edition of the Corpus Cultus Iovis Dolicheni), but what we need above all is more analysis, along the lines of Blömer and Collar. There is much work still outstanding. The chronology of the cult deserves more attention (Schwarzer notes complications that the others do not really deal with); its distribution raises questions such as why the cult was apparently unpopular in Gallia and Hispania (again it is Schwarzer who brings this anomaly to our attention). But of course it would not be fair to expect this one volume to do everything: it has opened up some new avenues in the research on the cult of Iuppiter Dolichenus, and that is something to be grateful for.

The book is well-edited, free of misprints, decently printed and cloth bound as nowadays only German books seem to be. Its usefulness is increased by the presence of many maps and illustrations, alas of no more than acceptable quality. The line drawings do not pose a problem, but the photographs are murky and grey. In some maps and tables black and up to two shades of grey have to be distinguished, which can be difficult; cross-hatching or the like would have been preferable. Indices, a general one and a selective one of sources, conclude the volume.

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