BMCR 2008.05.05

Religion in Republican Italy. Yale Classical Studies 33

, , Religion in republican Italy. Yale classical studies ; v. 33. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xiv, 299 pages : illustrations, maps, plans ; 24 cm.. ISBN 052186366X. $85.00.

Table of Contents

The collection Religion in Republican Italy edited by Celia Schultz and Paul Harvey promises to open new ground in the study of Roman religion by focusing on the intersection of religion and ethnicity in Republican Italy. Both Roman religion and ethnicity have been the focus of much recent work. The book thus promises two sexy topics together (religion, identity), examined from diverse analytical perspectives by field archaeologists, museum curators, and Roman historians. The book has the common weakness of collections: contributions of uneven quality orbit about a general theme without creating a coherent argument. Nevertheless the book offers useful syntheses of recent work in the field and almost textbook examples of the deployment of particular methodologies.

In “Reconsidering ‘religious Romanization'” Fay Glinister explores the evidence for anatomical terracottas and argues that their occurrence “is not, as usually supposed, limited to central Tyrrhenian Italy, nor the result of Roman colonization of the peninsula” (p. 11). Glinister reviews the sites and dates of anatomical votives (bronze and terracotta) and argues that an indigenous cult practice of anatomical votive dedications preceded Roman contact and conquest. But she addresses the typology of the terracotta anatomical votives by citing Lesk, who connected their introduction with Gravisca. To argue for a continuity of cult she adduces bronze anatomical votives from the sixth century (sites and objects unspecified) and cites Turfa. The point is crucial and needed illustrations from individual sites to sustain the argument.

L. Lundeen provides a critical examination of evidence for the Etruscan priestess, beginning with Tanaquil, Livy’s Etruscan woman skilled in reading bird signs, and including engravings on bronze mirrors, bronze figurines, funerary reliefs and sculpture, and inscriptions identifying an hatrencu. In each instance Lundeen offers the accepted viewpoint(s) and a critical assessment. She rightly invokes the difficulty of distinguishing representations in art of the public and private status of elite Etruscan women and their activities as elite women and rejects tenuous evidence. Lundeen interprets carefully the architecture and inscriptions in the Tomb of the Inscriptions at Vulci, where burials of hatrencu respected spousal or familial relationships and indicate that social identity trumped religious role and that religious role was not restricted by marriage. Although Lundeen rejects gendered identifications of hatrencu as priests of Mater Matuta or Dionysos, her own interpretation is tenuous. Two inscriptions qualify hatrencu as sacniu or “consecrated” and locate the term/individual in the religious sphere, which “in light of our current Roman comparanda… probably encompassed traditionally masculine acts gods, and concerns outside of the private sphere” (p. 54). To support this she cites an urn from Perugia showing a woman togate and accompanied by musicians, indicating a “prophetess” or “a public magistracy” and parallels from Roman imperial Asia Minor (evidence not specified). The history of state formation and the conflation of personal and public status in the emergent aristocratic states (in Etruria and at Rome) might help Lundeen’s argument for public roles of elite women.

In “Etruscan religion at the watershed: before and after the fourth century BCE” J. Turfa contrasts Etruscan religious practice documented in the late Roman Republic with the religious practices already fully developed in 400 BCE when the Etruscan cities began to experience military eclipse. Her contribution is as far ranging as the Etruscan influence on Roman religion (temple architecture, divinatory practice and priests, cosmology, sacred texts) and Turfa’s own ability to think broadly (e.g., Etruscan votives at Hellenic and panhellenic sanctuaries at Delphi, Olympia, and Athens). Turfa organizes her discussion by type of evidence (archaeology, epigraphy, literature) and only secondarily by topics in the study of religion (votives and individual participation in cults; sacred texts marking dedications and so-called “scripture”; divination; cosmology). The watershed emerges clearly as the loss of political independence and with it the political role of Etruscan religion, but Turfa suggests deep changes in religious practice and for the Etruscans a fundamental alienation from previous ritual identity. She documents the changing frameworks for religious practice at Tarquinia, Veii and Pyrgi, where votives first indicate a cult place, architecturally embellished in the sixth century, and anatomical votives indicate continued use of the site after the conquest by Rome. Turfa focuses on practices peculiar to Etruscan religion, namely the use of written texts and the emphasis on personal religious experience.

In “Religious locales in the territory of Minturnae: aspects of Romanization” V. Livi uses archaeological evidence for cult (architectural forms and decoration; votives) to assess the effects of Roman conquest on an indigenous Italic people. She documents the changed patterns of religious life at Minturnae and suggests the cultural annihilation of the Aurunci people following the Roman conquest. The paper offers an important conclusion about Romanization at the level of the everyday, individual experience. It is a “how to” for organizing and thinking about archaeological material for an indigenous people and their confrontation with Rome, although her definition of the Aurunci community before Roman contact may be overstated, or at least is undocumented. Of the sanctuary of Marica and of the Aurunci she claims: “the sanctuary had served as a meeting place (religious, political, and economic) for a people that had few contacts with the outside world” (p. 112-13). The possible economic functions of the sanctuary are documented, but its political function and the political identity of the Aurunci as a people are not proven.

In “Religion and memory at Pisaurum,” P. Harvey interprets the epigraphic record of Pisaurum in order to understand the inscriptions recording Jupiter Latius in the second century CE. Harvey considers the physical characteristics of the inscriptions as well as orthography, letter style, and grammar, all of which indicate general dates in the third and early second centuries BCE (which Harvey later specifies to the period of the Roman colony founded in 184) and a linguistic population including “Latin and Sabine elements in the colony’s population” (p. 122); prosopography corroborates a dedicating population of Roman and Latin peoples from west central Italy. Harvey’s argument about the Pisauran cult of Jupiter Latius focuses first on nomenclature: Latius in place of Latiaris appears in Augustan poetry, and cultores appear as groups of worshippers of particular gods, including Jupiter, at e.g. Tarracina. Second, on historical context: coins of Antoninus Pius show nostalgia for Roman religious traditions, including IOVI LATIO in 143 CE. For Harvey then cultores Iovis Latii emerge at a particular historical moment, following a trend set by the emperor and consistent with the original Roman and Latin roots of the colonial population. This fine detective work shows the intersection of religion and identity, and an important aspect of political identity in the Empire. One wonders about the process by which religious memory was maintained from 184 BCE or recreated in late second century CE at Pisaurum; compare the proliferation of priesthoods celebrating and recollecting Roman ritual traditions, particularly traditions of origins, held by individuals of equestrian status from throughout the Roman Empire.1

In “Inventing the sortilegus : lot divination and cultural identity in Italy, Rome and the provinces,” W.E. Klingshirn begins with a religious category, the private lot diviner, and seeks to trace the evolution of the priestly type and the religious practice into the first century BCE. Klingshirn surveys objects identified as lots and Etruscan lot drawing scenes. He is most interested in tracing the development of the Christian holy man who stood apart from the structural frameworks of traditional, classical religion. To this end he focuses on accounts of itinerant priests (and their hostile public reception) in the second Punic war and private lot diviners and divination as described by Cicero De Div. Klingshirn is a keen reader: of representations of allotment he observes the depiction of the “dramatic moment of divine revelation” (p. 143) and he emphasizes Varro LL 6.51-76 explicitly defining the divinatory function of the lots to connect time and matters at hand. But in a discussion of a priesthood and a ritual practice I miss here a treatment of the Roman categories of religious experience—lot divination as an auspice, the role of the augurs who presided over the auspicia and over allotment used in Roman government.2 While Klingshirn is right to observe the absence of an established, separate cult for private lot consultation at Rome, the evidence for the use of the lots in Roman government could have added a great deal about vessels, lots and procedures, and more importantly about what Romans (other than Cicero and as early as Plautus) at different historical periods thought about divination by lot. Moreover, in order to untangle disdain for status and ethnicity from disdain for itinerant priests, it might be useful to compare Roman accounts of individual women practioners of cult whose functioning in sacrifice and divination is recorded and denigrated in the Republican period.3 Finally the augural disciplina regulating the procedure and interpretation of public sortition must factor into considering the claim of expertise by sortilegi in the early Empire and the response to them, i.e. the historical development reflects a changed circumstance and changed roles of traditional priests of the traditional religion as much as it represents something new.

In “Hot, cold, or smelly: the power of sacred water in Roman religion, 400-100 BCE” Ingrid Edlund-Berry investigates the distribution and characteristics of cult places for water. She begins with a review of the Roman calendar revealing several celebrations of water deities, and surveys ritual cleansing. Edlund-Berry then explores the various contexts in which priests or individuals collected or used water for ritual purposes. Finally she focuses on a particular water deity, Mefitis “the goddess of stench,” examining her shrines at Rome and in Italy and evaluating the location and accessiblity of sanctuaries to human and animal traffic. For this reviewer, her emphasis on practical logistics (who, what, where, when) is salutary. What emerges is a sense of water sanctuaries and water cult in the landscape of Roman Italy and the lived experience of religious celebrants.

In “Religion and politics: did the Romans scruple about the placement of their temples,” J. Muccigrosso focuses on building projects c. 300 BCE to assess their function as a means of political self-representation by the elite. The era is important, as Muccigrosso notes, because our sources are better and because of the emergence then of the patricio-plebeian nobility that defined the social and political ideology of the Roman Republic.4 A change in ritual practice at this time has been observed,5 and Muccigrosso offers the archaeologist’s viewpoint on this crucial period. He plots the frequency and evolving distribution of temples in relation to traffic patterns beginning with the regal period. Numerically the third century stands out with temples vowed “at an average rate of nearly one every two years” (p. 190). More interesting, Muccigrosso observes the avoidance of low-trafficked areas, unsuited for the purposes of political advertisement, so the crowded but poor Subura. He questions, contra Ziolkowski, the ritual constraints on temple placement, observing that Rome had a plethora of sacred places, that deities had multiple temples and that gods could be moved. But the argument is uncompelling: that Rome had many sacred spaces (e.g. the Argei) means that Romans lived in a polytheistic world, not that all sacred space was alike or interchangeable; that Rome had multiple temples to the same general deity does not mean that all temples to Fortuna (e.g. Fors Fortuna, Fortuna Huiusce Diei) marked the same Fortuna. Nor does Muccigrosso consider the role of the pontifical college in identifying and establishing cult places. Nevertheless he interprets sensitively the impact of architecture. So the Aqua Appia and via Appia provided employment, and the road advertised Claudius’ name in newly organized areas of Roman Italy where it facilitated the travel of newly organized voters and of their goods to the city. Muccigrosso interprets the cavalry parade ( transvectio equitum) instituted by Q. Fabius Maximus Rullianus in 304 as a counter to Appius Claudius Caecus’ road, the architectural elaboration of the ficus Ruminalis with statues of the suckling twins in 296 as a counter to the aedicula of Concord dedicated by Cn. Flavius in 304, and Fabius’ suggested re-organization of the Lupercal as a counter to the temple of Victory dedicated by Postumius in 294. Fabius emerges as a copycat intent on getting the last word.

In “Juno Sospita and Roman insecurity in the Social War” C. Schultz examines the Roman government’s reaction to the potentially prophetic dream of the Roman matron Caecilia Metella during the Social War. Schultz reviews literary evidence and creates a religious history of Juno Sospita: she reviews government policy regarding Lanuvium, the source of Rome’s cult to Juno Sospita, in the Latin settlement of 338, prodigy reports regarding Juno at Lanuvium in the Second Punic war, and the establishment of a temple to Juno Sospita at Rome in 194. She then reviews the attributes of Juno Sospita and her cult in literary accounts, in art and on coins, and in inscriptions. Schultz rightly emphasizes Sospita’s associations with the military and political affairs of Lanuvium and then of Rome, over and against a role simply in traditionally feminine areas of fertility and childbirth, and she acutely reminds readers that Juno Lucina and Juno Sospita name two different gods. For Schultz the history of Juno Sospita illustrates the character of Romanization as “usurpation and incorporation” (p. 223). Finally Schultz traces the memory of Caecilia’s dream and her service to the Roman state. Schultz correlates the shield wielded by Juno Sospita on coins to the depiction of a warrior wielding a trilobate shield on the frieze from the tomb of Caecilia Metella (the first cousin once removed of the Caecilia Metella who dreamed of Sospita) in order to suggest both a memory of her cousin’s religious service but also the fusion of “masculine and feminine service to the res publica” (p. 227).

The volume concludes with an essay by A.E. Cooley, “Beyond Rome and Latium: Roman religion in the age of Augustus.” Cooley uses his introduction to sum up the several contributions as developing an understanding of Romanization as a dynamic interaction. Cooley herself focuses on “how the capital’s religious institutions and practices had a distinctive impact upon Italy during the age of Augustus” (p. 228). She draws attention to the conscious conflation of Rome and Latium in the prayers for the secular games conducted by Augustus in 17 BCE, in the Fasti Praenestini published with the detailed commentary by the scholar (and Augustan family tutor) Verrius Flaccus, and in Ovid’s poetic celebration of the Fasti. She ends with an interesting survey of the proliferation of deities (Fortuna, Pax) qualified with the imperial title Augusta, identified with the imperial house, and universalizing a (and not the) Roman religious experience.

Even when I have disagreed with particular arguments I found the book useful and thought-provoking.6 Anyone wanting to think more broadly about Romanization or about Roman religion stands to learn much from this book.


1. See Chr. Saulnier, Latomus 43 (1984) 517-533; Y. Thomas, Origine et Commune Patrie (1996); J. Scheid and M. Grazia Granino Cecere, “Les Sacerdoces équestres,” in S. Demougin and M.Th. Raepsaet-Charlier, edd. Ordo equester. Histoire d’une aristocratie (Collection de’ l’École française de Rome, Rome, 1999) 1-112.

2. On ritual conception of allotment, see R. Stewart, Public Office in Early Rome. Ritual Procedure and Political Practice (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998) 12-51. On the augural roles, see J. Linderski, “The Augural Law,” ANRW 2.16.3 (1986) 2173-75 and 2193-96 (of an allotment in 176 BCE).

3. E.g. Hor. Serm. 1.9.29-30; Ov. Fasti 2.571-82; Petr. Sat. 137.

4. See K.-J. Hölkeskamp, Die Enstehung der Nobilität: Studien zur sozialen und politischen Geschichte der römischen Republik im 4. Jhdt v. Chr. (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1990).

5. See S. Weinstock, “Victor and Invictus,” HTR 50 (1957) 211-247, who focused on the changes in ritual practice, although his explanation of Greek influence is not compelling.

6. I found few typos: the publication date for Turfa 2004 b (correct in the bibliography) is incorrectly given throughout Glinister’s article; something has fallen out on p. 120 (“located about mile outside the modern Italian municipality of Pesaro”); Crawford 480/3 is illustrated instead of Crawford 480/2 (p. 214, fig. 9.1), although the text refers expressly to the reverse of 480/2 (p. 224, cf. 213).