BMCR 2010.04.22

Religion auf dem Lande: Entstehung und Veränderung von Sakrallandschaften unter römischer Herrschaft. Potsdamer altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge; Bd. 28

, Religion auf dem Lande: Entstehung und Veränderung von Sakrallandschaften unter römischer Herrschaft. Potsdamer altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge; Bd. 28. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2009. 271. ISBN 9783515093477. €56.00 (pb).

Table of Contents

The volume under review brings together papers delivered at a conference of the German research project “Römische Reichsreligion und Provinzialreligion” (SPP 1080) held in Erfurt, November 24-26, 2005.1 Religion auf dem Lande is dedicated foremost to non-urban sanctuaries in specific regions of the Roman Empire: North Africa, Germania Inferior, Dacia, Phrygia, and areas of Greece. A bibliography is appended to each chapter, which are complemented by numerous black-and-white illustrations, maps, and ground-plans.

The introduction by the editor, Christoph Auffarth, situates the volume in recent research. Auffarth stresses the need for differentiation and study of rural sanctuaries over the long term: scholars must review changes in the rural sacred landscape of the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods before wagering claims concerning any one of them. Many of the contributions of the volume thus reconsider and refine the conclusions reached by Susan Alcock in her work on Roman Greece.2 Non-German readers of the introduction may find its format rather bewildering. Auffarth moves from point to point in a concatenation of subsections and numbered paragraphs somewhat reminiscent of a German project application. Only in the final section, in essence a formal report on the conference, do we learn of the original context of the papers.

The first chapter, “Saturn rural: Überlegungen zur Charakteristik ländlicher Heilitümer im römischen Nordafrica” by Günther Schörner, offers a survey of Saturn sanctuaries and stelae as representative of rural sanctuaries. The remains found in the countryside are not notably distinct from those found in urban centers of Roman Africa. Rural sanctuaries are often (unsurprisingly) less elaborate than their urban counterparts, but the cult of Saturn was otherwise homogeneous.

“Religion im unteren Moselraum: Mayen und Kottenheim,” by Kresimir Matijevic, is the first of two largely epigraphic studies of the cult of the Matronae in Roman Germany. Matijevic discusses archeological and epigraphic finds made in the area between the Rhine and Mosel to the south of Bonn, attributing the spread of the cult to this area to the influence of the neighboring Ubii. The banal conclusions of Matijevic’s survey of the iconography of Erotes that decorate local inscriptions hardly justify the four pages of footnotes (48-51) that interrupt the study.

In the next chapter, “Votivaltäre in den Matronenheiligtümern in Niedergermanien: Ein Reflex der städtischen und ländlichen Gesellschaften einer römischen Provinzstadt,” Werner Eck and Dirk Kossmann survey the archeological and epigraphic evidence for the cult of the Matronae in the vicinity of Cologne and Bonn. The authors’ analysis of the forms of worship attested by votive altars is especially instructive. As in the preceding study, no difference between the cult of urban and rural areas is discernible, although this conclusion is somewhat complicated by the lack of direct evidence for Matronae sanctuaries in the urban centers.

Alfred Schäfer addresses a similar phenomenon in the chapter “Gruppen von Weihealtären in ländlichen Heiligtümern Dakiens.” Schäfer analyzes votive altars and sanctuaries erected primarily by Illyrian mine workers. The altars honor a wide variety of gods fairly consistent with the nearby urban pantheon. Schäfer attributes this variety precisely to the influence of cities, which will have functioned as centers of religious diffusion. The votive altars themselves he characterizes as an expression of the “crisis religion” of the settlers laboring in the mines (p. 117). Despite Schäfer’s concluding survey of votive altars in the north-western provinces and in Italy, it is not clear to the reviewer how the Dacian votives attest a different brand of religion from that of the worshippers of the Matronae.

Gian Franco Chiai, “Die Ortsgebundenheit des Religiösen: Das Paradigma der ländlichen Heiligtümer Phrygiens in der Kaiserzeit,” examines how the local epithets of Phrygian deities reflect the identity and self-perception of their worshippers. “Ortsgebundenheit” for Chiai means rather how worshippers associated a deity with their city or village than how a god was imagined to inhabit a temple or piece of land. Chiai’s argumentation is regrettably rather unsophisticated: virtually every idiosyncrasy of local gods is identified as a sign of place-association, often by bald assertion. A list of Phrygian gods and a catalog of significant inscriptions discussed in the text are appended to the chapter, but the Greek is plagued by errors.

The chapter by Ioanna Margarita Felten, “Die sakrale Landschaft der kaiserzeitlichen Peloponnes im Spannungsfeld von Permanenz und Wandel,” is the first of four dedicated to Greece. Felten gives a nuanced critique of the correlation posited between population and cult activity at rural sanctuaries: settlement structure rather than population density appears to influence cult activity in the countryside. A steep decline in the use of extra-urban sanctuaries began not in the Roman but already in the late Classical and Hellenistic period. Felten argues that transition from centralized rural settlements to decentralized landholdings and large cities contributed not only to the abandonment of small rural sanctuaries but also to the survival of large sanctuaries more closely connected to urban centers.

Lorenz E. Baumer, “Von allen Göttern verlassen? Anmerkungen zum Strukturwandel in den ländlichen Heiligtümern Attikas von spätarcharisch-klassischer bis in römische Zeit,” applies a similar approach to Attica. Baumer challenges the argument that wealthy urban families enabled larger extra-urban sanctuaries to survive. Lack of urban euergetism does not account for the abandonment of small sanctuaries throughout the countryside: not only reduced land use, but also change in political and social structures — in particular the obsolescence of the Attic demes — will have made a variety of rural sanctuaries redundant.

The effect of Roman settlement on the sacred landscape of Achaea is the subject of the chapter by the editor, Christoph Auffarth, “Synoikismos und Desakralisierung des Landes: Sakrallandschaft und Provinzialisierung in der Achea [ sic ].” Auffarth turns his attention to the veteran colonies of Augustus and the ensuing reorganization of the neighboring territory. Synoecism caused centralization not only of population but also of cult. Rural deities were transferred to the colonies and their cults integrated in central temples; these in turn were enriched by the acquisition of the functions and festivals of the cults they absorbed. Roman settlers meanwhile established their peculiar identity not only through Roman forms of worship but also through rituals, cult images, and even sanctuaries taken from the countryside.

The contribution of Annette Hupfloher is perhaps the best example of the work of differentiation advertised in the introduction. Her chapter, “Zur religiösen Topographie: Heil-Kultstätten in der Provinz Achaia,” offers an excellent survey of the great diversity of healing sanctuaries in Achaea. Focus on the god Asclepius has obscured the prominence, indeed in some cases the predominance, of other deities worshipped for their healing powers. Hupfloher reads Pausanias “against himself,” privileging local identifications of deities, when recorded by Pausanias, over his personal interpretations. Some sites moreover specialized in particular illnesses or injuries: for example, a sanctuary of Nikomachos and Gorgasos, grandsons of Asclepius, seems to have specialized in war wounds. Hupfloher concludes with a survey of the peculiarities of healing sanctuaries in other regions of Greece.

The concluding chapter, “Kult auf dem Land: Antik-juristische und modern-religionswissenschaftliche Konzepte und Wahrnehmungen,” by Jörg Rüpke, is a short discussion of forest cult and groves. After some remarks on the study of “Wald- und Feldkult” in early 20th-century Germany, Rüpke describes how groves might be demarcated spatially and constructed religiously in forms of worship. Rüpke concludes with a discussion of Christian polemic against paganism on the basis of CTh. 16.10.12 (a. 392), wherein sundry unofficial practices are prohibited, including the construction of earthen altars or the binding of fillets on trees. Such prohibitions, according to Rüpke, were intended rather to effect an official, Christian monopoly on forms of worship than to persecute particularly “pagan” forms.

The editing of the volume leaves much to be desired. Quotations in Greek almost all contain typos, affecting above all the chapters by Chiai and Hupfloher.3 Given the already non-classical orthography of the inscriptions catalogued by Chiai, scholars are cautioned to consult the original publications before reproducing these texts. The reviewer noted a handful of grammatical errors (and one genuine typo) in various chapters;4 more by far appear in the contributions of the editor himself.5 To adapt Juvenal: Quis custodem custodiit?

Spellcheck is a poor substitute for careful editing, and Religion auf dem Lande showcases its shortcomings; but despite the apparent haste with which this volume of proceedings was produced, scholars of local religions of the Roman Empire, and especially of Roman Greece, will benefit from the work of synthesis and differentiation accomplished by the contributors.


1. Cf. the related conference proceedings of H. Cancik, A. Schäfer, and W. Spickermann (eds.), Zentralität und Religion: Zur Formierung urbaner Zentren im Imperium Romanum (Tübingen, STAC 39, 2006).

2. S. E. Alcock, Graecia Capta: The Landscapes of Roman Greece (Cambridge, 1993).

3. P. 135: read ἐποίησεν for έποίησεν and αὐτῶν for αιτύν; p. 138: read προεστὼς for προεστὺς; p. 143: read τοῦ λόγου for τοῦ λόγον and τῆς νέδας for τς νέδας; p. 224: read Ἱππολύτου for Ἱππολύτοἄ and ἰδὼν for ἰδήν; p. 230 n.91: read ἀριστερᾷ for ὐριστερᾷ and Ὀγκαιάτου for Ὁγκαιάτου; p. 232 read ὃς for ὂς, read ὕδατι for ὔδατι, and read ὑγιής for ὑγής; p. 233 n.100: read ὕδασι for ὔδασι; p. 234 n.112: read ἄγαλμα for ἅγαλμα and ὃν for ὂν; p. 235: read πεπηρωμένους for πεπηρωμένος. Errors abound in Chiai’s list of Phrygian gods (p. 151f.) and presumably also in the inscriptions catalogued on the following pages (152-155).

4. P. 35: “Hinweise auf die enge Relation des Kultes für Saturn und dem Land seiner agrarischen Lebensweise können aus der Ikonographie der Stelen gewonnen werden.” Perhaps read “…zu dem Land und seiner agrarischen Lebensweise.” P 125: read “deren” for “dessen” in “Die Matronensteine sind Zeugnisse einer lokalen Kommunikation, in dessen Zentrum die Opferhandlung stand.” P. 247, second line: read “Paradigmas” for “Pradigmas.”

5. P. 13: “In Algerien hatte Braudel das Mittelmeer ‘umgekehrt’ von der südlichen Küste nach Norden hin zu sehen gelernt; die Bedeutung von geographischen (geologischen) Strukturen wurden ihm klar, dass das Meer nicht Grenze, sondern Verbindungsweg darstelle; von der Langlebigkeit der Bedingungen der Landbearbeitung und Seefahrtsrouten über viele Generationen hinweg oder die Bedeutung von Krankheiten waren schon von seinen Lehrern in der Annales -Schule als viel grundlegendere Vorgänge der Weltgeschichte erkannt worden denn die noch so bedeutenden Ereignisse und Taten grosser Männer oder Kriege.” P. 18: “Provinzen, in denen das Land kleinteilig besiedelt ist (und sich naturräumlich solche Siedlungsformen ergeben, die nur mühsam miteinander kommunizieren können. Regionen mit Latifundien (extensiver Landnutzung) gegenüber Regionen mit intensiver Landnutzung und einer ausgeprägten Landbevölkerung.” Ibid.: “Dafür gaben die Beispiele interessantes Material, das Werner Eck und Dirk Kossman vorstellten, Wolfgang Spickermann, sowie Kresimir Matijevic.” P. 191: “Differenziert die Aufnahme einiger Elemente, die Ablehnung anderer; die Positionierung einiger sozialer Gruppen durch Annahme römischer Werte als Romanisierungsgewinner, anderer, um sich mit ihrer Ablehnung ihre Stellung zu erhalten.” P. 193: read “ihrer” for “ihre” in: “Die Identität der Griechen liegt in der sakralen Vergangenheit ihre einzelnen Landschaften.” P. 195: “Nur mit der Benennung von Kriterien lassen sich Einzelbeobachtungen, wie etwas die Ausbildung einer römerzeitlichen Sakrallandschaft in der Bekaa (Libanon) oder Nordsyrien für den Vergleich erschliessen.” Read “etwa” for “etwas” and insert a comma after “Nordsyrien.” P. 196: “Die Ansiedlungspolitik in Form von coloniae wird immer interessanter, innerhalb Italiens, aber auch an den erreichbaren Küsten in der Nähe, zu denen ganz besonders die genannten zählen, auf der gegenüberliegenden Seite der Adria.” P. 199: A. treats the word rostra as feminine singular. P. 200: the apostrophe on Antoninus in “In Antoninus’ Liberalis mythologischem Handbuch” belongs on Liberalis.