BMCR 2011.02.38

Dediche sacre nel mondo greco-romano: diffusione, funzioni, tipologi

, , Dediche sacre nel mondo greco-romano: diffusione, funzioni, tipologie = Religious Dedications in the Greco-Roman World: Distribution, Typology, Use. Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, American Academy in Rome, 19-20 aprile, 2006. Acta Instituti Romani Finlandiae 35. Roma: Institutum Romanum Finlandiae, 2009. Pp. 420. ISBN 9788871404110. €45.00.

Table of Contents

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

[The author would like to apologize for the delay in sending this review.]

Religious dedications constitute an abundant and fascinating subject within the field of ancient religion and form an essential part of what we can still see of the ancient world. The volume under review explores the multifarious phenomenon of dedicating in a religious context in new ways (The volume deals with material from epichoric cultures of the Italic peninsula as well as material from the rest of the Graeco-Roman world spreading chronologically from the archaic till late antique periods. This bilingual (Italian/English) volume presents the proceedings of a conference held in 2006 in Rome and is the fruit of the collaboration of the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae and the American Academy in Rome. The fourteen voluminous papers are arranged thematically in five sections: concepts and definitions, governance and regulation, places and contexts, practices, and ‘silent’ dedications. An excellent set of indices completes the volume.

Religious dedications have been treated abundantly in the past1. The original feature here is the wide geographical and chronological scope, which underlies the project from the start. This choice is not motivated by interest in imperial dynamics of power but by attention to comparative approaches and general characteristics of religious culture both in Rome and Greece.

The first two papers of the volume (J. Bodel, J.Rüpke) are conceptually very important not only in the context of this volume but for the study of religion in general. Both Bodel and Rüpke review a great number of examples of dedications and dedicatory practices and construct sophisticated theoretical models for the study of religious dedications. This pair of essays provides a starting point to examine many other case studies beyond the ones included in this volume.

John Bodel’s paper is a summary of all the important recent contributions on religious dedications and, at the same time, an invitation to rethink the whole practice of dedicating as an ongoing exchange humans and the divine (p.18-19). One major principle is that, independently of the differentiation in the motivations of the dedicants, all types of dedications, along with sacrifice and prayer, should be broadly considered “… against the background of the two practices at the nexus of which they lie: communication with a deity and dedication…whether inscribed or…merely oral. As a behavior, it may… be seen as a social practice similar to that of dedicating to private individuals; and as a manifestation of religious expression it can be considered beside oral prayers, sacrifice, and other non-verbal modes of address that articulate the same relationship with the gods” (p. 27). Bodel’s introductory paper tackles fundamental topics, such as dedicatory formulas, changes in the relationship with the divine, the differences between “dedicatio” and “consecratio”, building dedications, and most importantly, sacred space, which Bodel argues was not a fixed physical enviroment but a flexible, informal entity.(pp. 23-30).

Rüpke’s paper, dealing with dedications accompanied by inscriptions, also focuses on the concept of religious communication. He examines dedications not only as objects but also as part of dedicatory rituals and modes of verbal and visual communication (sacrifice, divination, literacy) between individuals and the divine as well as among humans (“meta-communication”). According to Rüpke, dedications as symbols of successful communication with the divine can be a important source of social standing (p. 36). Observation of the rise and the decline in the number of inscribed sacred dedications leads to remarks concerning the religious status of the inscribed dedications and their monumentality. In the third article of the introductory section, Paolo Poccetti, concentrates on dedicatory formulas in several local contexts from ancient Italy. He attempts a typological examination of dedicatory formulas found in various Italic dialects and cultures. The vocabulary and the patterns of sacred dedications present a remarkable variety that contrasts vividly with the homogeneity of the vocabulary related to non-sacred public works.

The dynamics of the relationship between dedicatory practices and power are visible throughout the next two papers on the governance of dedicatory practices. Paola Lombardi examines the regulation of votive dedications by civic authorities in the Greek world, through detailed examination of 25 epigraphical documents and literary testimonia of the classical and Hellenistic period. She acknowledges scanty religious motivation for the regulation of dedicated objects in space and time, and instead perceives moral, social, and economic motivations: the polis looms large behind the stipulations concerning dedicatory practices. The problem here is that no metaphysical essence can be assigned to the “polis”: we always have to ask “who” constitutes the polis at any particular moment. Carlos R. Galvao-Sobrinho takes as his theme sacred dedications and public space in Rome through the case study of the trial and acquittal of a college of fullers at Rome during the Principate. The accusations were related to the fullers’ occupation of public land in the city, which they were using both as their headquarters and private sanctuary. This extremely interesting case is known by unusual epigraphical evidence reproducing parts of the trial, such as the dialogue between the judge and the fullers (the relevant inscriptions were set up in the “schola” of the fullers). The test case leads to general questions of use of space in dedicatory practices and to necessary distinctions between the status of official and private dedications, and between “dedicatio” and “consecratio” among other important issues. Galvao-Sobrinho’s luminous demonstration delivers a fascinating piece of social, urban, political and religious history presented as a holistic essay.

The section exploring the places and contexts of dedicatory practices opens with Lucia D’Amore’s paper on dedications in the gymnasium. D’Amore pays particular attention to categories of dedicators, divinities and the different types of offerings in the epigraphical sources. Her general conclusion is that behind dedications set up in or related to the gymnasium, conventions of political and institutional nature rather than genuine religious feelings are to be found; in other words, dedications in the gymnasium are not religious but about the political relations between the polis and its benefactors. However, as with Lombardi’s paper, this interpretation cannot be the last word: euergetism is by no means static but subject to change; in particular, religious euergetism is a dynamic field where religious change constructs the material world and is, in its turn, constructed by it (this of course does not imply the necessity of genuine religious feeling). Giulio Vallarino examines the case of the eponymous magistrates as dedicators on Cos in a context of dynamic competition between the polis and the demes after the Hellenistic synoikism; the dedicators’ peers are as important as the divinity. This insight powerfully illustrates the model proposed in Rüpke’s introductory paper. Mika Kajava closes this section with a study on sacred dedications in oracular contexts, which shows sensitivity to differentiations between East and West, lexical variations related to divinatory practices, and change. He concludes that for the study of practice of dedications following divinatory experience, the balance between divinities, sanctuaries, priestly personnel, and sub-priestly officials must be taken into account.

Gabriella Bevilacqua opens the next group of papers devoted to dedicatory practices. She offers a general survey of the practices of dedication to Hermes across Antiquity. Even though the subject matter is constituted by dedications “to” Hermes, Bevilacqua makes “Hermes” himself the centre of the study. However, the purported coherence of the personality of Hermes is problematic and, this study is, in my view, too dependent on structuralistic principles of analysis. The consistency of a divine persona is contingent on socio-political contexts: it cannot be taken for granted but must be studied historically, as V. Pirenne-Delforge shows in the case of Aphrodite (BMCR 2011.01.14). Marco Buononcore studies a corpus of 430 dedicatory inscriptions from the central Apennine region of Italy, dating between the 3rd cent BCE and the 3rd cent. CE. A review of divinities and of dedicatory practices lends striking texture to this regional study that lets us perceive the vitality of rural cults. Gian Luca Gregori examines the cults of “divinità Auguste” in Italy. Α series of tables illustrates the names of the divinities, the diffusion of the cults, their popularity, and the social profile of the worshippers. Carlos Machado offers a study of the religious phenomenon as antiquarianism by examining pagan dedications in late antique Rome. The major themes of this paper are the re-dedications of restored temples; self-modelling on ancient, mainly literary exemplars; the re-contextualization of rituals through the process of dedication (a late Roman dedication to the Etruscan goddess Nortia offers a telling example); the constant negotiation of the limits between sacred and profane; the habit of moving statues; and the aesthetic value of the statues. The conclusion is that antiquarianism is neither uniform nor static. It is even possible to offer a periodization of antiquarianism in Rome in which a rupture can be detected between the end of the 3rd and the end of the 4th century AD. Machado sees a move towards a gradually profane character in dedications connected with the attitudes, Christian or pagan, towards the city’s past. This interpretation seems to me too categorical. The diversity of the phenomena examined in this subtle paper does not exclude the presence of personal religion, which complicates any effort at painting a generalized picture. The way forward might be a comparative approach: late antique Athens provides some surprising evidence for continued religious and emotional engagement with antiquarianism.2 Following Machado, Olivier de Cazanove speaks of “mute” objects: non-inscribed anatomical objects offered as dedications. The analysis of a Roman-era ex-voto representing a foot dedicated on a column in a small temple at Ras-el Soda in Egypt illustrates how anatomical ex-votos are not always related to medical causes: the offering of an anatomical ex-voto can be just one step in a complex procedure of vow-fulfilment. Finally, Laura Scioffi takes as her theme the anonymous “adprecationes” to Diis Manibus. She systematically examines the formula, its variations and the various media on which it was inscribed.

My final assessment is that this is a very useful book for anyone who has an interest in ancient religion: it provides both up-to-date and efficient theoretical tools, as well as important case studies. The broad geographical and chronological scope is a positive feature, and the firm theoretical background offers coherence and intellectual strength to the whole volume.


JOHN BODEL, MIKA KAJAVA, Premessa / Preface 7

Abbreviazioni / Abbreviations 11

Concetti e definizioni / Concepts and definitions

JOHN BODEL, ‘Sacred dedications ‘: A problem of definitions 17

JÖRG RÜPKE, Dedications accompanied by inscriptions in the Roman Empire: Functions, intentions, modes of communication 31

PAOLO POCCETTI, Paradigmi formulari votivi nelle tradizioni epicoriche dell ‘Italia antica 43

Regolamentazione / Governance

PAOLA LOMBARDI, ἀναθέτω ἐν τῶ ἱερῷ. Esempi di regolamentazione della dedica votiva nel mondo greco 95

CARLOS GALVAO-SOBRINHO, Claiming places: sacred dedications and public space in Rome in the Principate 127

Luoghi e contesti / Places and Contexts

LUCIA D’AMORE, Dediche sacre e ginnasi: la documentazione epigrafica di età ellenistica 161

GIULIO VALLARINO, / dedicanti di Cos in età ellenìstica: il caso dei magistrati eponimi tra polis e demi 181

MIKA KAJAVA, Osservazioni sulle dediche sacre nei contesti oracolari 209

Pratiche / Practices

GABRIELLA BEVILACQUA, Dediche ad Hermes 227

MARCO BUONOCORE, La res sacra nell ‘Italia centro-appenninica fra tarda repubblica ed impero 245

GIAN LUCA GREGORI, // culto delle divinità Auguste in Italia: un ‘indagine preliminare 307

CARLOS MACHADO, Religion as antiquarianism: pagan dedications in late antique Rome 331

Dediche mute / Silent dedications

OLIVIER DE CAZANOVE, Oggetti muti? Le iscrizioni degli ex voto anatomici nel mondo romano 355

LAURA CHIOFFI, Anonime adprecationes 373

Indici / Indìces 393


1. See, e.g., the volume T. Linders, G. Nordquist, (eds.) Gifts to the Gods; Proceedings of the Uppsala Symposium 1985, Uppsala 1987, and more recently R. Parker, «Greek dedications; introduction» in Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum, 2005, 369-381.

2. On this topic, see the recent book by Lorenz Baumer, Mémoires de la religion grecque, Paris 2010.