Much of our knowledge of religious practices in ancient Italy is derived from the study of texts as well as from archaeological remains of sanctuaries, including temples and altars. But, it is the abundance of objects from all over central Italy, found in what are commonly known as votive deposits, that allows us to investigate the evidence for rituals and beliefs as documented by individuals of different social classes. At the same time, the earlier archaeological tradition of excavating and documenting these votive deposits has done a great deal of harm to our understanding of the context and variety of this material, since it is rare to find a deposit for which we have the context, and one where all or most of the material has been documented carefully.
Therefore, it is particularly reassuring to find that the first chapter in this publication by Mario Iozzo is devoted to a detailed description of how the votive deposit was discovered in 2004 at the spring known as Doccia della Testa at San Casciano dei Bagni in the province of Siena. (For non-Italian readers, a map of the area and site photographs would have been appreciated.) The context, within the spring proper, defines the deposit as a type that reflects both southern and northern Etruscan traditions in that it contains anatomical body parts, common to central Italy, but these are made of bronze, a feature characteristic of northern Etruria. It should also be noted that the deposit seems to have been tied directly to the presence of water, and that the spring itself thus constituted the sacred place where offerings were presented to the deities.
As part of the first chapter, Iozzo further discusses the contents of the deposit, dating from 500/490 B.C. to the time of Maxentius (306-312 AD) and analyzes the historical and topographical context. The types of finds range from bronze statuettes, a bronze ear and breast to coins, and earlier discoveries in the area including an inscribed travertine altar and a marble statue of a crouching Aphrodite/Venus from the time of Trajan, as well as small objects and remains of what was probably a Roman bath complex from the Imperial period. As in other parts of central Italy, springs are abundant, and offerings of many kinds have been made throughout history to invoke divine protection of good water.
While the importance of water and related votive deposits is commonly accepted, the question of which deities were the recipients of such offerings is much debated. The use of anatomical votives is sometimes ascribed to the practices at the sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidauros, although this type of votive is also native to ancient Italy. One of the bronze votive figurines portrays Hercle in a resting pose, and may indicate his connection with water as a healing god, whereas the votive bronze breast may suggest that a female deity protected the healing waters of the sacred spring.
The following chapters present the different types of objects in the votive deposit, the bronze statuettes and related objects (by Mario Iozzo), the coins (by Michele Asolati), and the travertine altar (by Chantal Gabrielli). Each object is described in the format of a catalogue entry, and provides evidence for the variety of material as well as evidence for the date of the deposit.
The earliest object is a bronze statuette of a standing female figure of a well-known type dated to the late-sixth century B.C. The other three statuettes represent a standing male, a male holding a scythe, and the resting Hercle. Of the two anatomical votives, the right ear represents a type common in terracotta, but very rare in bronze. The other piece is a bronze breast with an inscribed dedication in Latin by Avidiena Eutyche, a dedicant who most likely was a freedwoman in the gens Avidiena who also carried the very common Greek name Eutyche. The two remaining objects discussed are a fragment of a small bronze serpent, and a statue base in marble intended to support a statuette, perhaps of bronze.
The chapter on coins contains sixty-seven entries, ranging from one rectangular bronze bar of unknown date to one follis coin from the time of Maxentius. Unfortunately, the coins are poorly preserved, and may represent only a fraction of a one-time deposit ( thesaurus). The coins include a few sesterces but mostly asses, and range in date from the time of Tiberius to Trajan Decius. The lack of earlier coins is puzzling, but may be the result of the find circumstances.
The last chapter introduces a travertine altar with a dedication to Aesculapius and Hygia (Hygieia), known already in the 16th century. The text, in Latin, suggests that the altar was dedicated by a freedwoman, Ephaestas, to the two deities in gratitude for the healing of Caius and Pomponia. The altar is known from earlier publications, and the text has been variously interpreted, but may include the name of the emperor Lucius Verus (161-169 AD).
This presentation of a modest votive deposit is a very attractive and useful publication. Iozzo’s introductory chapter contains a thorough, yet succinct, summary of the topics and questions relevant for any study of ancient votive deposits and their historical and cultural importance. Bibliographical references further illustrate the ongoing research in this field. The chapters on the different types of objects present all essential information, including excellent photographs and references.
In addition, the reasonable price is a further incentive for individual students and scholars, as well as libraries, to acquire this volume as a useful tool for the study of cults and sacred places in ancient Italy.