BMCR 2014.05.24

Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus: un “culto orientale” fra tradizione e innovazione: riflessioni storico-religiose

, Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus: un “culto orientale” fra tradizione e innovazione: riflessioni storico-religiose. Rome: Lithos Editrice, 2013. 398. ISBN 9788897414612. €26.00.

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

This excellent book answers the need for an up-to-date monograph on the cult of Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus, active in the Roman Empire between the second and fourth centuries C.E. The author, Ennio Sanzi, is well qualified to fill this need. He has already published a most useful sourcebook on “the oriental cults in the Roman Empire”1 and, with Carla Sfameni, an important book on “magic and the oriental cults.”2

In form, Sanzi’s new book is an integrated set of essays rather than a narrative history, which is unavoidable, given the limitation of the data to archaeological sites and an abundance of dedicated objects. But the main lines of the story emerge clearly: the god’s development from a near eastern weather god in Commagene ( ubi ferrum nascitur, as the inscriptions sometimes say), specifically the town of Doliche, and his conflation with the arch-Roman Iuppiter Optimus Maximus to construct a divinity who, while retaining local specificity, yet wields power over both earth and cosmos. He is thus well placed to furnish salus on request not only to empire, emperor, and army, but also to the individual petitioner and his or her family. IODM is supported, and consequently enhanced, by other deities, mostly Greek and Roman: there is a Juno Dolichena; the twins Castor and Polydeuces figure not infrequently, and even Isis and Serapis put in an appearance. There is no distracting myth, no divine “vicissitude,” and no “mystery.” Whatever is intended by the term salus, it is of this world: the god can deliver people, but he does not “save” them in that extra way that, arguably at least, contemporaneous mystery cults and Christianities did.

In the total absence of literary texts, all studies of the cult rest on the interpretation of the material remains. These were last assembled in 1987 by M. Hörig and E. Schwertheim in their Corpus Cultis Iovis Dolicheni (Leiden). Discoveries since then, such as the altar and shrine discovered in 2009 in the fort at Vindolanda,3 have not substantially altered our picture of the cult. For the most part, then, explaining the cult involves explaining the import of the dedicatory inscriptions and the intent of the iconography. On both the epigraphic and the iconographic fronts, Sanzi demonstrates a mastery of the primary material and a judiciousness in its interpretation. Especially good is his treatment (pp. 222-32) of the cult’s distinctive bronze triangular plaques which, it is now generally thought, were held aloft on poles at ceremonies. By symbol, image, and composition, the cult’s divine hierarchy and its cosmology are nicely expressed in the upwards sweep of these narrow isosceles triangles.

The book is amply illustrated and the quality of the reproductions more than adequate, especially in the light of its modest price. The publisher is to be commended accordingly. There is a very full bibliography.4 I would have appreciated indices more along the lines of those in Hörig’s and Schwertheim’s CCID (above), with entries referencing the pages in Sanzi’s book where the word/phrase or iconographic feature in question is discussed. As it is, finding where Sanzi talks about something particular (e.g. a proper name or something represented) is often difficult.

Re-thinking the indices might be something to do if Sanzi were to consider an English translation. There is no English monograph on the god and his cult, and access to Sanzi’s study in translation would be a bonus for Anglophone study-of-religion and ancient civilization student readerships. A translation, or indeed a second Italian edition, might usefully include a new chapter pulling together what we know of cult life. Admittedly, this is not much, especially as the archaeological remains of shrines are too few and too varied in design to postulate a normative Dolichenum in the way we can postulate a normative Mithraeum (two side-benches flanking an aisle at the head of which is a representation of the bull-killing Mithras). But we do have sufficient mention of various levels of membership and officialdom to warrant a comprehensive if brief treatment.5

Table of Contents

Prefazione di Enrico Montanari 11
Introduzione. Per una tipologia storico-religiosa dei cosiddetti “culti orientali” 17
I. Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus: iconografia e iconologia di un “culto orientale” 63
II. Novità e tradizione all’interno del culto dolicheno 109
III. Militari e imperatori nell’epigrafia dolichena 153
IV. Riflessioni storico-religiose sulla formula ex indulgentia in un’epigrafe dolichena poco conosciuta 187
V. Deì ospitanti e deì ospitati nel patrimonio iconografico dolicheno 205
VI. La portata della salus impetrata a Iuppiter Optimus Maximus Dolichenus 243
1. Intorno ad alcune epigrafi dolichene di Dacia 269
2. Le inscrizioni alfabetiche e le formule dei papiri e delle gemme magiche 277
Osservazioni conclusive 299
Elenco delle immagini 305
Abbreviazioni 311
Bibliografia 319
Indice degli Autori antichi 366
Indice epigrafico, gemmario, numismatico e papiraceo 371
Indice degli Autori moderni et Alii 375
Divinità e personnaggi mitologici 383
Figure storiche 387
Tavole di concordanza 391


1. I culti orientali nell’impero romano: un’antologia di fonti (Cosenza 2003).

2. Magia e culti orientali: per la storia religiosa della tarda antichità (Cosenza 2009).

3. A. Birley, “A New Dolichenum,” in M. Blömer and E. Winter, eds, Iuppiter Dolichenus: Vom Lokalkult zur Reichsreligion (Tübingen 2012), 232-58.

4. A surprising omission is R. Ergeç and J. Wagner, “Doliche und Iuppiter Dolichenus,” pp. 84-91 in J. Wagner (ed.), Gottkönige am Euphrat: Neue Ausgrabungen und Forschungen in Kommagene (Mainz 2000). From the same volume (at pp. 100-103), it is unfortunate that Sanzi did not consult Peter Weiss’s article “Tonsiegel aus Kommagene (Doliche)” for his second appendix on the “alphabetical inscriptions and the formulas of the magical papyri and gems.”

5. See the relevant index (“Priester und Kultpersonal”) in Hörig and Schwertheim CCID, p. 405. Note that particularly at the Rome Dolichenum on the Aventine candidati and a pater candidatorum are attested.