This book by Massimiliano Di Fazio addresses the Italic, then Roman, goddess Feronia. The work is short, but not too short, and those interested in a quick précis are encouraged to read the introductory and concluding chapters. In addition to these, the book is divided into five chapters.
The introduction gives the reader some background on the divinity, the state and history of research, and the author’s choice of approaching the subject topographically, by examining the evidence from the various sites within Italy at which it occurs. Here Di Fazio expresses caution in examining the sources and drawing conclusions from them. This caution is admirably present throughout the work, and Di Fazio repeatedly returns to the difficulty in working with sources that stretch across centuries and the importance of fighting the temptation to conclude (or assume) that practice and belief were consistent over such long periods.
Chapter 1 presents the various areas in which evidence for Feronia has been found but which Di Fazio considers “secondary”, which is to say subsequent to the adoption of the cult by Rome (itself a secondary site) and the spread of Roman rule and therefore religious practice. The list starts with Rome, proceeds north along the Flaminian corridor through Umbria and into Le Marche and Romagna, and on to Aquileia. Finally Di Fazio lists a few sites he considers either dubious or outright irrelevant. Chapter 2 then treats the “primary” sites, confined to central Italy and especially, but not exclusively Sabine territory. Among these are Lucus Feroniae (of course), Trebula Mutuesca, Amiternum-Aveia, Pinna, Praeneste, and Tarracina.
In both chapters Di Fazio considers not only the archaeological evidence, often purely epigraphical, but also literary sources. He also addresses some of the conclusions of modern scholarship, particularly the association of Feronia with the lower classes, especially freedmen, which he rejects as too weakly supported by the evidence.
Chapter 3, “Feronia e il suo compagno,” addresses, as the title suggests, the various male divinities with which Feronia is associated in various locations, for example, Jupiter Anxur. Closely associated is the next chapter which more broadly addresses this idea of the “divine couple.” For Di Fazio the couple comprises a female, with a place of worship in a sacred grove or woods near a source of water, near the border and important roads of communication, and the male, a youthful divinity with chthonic associations, worshipped on mountains or hilltops. Di Fazio provides a wide sweep of central-Italic examples, incorporating even the Roman Diana.
Chapter 5 continues this thread, treating the “sacred landscape,” in this case of grove and mountain. In particular Di Fazio argues for the importance of the grove as a meeting place, especially near the borders where different peoples—not so precisely distinguishable in the early Iron Age as they were later on—would naturally encounter one another. The association with important roads also has a natural connection with such interaction. Moving as he does from the specific cult of Feronia to the more general idea of the divine couple of sky-god and earth-goddess, more or less copied in various places throughout central Italy, it is not surprising to find a section here on Dumézil. Di Fazio notes the connections and some of the scholarly history, but is careful to maintain some distance from the controversial Indo-Europeanist.
In the concluding chapter Di Fazio uses the framework of Lipka,1 itself adopted from Scheid,2 to recap the work, considering in turn the “space, time, personnel, function, iconography, [and] ritual” of Feronia’s cult. He concludes with a section noting the challenges that still remain in understanding Feronia and in particular the difficulty in getting back to an “original” form of worship. Di Fazio’s caution is again present here and he stresses the importance of an historical approach to understanding religion.
Two appendices are included, one providing literary and the other epigraphical sources. The original Latin or Greek is untranslated, and several inscriptions that Di Fazio cites in the text are not included, in some cases clearly because he does not believe them correctly associated with Feronia. The fine digital resource of the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg is used for an image of one of the inscriptions, and inclusion of their reference numbers for the inscriptions would have been welcome. The concluding bibliography is thorough, including recent scholarship as well as standards in the field. Both anglophone and continental scholarship is well represented.
The book has 18 figures, for which no index is provided. Some are photos of mediocre quality, taken from other sources. A few are maps for only some of which Di Fazio wisely used the resources of the Ancient World Mapping Center.
Footnotes are used throughout. Pages are without headings, which made it a little difficult to locate oneself in the book when looking for a particular section. I found few errors, though oddly one inscription (#16, CIL IX 4321) is wrongly transcribed, despite the readable photograph in the text itself.
In short this is an excellent treatment of one of the many ancient goddesses about whom we know tantalizingly little. Di Fazio provides a work which is useful not only for its conclusions, but also for its approach.
1. Lipka, Michael. Roman Gods: A Conceptual Approach. Religions in the Graeco-Roman World, v. 167. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2009.
2. Scheid, John. An Introduction to Roman Religion. Translated by Janet Lloyd. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.