The Cult of God Mithras on Roman Danube Limes in Lower Pannonia and Upper Moesia
Nadežda Gavrilović Vitas
The existence and practice of the cult of the god Mithras, as well as the existence of mithraea, have been confirmed in the localities on Danube Limes in Lower Pannonia and Upper Moesia. In this paper, an update of already known and published epigraphic and archaeological monuments will be presented, along with the new findings, its interpretation in the local, regional context, with the emphasis on the iconography of the monuments, which in some monuments exhibits certain not often seen traits and details (like for example attribute of pedum or attribute of flagellum carried by dadophores). We shall discuss the possible ways of diffusion of the cult and locations of the workshops and try to resolve some of the questions about dedicants’ identity, in the light of the hypothesis established in earlier literature that the main carriers of the cult were soldiers and military personnel in Roman army on Danube Limes in Lower Pannonia and Upper Moesia. We will also emphasize the significance of certain iconographic particularities characteristic for the Mithras’ cult in the territories of the Central Balkans’ Roman provinces which can be perceived also in some of the material found in Limes localities and try to interpret them in the light of other, so far known analogies in other Roman provinces.
Understanding the Cult of the Danube Horseman: New Approaches
The Cult of the Danube Horseman is colloquial term which describes the phenomenon of cult syncretism widely spread in lower Danube region during the 3rd c. AD and 1st half 4th c. AD. Interpreting the iconography presented on the monuments of the Cult it becomes obvious that two riders are not central deities, but that the essence of the Cult would rather be the central goddess who their flank. The complete consensus on what deity she might be – was never reached.
However, some new proposals of iconographical interpretation suggest possible existence of the iconographical narrative after which the very core of the cult is not the female deity but rather a representative of official Roman Religion depicted in the highest zone of the monuments. In that manner, it is not to be excluded that there is a tendency of revitalization of the Imperial cult during the turbulent time of the 3rd c. AD. Some theoretical approaches stress the possibility that, because of the lack of fully standardized iconography, this is not a cult. The heterogeneous iconographic content of the lead plaques is a reflection of a heterogeneous cultural and religious structure within the Roman army, which was spreading this belief system. On the other hand, some spatial based statistics suggest that this Cult did not belong exclusively to soldiers.
The majority of the monuments of the Cult are represented in the form of lead plaques, and as such were the subject of secret and illicit excavations, deprived of any archaeological context. Out-of-context based studies resulted in 5 non-correlated typologies of the monuments, causing strong cacophony that complicates their understanding. The new, combining typology of the monuments could be the primary and crucial step for better transparency of the artefacts of the Cult and, subsequently, its understanding.
Even though there is no consistent terminology or typology, it is evident that the genesis and diverse iconographic elements of these artefacts unite the indigenous, Oriental and Celtic influences with the official Roman religion at the height of the cult syncretism and most of them were found in the central and lower Danube regions. Described diversity and a combination of various provincial traditions and beliefs, under the auspices of the symbols of the official Roman religion, could indicate a kind of informal ecumenical nature of these monuments without impeding regional cults and traditional beliefs.
What are we missing? On the invisibility of Silvanus Orientalis.
Silvanus is the Latin deity whose name, translated, probably meant ‘the one who manages the forest’. He is the god of the forests, but not of forests in their entirety, in particular those areas which border clearings in regions still to be completely conquered. Therefore he is partially ‘civilized’ and partially wild, and as such he reflects the experiences of early settlers to Italy, whose descendants took him to the frontiers of the Empire. Silvanus has always been a friendly god who benevolently watched over immigrants in foreign lands. Not only he did he reflect the experiences of the early inhabitants to Italy, but also aspects of religious assembly, or natural human response to the tamed and the untamed, the wild and the civilized. In Pannonia, Silvanus is the most popular Roman deity after Jupiter Optimus Maximus himself, and in the cities of Carnuntum and Aquincum he even surpassed Jupiter.
Items dedicated to Silvanus were found mainly in Roman settlements, and to the north of the province, along the limes. Nearly half of all the Pannonian inscriptions dedicated to Silvanus originate from Aquincum and Carnuntum; other major cult centres include Brigetio, Scarbantia, Savaria and Vindobona, which are all positioned in the zone of the Pannonian limes.
The land-surveyors (Scriptores gromatici veteres, I, 302) cite three aspects of Silvanus: domesticus – influencing household agency; agrestis – influencing wilderness and pastures; and orientalis – influencing border protection. From all these aspects it is obvious that Italic Silvanus was a most useful deity, explaining why he became so popular in all his varied forms.
He was very rarely portrayed with other deities, and if he was in their company it was with deities of a similar nature, i.e. the Silvanae (or Quadriviae). Furthermore, he very rarely appears paired with one of the official deities of the classical pantheon, and even more rarely with the deities of the oriental mystery cults.
The aspect of Orientalis in Silvanus’ cult is not recognizable from the votive inscriptions and figural monuments representing him. However, the distribution of the votive inscriptions dedicated to Silvanus clearly shows that the aspect of Silvanus as the guard of the borders i.e. Orientalis could have been known to his votaries (soldiers and civilians). The question is: what else are we missing?
The Materiality of Religion in the Civilian Settlement of Porolissum (Roman Dacia)
Dan Augustin Deac
The contribution brings forward eight unpublished terracotta statuettes discovered in different areas of the civilian settlement at Porolissum (Roman Dacia) in the last two decades. These new statuettes depict either Venus or Genius Cucullatus. This paper analyses the iconography of the above mentioned statuettes, and contextualizes them in the local milieu. Therefore, one can highlight the way minor materiality of religion portrays a complex image of the private religious manifestations in the settlement from Porolissum and contributes to a better understanding of the religious behavior of the local population in the larger frame of the religious manifestations in Roman Dacia.
New evidence for the worship of Epona on the Danubian limes
During a recent revision of collections in the Greek and Roman Department of the Archaeological museum in Zagreb, several unpublished Roman stone monuments came to light, including one altar dedicated to Epona and the Dii Campestres. The subsequent scrutiny of museum’s archives established its findspot, the village of Dalj on the Danube, i.e ancient Teutoburgium. The altar was likely erected in the early 3rd century AD by the prefect of the Ala I Civium Romanorum.
Archaeological monuments of Silvanus and his cult community (Mars, Diana, “woodland deities”) in part of Danube limes in Serbia
So far known, the monuments dedicated to the god Silvanus and his cult community (Mars, Diana, “the woodland deities”) on the territory of Serbia testify to the one of the most respected Roman deities of this area. Of course, the monuments dedicated to this cult have been discovered also along the part of the Danube limes which is part of Serbia today.
The epigraph end the relief monuments dedicated to Silvanus were discovered in Belgrade (Vracar, Kalemegdan, Zemun), Viminacium (the four monuments, on one of which the Silvanus is worshipped together with Apollo and Diana, while another is dedicated to the “woodland deities”), Guberevac, Stojnik and Smederevo. On the monument, built in the walls of Smederevo Fortress, is a relief with the images of Jupiter, Silvanus and Mars. The figurine of Silvanus was found in Novi Banovci, and the silver chalice with the image of this deity originates from Jabucje near Lazarevac.It is possible that there was a shrine dedicated to Silvanus in the Lower Town on Kalemegdan.
The votive monument dedicated to Mars was found in Viminacium. The statuettes of this deity originate from the Lower Town in Belgrade, Viminacium (two pieces), Dusanovac near Negotin, Pontes and the unknown locality in Podunavlje. The relief images of Mars are presented on the golden ring from Belgrade, the parade armour from Ritopek and sceptres from Viminacium and Margum.
There was a fortification near Karatas on Danube, which bore a name of the godess Diana (Statio Cataractum Diana). The votive monuments dedicated to the goddess were found in Viminacium (four pieces) and Stojnik. The releif image of Diana are presented on a cameo from Viminacium and a pendant from Guberevac. The statuettes which present the goddess originated from Viminacium and the unknown locality. There are also the symbolic images which may be in relation to the cult of Diana.
The archaeological findings testify to the significant worship of the Silvanus cult community along the Danube limes on the territory of today’s Serbia.
Embodied religion: Norico-Pannonian gestural language on funerary monuments
On Roman funerary monuments in the provinces of Noricum and Pannonia the right and left hands of deceased were de-picted in a variety of gestural combinations. Portraits of indi-viduals exhibit numerous choices in how to have their hands depicted, ranging from index- and middle-finger extended gesture to a gesture known as ‘horns-of-the-bull’. The con-temporary scholarship often sees these gestures as being signs of Roman citizenship, intellectual superiority, or social status and often accredits them with being attention-getting and, thus, carrying no other meaning than that (Heyn 2010). In some cases, a more positivistic approach is taken, with some of the gestures seen without any particular designation or inter-pretation except that of a fashion or visual convention (Hainzmann 1991).
The present paper presents the analysis of gestures of hands on ca 500 funerary tombstones found in the Roman provinces of Noricum and Pannonia and dated to the late first-third centu-ries AD. It decodes hidden meanings behind particular ges-tures used within the non-verbal medium of funerary monu-ment and proposes that various gestures on tombstones were applied as a form of narration to project particular messages to the audience. Many cultures that made up Roman Empire shared knowledge that the hands and gestures hold power, be it apotropaic and/or protective, or connected to the fertility, rebirth and/or afterlife. It is evident that each culture or tribal entity were deliberately using the gestural language in the art and material culture medium to project and emphasize their aspects of belief systems that were unique to them. The presentation discusses whether Norico-Pannonian funeral ges-tural language reflected peculiar to the region symbolic and religious beliefs, e.g. the beliefs about afterlife and deities that guarded the entrance to the afterworld.
Hainzmann, M. 1991. ‘Schriftrolle und Schwurgestus. Neue Beobachtun-gen zu einem alten Bildmotiv’, In M. Hainzmann, D. Kramer and E. Pochmarski (eds), Akten des 1. Internationalen Kolloquiums über Probleme des provinzialrömischen Kunstschaffens. Wien: VWGÖ, 120-146.
Heyn, M. K. 2010. ‘Gesture and identity in the funerary art of Palmyra,’ American Journal of Archaeology 114, 631-661.
Local cults for Roman use: The sanctuary of Dominus Plester and Diana Plestrensis
The paper examines the epigraphic evidence from a sanctuary in Moesia Inferior dedicated to the cult of Plester – a previously unknown deity – and Diana with the epithet Plestrensis. The place of the sanctuary at the confluence of the rivers Beli Lom and Cherni Lom allows us to identify Plester as god of the river formed there – now named Rusenski Lom – which flows into the Danube at Sexaginta Prista, station of the Flavian Moesian fleet. Inscriptions of provincial governors and centuriones regionarii attest the official character of the cult and the importance of the sanctuary. According to two inscriptions, a temple for Diana Plestrensis was initially built under Hadrian and then reconstructed by a provincial governor whose names were subsequently subjected to damnatio memoriae and not read by previous editors of the inscription. We are now able to read the names as those of T. Flavius Sulpicianus, a famous person in Roman history, father-in-law of Pertinax and contestant for the throne in AD 193, but previously unattested as governor of Moesia Inferior.
Expressing regional and professional religious identities in Roman army: the case of female cavalry “sports” helmets
The paper deals with the question of the emergence of wider regional and professional religious identities within the broad framework of Roman “military religion”. Using the case study of so-called “cavalry sports” helmets with female masks, it is argued that in the semi-official sphere of religious activities of soldiers and units one can observe a particular development. Over the course of time, certain elements of equipment, their decoration, use and symbolic meaning were adapted to express the particular religious needs of groups within the army. In the case study, it is argued that the developments within the category of parade equipment should be viewed as resulting from the formation of common religious identities connecting cavalrymen stationing on the Danubian limes in the 2nd century CE. Within this group of soldiers, heterogenous in origin, both a professional (through serving in the same branch of the military) and a regional identity appeared. Those common elements of religious identity among cavalrymen on the Danube were based around the worship of deities protecting horses and riders, and expressed through the use of helmets with female masks in various cult activities, such as temple or river offerings, chosen according to individual decision. Both the needs and the ways in which they were fulfilled were products of regional connectivity, acculturation, the emergence of a frontier society, exposure to the official military religion and shared experiences of the soldiers in the region. The whole process represents a striking example of a brand new development, where various elements of different origins together with new inventions and ideas were catalysed under the influence of Roman military religion to create a new quality. This final result not only was particular to the soldiers, but also served to distinguish specific groups within the army, showing that the Roman “military religion” was increasingly turning into a set of regionally varied expressions of the needs and identities within a growingly self-conscious social group rather than an official, state way of organising and controlling cult activities.
Votum solvit! – Sanctifications of military personal and a new sacred area in Roman Nida (Frankfurt am Main-Heddernheim)
The urban settlement Nida (Frankfurt am Main-Heddernheim) was the center of Roman settlement north of the river Main. Originating from the military vicus of an auxiliary fort, which was built around AD 75 and abandoned around 110/115 AD, Nida became the capital of the Civitas (Ulpia?) Taunensium, probably already under Traian. The local authority included the entire hinterland of the limes north of the Main. During the 2nd century AD, Nida grew to the administrative, economic and cultural center of the region. Numerous sanctifications, including the outstanding Jupiter columns, also point to the importance of the city as a religious center. Among the founders of the inscriptions are numerous members of the Roman military. Soldiers of the 22. Legion, as well as men of the auxiliary units represented at the Limes, donated altars and votives. So far, however, there were no sanctuaries apart from four mithraic temples that would have been assigned to the deities handed down through inscriptions.
Since the 2016, ongoing excavations in the center of Nida have produced outstanding new insights. The investigations succeeded in the discovery of a walled sacred area with several small chapels and two large stone buildings, probably to be interpreted as temples. The formerly representative buildings were erected in the 2nd and 3rd century AD on the approximately 3500 m2 area. The excavated material gives some impressions of the deities worshiped at the place. A votive to Iupiter Dolichenus makes it possible to answer the long open question as to the location of the sanctuary of this deity. Thus, the origin of the known dedications of Roman soldiers to this deity of Oriental origin in the inventory of the Archaeological Museum Frankfurt should be clarified. The only donor mentioned so far on a newly discovered dedicatory inscription is a duplicarius of the 22. Legion. Besides Jupiter, Mercury, Diana and the horse goddess Epona have also been documented locally.
Especially the more than 150 “cult pits” on the area promise interesting results for the evaluation. There are many indications that in these structures the remains of offerings were deposited. The objects from the filling of these “cult pits” thus provide unique insights into the ritual practices in the temple district of Nida. They are outstanding findings for the understanding of religious practices in a sanctuary in the Germanic provinces of the Roman Empire.
Religion in the making in Roman Dacia: space sacralisation and religious appropriation on the frontiers of the Empire
Roman Dacia became part of Trajan’s empire in 106 A.D. and in 150 years created a society which produced more than 150 archaeologically, epigraphically attested sacralised spaces commonly known as sanctuaries. This paper will discuss the current notion of lived ancient religion, testing it on a perypheral area of the Roman Empire. The paper will discuss the notion of space sacralisation, as one of the major agencies of Roman religious communication through case studies from Roman Dacia. Presenting sanctuaries and sacralised spaces from primary (private), secondary and public spaces, the paper will emphasize the local specificities of space sacralisation, religious appropriation and the social aspects of religious communication in Dacia.
Ritual Artefacts: Right or Wrong?
As Shakespeare wrote, a rose by any other name is still a rose; yet, when it comes to so-called ritual artefacts – particularly those in the ‘small finds’ category – this is much less likely!
“The term ritual has been used to describe a wide variety of practices, actions and utterances preserved in surviving literary, documentary and archaeological evidence from the ancient world” (REAMR) and the interpretation of its definition remains one that is frequently debated and discussed.
While it is fairly impossible to argue that altars, dedication slabs and the like are not ritual artefacts, the function and meaning of myriad small finds found at sanctuaries and other such places may be rather more ambiguous and opaque.
This paper will review current scholarship and perceptions on ritual and ritual objects and will examine the finds from select cults, such as that of Jupiter Dolichenus and Mithras, in this context.