Organiser: Valentino Gasparini (University of Erfurt)
This session takes place on Thursday, 17 March 2016 from 09:00-13:00
Recent research has highlighted ways in which semantic memories are constantly recreated, allowing for the shaping of both collective and individual identities, and has raised questions about the role of rituals in the process of perpetuating cultural and individual memories. The performance of religious rituals offers a means for social groups to reaffirm their cohesion through a « dramatic » experience which energizes shared emotional states and reinforces the individually lived participation through a symbolically-articulated communication. The bodily arousal of emotions represents an efficient strategy which allows communities to recover an experience of direct continuity with foundational (either real or imagined) events even situated in a remote past.
This session aims to investigate, through the magnifying glass of archaeology, how this memorialisation was constructed in the Roman world through kinesthetic forms of dance, gesture, and/or theatrical performances, potentially combined with the spoken or written word. A very selective group of scholars from different methodological backgrounds and with a wide range of expertise in archaeology as well as in history of religions have been invited to explore this challenging issue.
This session is made up of six papers.
“The Theatre-Temple Pattern in the Italic Sanctuaries: Origins and Functions”
Alessandro D’Alessio (Soprintendenza Speciale per il Colosseo, il Museo Nazionale Romano e l’Area Archeologica di Roma)
The distinction and concomitance of spaces of the gods, of men and the sharing of the sacred have been highlighted by John Scheid, precisely in relation to the case of the terraced Romano-Italic sanctuaries, where the different architectural levels contributed at the same time to the appropriate separation and correlation of these “hierarchical” domains (although still forming part of a common characterisation of the sacred landscape, in compliance with the Plinian “precept” that human space must be part of the same ensemble as the divine, without, however, merging with it). In this perspective, the axial combination of a cavea and a temple in some Romano-Italic sanctuaries (e.g. Arezzo, Cagliari, Gabii, Hispellum, Munigua, Pietrabbondante, Pietravairano, Praeneste, Rome, Teanum and Tibur) configured, between the late-Republican and Imperial times, an architectural pattern representing a “new” response to older religious and ritual needs. This system allowed a possible dual use of space, physical and symbolic, constantly looking for a symbiotic tension between experience of inner (properly architectural) spaces and outer (environmental) ones. This pattern allowed the practitioners to discover (gradually or suddenly) the ritual spaces through a complex balance between standing and movement, form and function, structure and meaning. The atmospheres created by these architectures and their surroundings were clearly intended to raise emotional states during rituals and to perpetuate individual or collective memories.
“Inside Out: Spectacularisation of Grief and Joy in Isiac Hilaria”
Valentino Gasparini (University of Erfurt)
The Egyptian funerary rites of Osiris caught very early the attention of the Graeco-Roman sources, and Xenophanes among them, who in the 6th cent. BCE was already inviting the Egyptians not to worship Osiris as immortal if then they cried his death. Almost a millenium later, Christian apologetical literature (Arnobius, Firmicus Maternus, Lactantius, Minucius Felix and many others) was still complaining about the Isiaci beating their chest and imitating both the grief of Isis, looking for her lost brother and husband, and her joy at the moment of finding him (the so-called Inventio Osiridis or Hilaria). The excessive emotional involvement of the devotees participating to these ceremonies, the peculiar “dramatic” imitation of Isis’ feelings (pain as well as joy), and its annual repetition represented an instrument of memorialisation of Isis’ mythical deeds which, by recreating the presumably related emotional states, reinforced the feedback between performers and audience and perpetuated their cultural memories. This paper aims to explore chronology, contents and meaning of the Roman festival of the Isia (culminating with the Hilaria of November the 3rd), and, in particular, focusses on the archaeological evidence that may allow to understand which spaces, objects and agents were involved in these Isiac rituals.
“Activating the Circus: Sacred Space, Collective Performance and Spectactor Memories”
Sinclair Bell (Northern Illinois University)
Roman culture was a performance culture and the Circus Maximus was its grandest stage. The earliest chariot races were said to have been held in the Vallis Murcia at Rome’s founding in the context of religious ritual, and the Circus Maximus remained a hallowed venue for the renewal of Rome’s religious identity though the performance of public ceremonial events, such as the pompa circensis. As spectators, Romans not only bore witness to such choreographed set-pieces with their numenous casts, but also became engaged participants – indeed, actors – in performances that encouraged the communal reenactment of the city’s deep past. At the same time, the official theology embedded in such processions might also provoke individual, unscripted responses from audience members, as we know from Ovid (Amores 3.2.44-54), among others. Processions such as the pompa circensis can thus be thought of as “performed theology,” one “embedded and embodied in sacred places and ritual practice – theology was material and especially performed”. For these reasons, the circus is a rich site for undertaking an archaeological approach to religious performance in the Roman world. This paper looks at the structure of the circus itself and select material culture related to the games, including devotional objects and souvenirs, in order to consider how they embody official protocols of seeing as well as highly personalized responses. For while it is clear that the ceremonial events at the circus, such as the pompae, were intended to act as signposts to a shared history and in this way to promote social cohesion and collective “identity,” these same events also had the potential to trigger associations and catalyze memories for individual Romans, like Ovid. Such experiences could be embodied in their gestural responses in the stands or enshrined through the material artifacts they purchased, commissioned and dedicated.
“Stirring Scenes: Performing Religion in the Roman East”
Frederick G. Naerebout (University of Leiden)
When looking at commemoration, memorialization and other ways of identity production, the importance of performances, in the wide sense of public events, can hardly be underestimated. There we have the occasions where people tell themselves about themselves (rephrasing Clifford Geertz). Performances are a central component of ‘lived religion’ – which has recently come to the fore as a focal point of research. An important part of performances consists of kinetic behaviours, and these even gain in importance when the setting is rather less verbalized than the world in which most people live now. In ancient societies too the non-verbal modes of communication loomed larger than we can readily imagine, especially in the form of dance. Dance was usually conceived as the movement component of mousikē, which included music and poetry, that is to say: dance was performed to instrumental accompaniment and to song. The dance that I will discuss is dance performed in a cultic context. This follows from the fact that most performances that have been documented for Antiquity are of a religious nature (indeed, it would be wrong to try to find explicitly non-religious performances). In the context of TRAC the challenge is to approach performative religion, especially dance, from a primarily archaeological point of view. In the Roman East, relevant imagery seems rather sparse compared to Hellenistic and earlier periods. First we have to establish whether this is indeed the case, and if it is, why we see this falling off of imagery while written evidence does not, or not obviously, point towards any decline in the popularity of dancing. Certainly, there is more evidence then is usually supposed or suggested: when one takes, for instance, the ThesCRA, there is an unbalance to be addressed. Where imagery fails us, we have to think of architecture: temple theatres immediately spring to mind, but a fresh look at some sanctuaries might suggest other ways to link specific architectural features to performance.
“Choreographing Religious Spectacle: Processional Movement at Ostia”
Katherine Crawford (University of Southampton)
Religious processions were carefully choreographed events intended to relay a variety of messages. Despite their acknowledged regularity within the Roman world, our understanding of processional movement, and in particular urban processions, remains extremely limited. Studies concerning triumphal, funerary, and circus processions dominate current scholarship due to their greater documentation by the ancient literary sources. These processions, however, formed only a fraction of Roman processional activity. Consideration of urban processions at Ostia, Rome’s ancient port, provides the focus for an innovative analysis of how processions functioned within the cityscape, contributing to the broader experience of religion by the population. As the record of the performance of processions was primarily held in the memories of those who took part or heard about them, the ways in which they can be studied are challenging. Possible patterns of movement and the visibility of processions within Ostia will be considered by applying a methodology that builds upon previous urban, spatial, and movement studies. It is argued that this kind of approach makes it possible for us to gain a clearer understanding of the engagement of both participants and spectators. This can bring us closer to understanding shared religious experiences that ultimately illustrate the dynamic relationship that existed between religious spaces and the negotiation of ritual activities.
“Performing the Rituals of Imperial Cult in Late Antique Rome: Temples, Topography, and Inscriptions”
Douglas Boin (Saint Louis University)
This presentation describes the performance of emperor worship in Late Antiquity by looking at the archaeological record of fourth and fifth century CE Rome. It does so while also articulating the need for greater methodological rigor in the study of Late Antique political ritual, material culture, memory, and religion. Notwithstanding important new work in the field of Roman religion, which has challenged the monolithic idea of “the imperial cult” (J. Brodd, and J. Reed, eds., [Atlanta, 2011]), the study of emperor worship in Late Antiquity remains stunted by a reliance on anachronistic social-historical frameworks and under-theorized approaches. After reviewing this literature and discussing particularly relevant insights from the study of political ritual and performance (such as D. Kertzer, Ritual, Politics, and Power [Yale, 1989]), the balance of my presentation examines archaeological evidence from Rome to argue for continuities in emperor worship into the later Roman period. Contrary to claims that emperor worship was inherently in tension with Christianity and was eliminated with the rise of “Christian Rome,” I suggest here that it remained an essential political ritual because it could be “performed” in a multitude of ways. These performances, both in text and in architecture, engaged with a preexisting topography of temples and sites pregnant with memories of the Roman past. Monuments and sites to be discussed include the inscription erected in 431 CE in the Forum of Trajan (CIL 6.1783) which names Theodosius I as “divus”; the Temple of the Gens Flavia on the Quirinal Hill; and the anonymous Christian basilica-mausoleum complex on the via Praenestina.