Scholia Reviews ns 11 (2002) 1.

E. Bispham and C. Smith (edd.), Religion in Archaic and Republican Rome and Italy. Evidence and Experience. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. Pp. xiv + 199. ISBN 0-7486-1431-1 UKú16.95.

Alex Nice
University of the Witwatersrand

Eight of the essays in this volume were presented at a one day conference held at the University of Edinburgh in May 1997: Nicole Bourque, 'An anthropologist's view of ritual' (pp. 19-33); Vedia Izzet, 'Tuscan order: the development of Etruscan sanctuary architecture' (pp. 34-53); Fay Glinister, 'Sacred rubbish' (pp. 54-70); Olivier de Cazanove, 'Some thoughts on the 'religious romanisation' of Italy before the Social War' (pp. 71-76); Emmanuele Curti, 'From Concordia to the Quirinal: notes on religion and politics in mid-Republican/Hellenistic Rome' (pp. 77-91); J. A. North, 'Prophet and text in the third century BC' (pp. 92-107); T. P. Wiseman, 'The games of Hercules' (pp. 108-14); Andreas Bendlin, 'Looking beyond the civic compromise: religious pluralism in late republican Rome' (pp. 115-35). A ninth has been added by one of the joint editors, Christopher Smith: 'Worshipping Mater Matuta: ritual and context' (pp. 136-55).

Bispham's introductory chapter (pp. 1-18) sets the scene; the papers are intended to demonstrate new methodologies and approaches. The aim is to break down preconceived ideas regarding the concept of a specifically Roman religion which remained static, to embrace concepts of dynamism and interaction, and to move towards 'a deconstruction of the term Roman' (p. 1). This volume is an exercise wherein the contributors explore the how and the what of Roman religion and not just the when, where and who, through literary, epigraphic, numismatic, artistic and archaeological evidence. An obvious debt is owed to the recent revisionist approaches of Beard, North and Price, and Feeney.[[1]]

This chapter includes an essay (pp. 5-18) which explores the associations between the various contributions and attempts to situate the papers within the wider context of current trends in Roman religion. Its stated purpose is to provide an introduction to the subject for the benefit of those with 'little prior knowledge' (p. 5). To this end it does an admirable job, although given the specialist nature of the subject matter, I wonder how many non- specialists will read this book.

Bispham stresses the 'dynamism' of Roman religion; its ability to change in response to external stimuli, to be influenced by the forces around it, such as literature; and for individuals to construct their own interpretations of the Roman religious experience. The chapters that follow in one way or another provide evidence for the fluidity of the Roman and Italian religious experience. Bourque's analysis of the celebration of Corpus Christi at Sucre in the Andes demonstrates how rituals may be observed in different ways: by participants or external observers, in terms of individual motivations or social functions. Of course, classicists are unable to view their subjects first hand, Hopkins' time-travelling duo excepted,[[2]] but the anthropological approach suggests that we need to be sensitive to the different ways in which ritual may be interpreted at the time of performance. It was a disappointment not to see an attempt to relate the anthropological analysis to a Roman context.

The architecture of the Etruscan sanctuary is not an area in which this reviewer can claim any great authority, however, Izzet's careful outlining of the six major approaches to the study of Etruscan temples -- art historical and architectural history, socio- political history, components of emerging city-state, peer polity interaction, strategic demands on the location of temples -- provided a useful framework for the ensuing discussion. Her emphasis on the importance of form and the details of sanctuary construction arises from Seneca (NQ 2.32.2) who suggests that in the Etruscan world things only occur because they must have meaning. The themes and placement of decoration on the exterior of the Etruscan temple, in addition to the major architectural elements which stress the frontality of the temple, suggest that the sanctuaries are designed to accentuate difference, to separate the sacred from the profane, and to invite the visitor to collude in this interpretation.

Glinister's article maintains a focus on Italy rather than Rome, examining the disposal of architectural terracottas from sites in Italy and Rome (pp. 55-60). From the evidence it seems that choices had been made to give the material special treatment in some cases, in others to discard it. Glinister's conclusion that the special deposits within the bounds of the sanctuary should be regarded as expiatory offerings is unsurprising, given that any kind of destruction of a sacred site could be regarded as sacrilegious (p. 69).

De Cazanove's suspension of judgement regarding the anatomical votive deposits in the new Roman colonies of the third century BC is remarkable. Such deposits are evidently related to the spread of romanisation but De Cazanove has no answer for the significance of their discovery in sanctuary sites which have nothing to do with Aesculapius or other healing cult. His examination is thought-provoking but more in the shape of a conclusion might have reasonably been expected in a published article.

Through a synthesis of archaeological and literary evidence, Curti's sophisticated argument indicates that the construction of temples to Concordia and to Quirinus and festivals in honour of Honos, Concordia, Spes-Victoria and Salus (p. 82), and the appropriation of the Quirinal by the plebeians (c. 300 BC), are suggestive of a new accord between plebeians and patricians. The Wisemanesque tone which argues for the recovery of traditions and myths by the plebeians to assert their claims will not be agreeable to all but the probability that we see at this period the construction of a new Rome, politically, religiously and culturally cannot be dismissed lightly.[[3]]

In 1990 North suggested that Rome's divinatory system was marked by anonymous teams of diviners who had an oblique relationship with the art of divination.[[4]] In 1992 this view was rejected by Wiseman who argued that, in fact, Roman history reveals the presence of prophets in the forum known by name.[[5]]

Through a survey of the events of 213 BC and the subsequent discovery of the carmina Marciana, the elogia Tarquiniensia, the Sibylline prophecy of Phlegon De Mirabilia 10, North suggests here that there are alternative versions of Roman religious history which appear to reveal a richer variety of religious activity normally hidden from the historian's eyes. North's argument seems to be supported by the slim references in other writers from the second to first century BC who suggest that, in people's private lives at least, divination was not only known but readily accessible to people from all different backgrounds.[[6]]

Wiseman reinterprets the series of denarii published by the moneyer M. Volteius which represent a series of Roman games. He disputes Mommsen's 1860 identification of Hercules with the ludi plebeii and argues instead that there must have been games of Hercules in 78 BC to go alongside those of Ceres, Apollo and the Great Mother. Games of Hercules are known later in the century but only as ludi pagani, none on the grand scale suggested by the coinage. Wiseman plausibly argues that, through Sulla's heroic associations with Hercules and his erection of a temple to Hercules Magnus, games were established at the same time. He further suggests that, since games were often set up in a contentious atmosphere, the demotion of Hercules' games was an inverse of this scenario and that the reform movement of 70-67 BC provides a likely occasion for the event. As ever Wiseman's use of inventio is ingenious and there remains the probability that it happened as he says, but the lack of evidence either for the introduction of the games or for their later demotion results in nothing more than an interesting hypothesis.

Bendlin's 'market place' model of Roman religion offers a view of Roman religion in which people had individual choice as to their involvement in religious cults and rituals, leading to competition for consumers. Extended to the private sphere this allows for the competition of those types of diviners criticised by Quintus Cicero at De Divinatione 1.132, which ultimately threatened the livelihood of the Roman augurs and respectable haruspices. Bendlin's argument is persuasive and encourages us to view religion at Rome as a picture of religious pluralism. It urges the need to deconstruct and replace the traditional dichotomies (for example, state/private) and to reconstrue a more realistic image of Republican Rome. However, it relies heavily on theory and might well have benefited from a closer examination of the available source material as, for example, in the chapter by North.

The final chapter of this volume first considers the archaeological evidence for Mater Matuta at Satricum and Rome. Evidence from archaeology suggests not only an emphasis on fertility and the essence of womanhood but aspects of war and ferality. After the archaeological evidence, Smith analyses the literary evidence (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 5.656- 79; Ovid, Fasti 473-648; Horace, Carmen Saeculare; Persius Satire 2) for the cult of Mater Matuta. As Smith acknowledges (p. 146), this owes much to Feeney's intertextual approach. This approach suggests that there is an ongoing dialogue between cult practice and literature which assists in defining and constituting Roman religious practice (p. 146). He argues that if a reading of Persius' poem can bear the weight of an interpretation suggestive of Mater Matuta or Fortuna without mentioning them then it is indicative of the vibrant interaction of Roman literature with religion.

Although Smith states that his paper is not intended as a conclusion, his paper draws on previous themes. The significance of the sanctuary, discord on the exterior contrasting with the harmony and concord of the interior, reminds the reader of Izzet's approach to the Etruscan temple. The use of votive deposits to obtain contrary readings of the purpose of the temples has obvious affinities with Glinister's and De Cazanove's papers. The interpretation of literary evidence alongside the archaeological, is a constant feature of the volume. The final section, 'Cultures, contexts and beliefs' pp. 152-55, whose title recalls the subtitle of Feeney's book, offers convenient closure to this slim volume. The reader is reminded of Bispham's 'dynamism', of the interactions between literature and religion, and that the aim of this volume is to stimulate debate and on-going dialogue in a variety of interdisciplinary areas which can shed light on Roman religion.

The articles in this volume are well-written and the authors and editors have evidently taken care to ensure that their work is accessible to the widest possible audience. The majority of the papers contain a convenient appraisal of the current state of research including appropriate theoretical approaches. The contributions, however, are of varying quality. Those of Curti, North, Bendlin and Smith most directly challenge preconceived notions of Roman religious practice and behaviour during the Republic; others raise questions that are sure to stimulate the debate desired by the editors. The themes of the papers and the methodological approaches may be diverse but the authors demonstrate that Roman religion can only truly be understood through the synthesis, interpretation and reinterpretation of archaeology, numismatics, epigraphy and literature. This is a volume that should be read by anyone with a serious interest in the religious history of archaic and republican Rome.


[[1]] M. Beard, J. North and S. Price, Religions of Rome: A History. Vols. 1 & 2 (Cambridge 1998); D. Feeney, Literature and Religion at Rome: Cultures, Contexts and Beliefs (Cambridge 1998).

[[2]] K. Hopkins, A World Full of Gods (London 1999) 7-45.

[[3]] For example, this has already been expressed by T. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age (London 1995) 369: 'It was at this time that the characteristic political, social and economic structures of the classical republic began to take shape'.

[[4]] J. North, 'Diviners and divination at Rome', in M. Beard and J. North (edd.), Pagan Priests (London 1990) 49-71.

[[5]] T. P. Wiseman, 'Lucretius, Catiline and the survival of prophecy', Ostraka 1.2 (1992) 7-18 = Historiography and Imagination (Exeter 1992) 49-67.

[[6]] See, for example, North's discussion of Cato De Agr. 5.4.4: J. North, 'Diviners and divination at Rome', in M. Beard and J. North, Pagan Priests (London 1990) 59. See also A. T. Nice, Divination and Roman Historiography (Ph.D. dissertation, Exeter 1990) 52-67.