sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 1

Alejandro G. Sinner / Víctor Revilla Calvo (eds.): Religious Dynamics in a Microcontinent

The book under review is the first volume in the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World series. It includes twelve essays on Roman religion in Hispania in its various cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious contexts. The book is divided into two parts: the first, Rituals in context: Spaces, Scenarios and Landscapes, explores major topics such as the spatial organization of cult spaces, the forms of religious expression of the devotees, and how these sacred places served to promote a sense of community.

Grau opens this section analysing the processes of religious transformation in the sanctuaries of Iberian communities in the eastern peninsula between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE. He discusses how the conquest led to territorial restructuring and a reinvention of ritual practices, but he also identifies strong local reminiscences in the continuity of temples as markers of the symbolic landscape and in the regional variations of votive offerings. Grau argues that local communities could construct their "religious landscapes" and collective memory based on their cultural needs and perceptions as new political identities.

Moving to the other side of Iberia, Schattner examines the religious landscapes of the Gallaecian-Lusitanian communities, to classify the (mostly rural) sanctuaries. To this end, he creates a taxonomy with six different typologies, based on their organisational structure, their architectural characteristics, or the nature of the ritual deposits. Schattner's article is a bold attempt to establish order in an extremely heterogeneous religious environment. However, the classification is somewhat ineffective due to the limited examples identified and the significant temporal gaps between some of the cases grouped within the same typology. Nevertheless, his contribution illustrates the disparate nature of rural cult spaces of Western Iberia.

Subsequently, Mayer analyses a group of well known "rock sanctuaries", reviewing the main hypotheses in relation to rituals, deities and religious realities of these places. He examines specific religious phenomena, such as the participation of magistrates in the ceremonies identified at Cales Coves, to conclude that both the epigraphic and ritual expressions of these places are fully Roman, although the indigenous substratum may have had a decisive influence on their configuration.

Sinner and Revilla present a series of reflections on numerous issues related to the study of rural sanctuaries, conceiving them as dynamically interconnected with the urban world, where religious practices were also the result of identity construction processes developed by different social groups. They argue that local elites were responsible for the redefinition of cults, gods and rites, in order to contribute to the creation of civic identities that would facilitate the integration of people in their communities. Thus, the religious expressions of rural sanctuaries were as varied as the communities that built them, with cults influenced by both particular (individual) and collective (civic) interests.

Edmondson also addresses the issue of the relationship between the cults of a Roman city and its territory, as well as the role played by local elites in their configuration and development. He takes the colonia Augusta Emerita as a case study. Edmondson emphasizes that both locals and outsiders participated in the colony's cults, where the most typical deities of the Roman pantheon blended with the worship of local gods. The latter played a key role in articulating the "pantheons" of the local community in such a way as to maintain certain elements of the cultural memory of the indigenous past, while at the same time creating new narratives, traditions and identities.

To conclude this first part, Pérez Ruiz examines domestic cult from pre-Roman times to the Early Empire. Despite the prevalence of Italic typologies from the first century AD, she emphasizes the presence of certain "hybrid" rituals and religious practices of domestic cult in Hispania influenced by the pre-existing cultural substrate, particularly in the location of domestic worship spaces in areas open to guests.

The second part of the book, Strategies, Mechanisms, and Practice. Collective Identities and Private Agency, contains six chapters that delve more deeply into the construction of identity through the creation or adaptation of cults by political or social elites. Woolf discusses the impact that the conquest had on the Iberian 'microcontinent': an extraordinarily diverse territory in terms of geography, culture, ethnicity, and language, populated by countless "autonomous communities" with distinctive local identities, which were transformed by the territorial, political and legal restructuring carried out by Rome. According to Woolf, religion was a cultural institution in which local and regional traditions are preserved but adapted to the new situation. This is particularly noticeable not only in the enormous variety of local theonomy, but also in the distinctive ways in which "global" cults such as the imperial cult developed.

Looking more specifically into the strategies used by Iberian communities to construct their own identities, Campos Díaz examines how the iconography of coins can illuminate (too often with significant limitations) the religious world of the cities that issued them, as well as the political, economic, and social interests of the elites responsible for that iconography.

Mayorgas explores the construction of the cultural memory of Rome in Hispania using narratives related to mythical figures in Roman history. She analyses the decorative programmes of several Hispanic cities and evidence potentially related to Roman mythical or religious traditions, such as the Lupercalia, the Parilia or the she-wolf. She convincingly argues that, with few exceptions, there is no evidence for the development of institutionalized worship of these mythical figures. Instead, what we observe is the adaptation by local authorities to their provincial reality, emphasizing their Roman identity as a strategy of self-promotion.

Along similar lines Revilla analyses how the community of Sagunto constructed its cultural memory, its identity and its history based on two main vectors: the narratives about the Greek or Latin origins of its first inhabitants, and its role as an independent political entity that demonstrated unconditional loyalty (fides) to Rome during the Punic Wars. Religion played a decisive role in defining Sagunto's "special" position through the institution of a series of traditional Greek and Latin cults, rituals, and priesthoods (such as the Salii), enabling the local elite to establish connections with the Roman past and construct a shared history with the Urbs. Through these strategies the Saguntine elite sought to instantiate Augustus' message of restauration and renovatio, promoting a civic history that was more glorious than that of neighbouring cities.

Subsequently, Marco Simón discusses the introduction and development of "the imperial cults", studying their initial manifestations. He argues that the imperial cult was not so much imposed but rather emerged spontaneously through the initiative of local elites through processes of "inducement and emulation". The cult seems to have been established initially by individuals of senatorial rank but was quickly promoted by local elites to demonstrate their loyalty to the state and to buttress their authority.

In the final chapter, McCarty and Edher analyse the "oriental cults", focusing on Mithras and Isis. They demonstrate that these were not "reified cults" that could simply be picked up from one place and dropped in another, associated with specific social groups based on common origins, but were rather transformed and reinterpreted by various agents to enhance their authority within the power dynamics of their respective communities. The article aligns with the theoretical framework of Lived Ancient Religion with some interesting new case studies, but to some extent it is reacting to issues that have already been addressed (e.g. Alvar's 2019 monograph on the cult of Mithras, Gasparini's 2020 article on the agency of Calpurnius Rufinus in Panóias, or Gasparini and Alvar 2020 work on the introduction of the Isiac cults in Hispania published in Bibliotheca Isiaca). As such, this paper cannot be said to supersede the diffusionist model that conceived these oriental cults as "reified religious cultural practices" it sets itself up against.

Religious Dynamics in a Microcontinent represents the culmination of several lines of research on religious phenomena in the Iberian Peninsula, showcasing new ideas and concepts developed within the framework of LAR. The integration and adaptation of local cults in the new Roman order are represented as a mechanism for defining new identities, promoting specific interests, or enhancing social status by the various agents acting in a changing reality. Many chapters work with the theoretical framework of civic religion, emphasising the role of local elites in shaping the (urban and rural) cults of the new civic communities that emerged under Roman rule. This underscores how most of the evidence we have for ancient religion in Hispania derives overwhelmingly from oligarchic activity. Yet the authors underline the importance of individual agency in creating highly localized cults, as opposed to the homogeneous and globalizing trends inherent in the process of "Romanization". One shortcoming to note is that the study of certain phenomena, such as the perception of polyhedral figures like IOM, Hercules, or other deities through the study of epithets, could have yielded more fertile results in these matters. Even so, this volume marks a significant contribution to our understanding of a vast range of cult activity in Iberia and to the different methodologies required to study it.

Rezension über:

Alejandro G. Sinner / Víctor Revilla Calvo (eds.): Religious Dynamics in a Microcontinent. Cult Places, Identities, and Cultural Change in Hispania (= Archaeology of the Mediterranean World; 1), Turnhout: Brepols 2022, 246 S., ISBN 978-2-503-59545-0, EUR 110,00

Rezension von:
José Carlos López Gómez
Departamento de Ciencias Históricas, Universidad de Málaga
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José Carlos López Gómez: Rezension von: Alejandro G. Sinner / Víctor Revilla Calvo (eds.): Religious Dynamics in a Microcontinent. Cult Places, Identities, and Cultural Change in Hispania, Turnhout: Brepols 2022, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 1 [15.01.2024], URL:

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