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Le donateur, l’offrande et la déesse: Systèmes votifs dans les sanctuaires de déesses du monde grec. Actes du 31e colloque international organisé par l’UMR Halma-Ipel (Université Charles-de-Gaulle/Lille 3, 13–15 Décembre 2007)

Le donateur, l’offrande et la déesse: Systèmes votifs dans les sanctuaires de déesses du monde grec. Actes du 31e colloque international organisé par l’UMR Halma-Ipel (Université Charles-de-Gaulle/Lille 3, 13–15 Décembre 2007)

Edited by Clarisse Prêtre (Kernos Suppl. 23). Pp. 337, figs. 123, tables 4. Centre International d’Étude de la Religion Grecque Antique, Liège 2009. €40. ISBN 978-2-9600717-6-4 (paper).


This volume contains 20 contributions and a summary by Pirenne-Delforge of a conference dealing with votive behavior in the Greek world. As the title indicates, the concentration is on goddesses, although some gods appear as well. There is a concentration on women as donors, but male votaries are also included. The Greek world in this case encompasses the whole Mediterranean from west to east, although the main focus lies on the eastern part; only a few western sanctuaries are specifically mentioned. The chronological span is also wide, from the end of the Geometric period into the Imperial Roman period. The contributions are divided into four sections. The first is concentrated on the donors, especially female donors and the relationship to the recipient goddess; the second on different types of offerings; the third and largest on single goddesses and the votives given to them; and the fourth contains an article dealing with the offerings from a couple of sanctuaries in the same polis, as well as a summary. However, there are no clear-cut divisions between the sections.

The authors use different sources (e.g., literary texts, inscriptions, artistic representations, archaeological material) to build their analyses and conclusions about the practice of votive offering. Although each author treats the material at hand as a source for discussing the possibility to build a votive system, to see patterns in the range of votives and in the behavior of the dedicants, the approaches range from more theoretical and methodological contributions (e.g., de Polignac, who puts the offerings in a dynamic relationship between the donor, the deity, and the witnesses to the dedication; and Larson, who uses statistics to analyze the offerings of arms and armor) to investigations of the material from a single sanctuary (e.g., articles by Durvye, Croissant, Mitsopoulou-Leon, Clinton, Bookidis).

Several contributions address the possibility (or impossibility) of identifying the donor from the votives. Is there a direct link between the type of votive and the votary? Are the votives gendered (e.g., are there typical female votives)? Although jewelery and arms may be seen as more gendered than other votives, a necklace could be dedicated by a male donor, and arms, especially as miniatures, by a female. And as Jacquemin points out, there are female donors in male sanctuaries (78–9). The same predicament is met when discussing the possible connection between the votives and the recipient. Are there votives that can only be given to a specific deity? Is it possible to identify the goddess (or god) from the offerings? The general consensus in most cases is no. Croissant, for example, argues that the donor took whatever was at hand, either buying the votive at the sanctuary or bringing it from home (189). The donors were indifferent to the intrinsic meaning of the offerings; they could choose anything and interpret it however they desired. Another difficult question that is addressed is the interpretation of the anthropomorphic figurines as representing mortals or divinities. Muller, for example, sees most of the protomes as representations of mortal women, an interpretation not shared by everyone (84–5, 94–5). Muller also suggests that votives had a conventional meaning and were part of a votive system (92), thus not interpreted arbitrarily.

As noted above, the authors approach the question of meaning and function of votive offerings from various viewpoints. For some, the concentration is on the donor and her (or his) intentions; for others, the main emphasis lies in the material, although, of course, there is interplay between these two aspects. Likewise, there are nuances in the way the authors view the relationship between the donor and the divinity. Durvye states, for example, that the dedicants adapted the divinity to their own needs (165); the donor thus played an essential role. Also, Wallensten stresses the point that the donors, in this case magistrates, influenced the character of the deity, Aphrodite (175, 178–80).

Some authors concentrate on one type of votive: Muller on protomes, Neils on textiles, Pilz on plaques, Clinton on kernoi, and Bookidis on large-scale terracottas in Corinth. Others discuss the votive ensemble in one sanctuary (as mentioned above, Durvye, Mitsopoulou-Leon, Croissant) or several sanctuaries dedicated to the same divinity (e.g., Baumbach) or to different deities (e.g., Mazarakis Ainian). Pironti and Saint-Pierre, among others, emphasize the contextualization of the votives in order to interpret them correctly. Several contributions discussing the political and public role of the votives point out that the dedicants not only made an offering out of piety but also expressed their social status by the offerings.

There are some minor points of inconsistencies worth mentioning. The Greek quotations are generally translated, except for some of those in the articles by Prêtre, Pironti, and Trippé. The table in Saint-Pierre's contribution (114) is not totally consistent with the text; the fragments of ostrich eggs are not included, and the faience figurines mentioned in the text seem to be a "recipient (pyxide)" in the table. It is certainly possible to interpret the abbreviations used in some of the figures in Larson's article using the main text, but a list of abbreviations would have helped the reader—"mbsh" in figure 6 on page 130 is not immediately understandable (miniature bronze shield, if I have understood it correctly). On page 142, Neils discusses textile offerings as propitiation with examples from the Iliad and Statius' Thebaid, stating that "[i]n both instances Hera is no doubt invoked," although the women turn to Athena in the Iliad, as she has correctly stated some sentences before.

The volume ends with a short, somewhat confusing index. It is difficult to understand the principles guiding the choice of index words. Some terms that one would have expected to see are left out (e.g., many of the places and sanctuaries mentioned in the text). And when a place-name is included, not all instances that appear in the text are listed. One could have wished for a more complete index that also included references to ancient authors, inscriptions, and types of votives, as in another volume in the Kernos supplementary series (E. Stavrianopoulou, ed. Ritual and Communication in the Graeco-Roman World. Kernos Suppl. 16 [Liège 2006]).

The volume gives a cross-section of the questions that may be raised by the votive material. It is an interesting example of how one can use different methods and different source material and apply different approaches to the evidence in an attempt to give a more systematic picture of the varied field of votive offerings. There are divergences in the way the authors look at the dedicators, the gifts, and the divinities, and the relationship between them; however, all the authors have tried to elucidate this difficult and somewhat elusive material. The outcome is not an all-encompassing system; it is one of various systems. It gives valuable insight into the many ways to look at votive offerings. Another volume dedicated to the votaries, the gifts, and the god (le dieu) would be an interesting counterpart.

Brita Alroth
Department of Archaeology and Ancient History
Uppsala University
P.O. Box 626
751 26 Uppsala

Book Review of Le donateur, l’offrande et la déesse: Systèmes votifs dans les sanctuaires de déesses du monde grec, edited by Clarisse Prêtre

Reviewed by Brita Alroth

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 116, No. 1 (January 2012)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1161.Alroth

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