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Religious Convergence in the Ancient Mediterranean

Religious Convergence in the Ancient Mediterranean

Edited by Sandra Blakely and Billie Jean Collins (Studies in Ancient Mediterranean Religions 2). Atlanta: Lockwood Press 2019. Pp. xxix + 565. $59.95. ISBN 9781948488167 (paper).

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This volume publishes 24 papers originally presented at a conference sponsored by the Society for Ancient Mediterranean Religions, held in Palermo, Sicily, in 2016. The theme of the conference was convergence and the use of religious practice as a tool of convergence. The conference conveners, who are also the volume editors, emphasize their interest in exploring how the concept of convergence encourages scholars to move away from binary oppositional models to focus on cross-cultural communication across boundaries using a variety of media, including written documents, oral traditions, and material culture, to reveal both symmetrical and asymmetrical contacts. This rather open definition of religious convergence is reflected in the publication’s equally generalized organization, as the papers are grouped into four broad headings: site, text, object, and action. Yet despite the efforts of editor Sandra Blakely to pull the diverse subject matter together in her introduction, several of the papers engage only briefly with the general theme of religious convergence and seem aimed at specialists rather than a cross-disciplinary audience. The idea of convergence in the ancient Mediterranean world appears most effectively in the papers that explore cross-cultural influences through contacts between diverse ethnic groups. This is particularly evident in papers that deal with Sicily and the western Mediterranean. Another set of papers focuses on Anatolia, and this geographical area, too, provides a good means to examine cross-cultural convergence.

The largest number of papers address topics related to Sicily and its heritage of indigenous, Greek, and Punic cult traditions. The island’s central role in the dissemination of cult practices between the eastern and western Mediterranean regions forms the subject of several papers. Amelia Brown and Rebecca Smith discuss the evidence for cults of Aphrodite on coastal sites and consider how the goddess’ role as the patron of seafarers and protector of harbors spread from the eastern Mediterranean region to Sicily and southern Italy. Margaret Miles discusses temple architecture at Segesta, contrasting the Greek character of the surviving remains with the literary and epigraphical evidence for the city’s Elymian origins. Rosella Giglio surveys the varied cultic material from Lilibeum, while Sarah Morris discusses the evidence for ethnically mixed traditions in cult practice at Segesta during the city’s Greek period and its post-Punic conquest. Taking a different chronological focus, Sebastiano Tusa reviews the evidence for cult practice during the Sicilian Neolithic and offers a careful and compelling argument for a significant change in practice and belief from the Paleolithic to Neolithic, as Sicily shifted from a hunter-gatherer to an agricultural economy.

The Punic presence in Sicily and the western Mediterranean is the subject of several papers. Federica Spagnoli’s paper presents a fascinating and detailed study of the temple of Ba’al in Motya, covering both the architectural development of the sanctuary and an analysis of the votive deposits found there. Lorenzo Nigro discusses evidence for the sanctuary of Astarte at Motya and examines how the cult of the Phoenician goddess was adapted to changing cult practices, eventually melding with the cult of Venus Eryx, while Francesca Olivieri reviews further evidence for the cult of Venus Erycina and her association with the sea. Adriano Orsingher reviews the use of masks in cult practice, in particular a group of masks from Carthage, and analyzes how the repertory of mask types expands in the Archaic and Classical periods to include female figures, Black Africans, and increasingly masks that show Greek influence, such as Silenos characters. José Miguel Puebla Morón discusses the use of Greek visual images on the coinage of Sicilian Punic cities. His paper analyzes how the iconographic forms of Greek deities were used to depict Punic gods and the impact of this practice on Punic imagery in both religious and economic spheres.

In a rather abrupt change of subject matter, another set of papers addresses questions connected with Anatolian cult practice. Many of them deal with aspects of Hittite cult. Topics investigated include the relationship of Hittite to Mesopotamian ritual (Elizabeth Rieken), Hittite mythology (Suzanne Görke), and the relationship between rituals in the Hittite homeland in central Anatolia and other regions in the Hittite empire, in the southeastern land of Kizzuwatna, or Cilicia (Amir Gilan) and in the western region of Arzawa, or Caria (Billie Jean Collins). Anatolian cult during the first millennium BCE also receives attention. Virginia Herrmann offers a detailed discussion of a recently discovered stele from Zincirli (ancient Sam’al). Her paper uses the stele’s visual scene and text to examine the political and social status of independent kingdoms in southeastern Anatolia during the ninth and eighth centuries BCE, as the region was increasingly drawn in the orbit of the Assyrian empire. Other papers address issues concerning contacts between Anatolian and Greek cult traditions. Mary Bachvarova examines Mesopotamian and Hittite sources for the Anatolian legends of Angdistis and sacred mountains from Bronze Age and Iron Age traditions, involving both literary versions of Hittite epic and popular mythology transmitted orally. Ian Rutherford proposes parallels between coming-of-age cult ceremonies in a Hittite center on the southern Black Sea coast and Greek rites, such as the young “bears” who served the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron in Attica. Annick Payne contributes a valuable survey of Lydian deities attested epigraphically in Lydian texts and offers new readings to correct some frequently cited errors.

The volume also includes several papers that do not fit into the two major geographical emphases. Each article focuses on a discrete subject that in most cases only marginally touches on the pan-Mediterranean theme of the conference, although several contain considerable material of interest. Among the topics covered are Christopher Faraone’s study of protective sculptural images such as the herm and the triple-bodied Hekate; Aaron Beck-Schachter’s analysis of the legendary origins of the Tonaia, the binding ritual of the cult image of Hera on Samos; and Kevin Dicus’ discussion of a set of wheelmade terracotta heads from central Italy that appear to be protective devices that retain features from earlier Etruscan models. In the longest paper in the volume, Irene Polinskaya contributes a detailed and closely argued study of the ritual procedures used by Spartan kings to appease the gods of an opposing Greek polis as they prepared to invade enemy territory, then contrasts this with Athenian actions under similar circumstances. Her paper draws analogies between Spartan practice and similar actions by Persians rulers, starting from Xenophon’s description of the actions of Cyrus the Great at the outset of his invasion of Assyria. James Rives offers a careful analysis of the role of the emperor in Roman sacrificial ritual, as both the performer and the recipient of a sacrifice. One particularly thought-provoking article is Louis Ruprecht’s study of the discovery of the Aeginetan pedimental sculpture and subsequent impact of the group on the 19th-century concept of classicism. The paper is a timely reminder that the modern “archaeology” of an object is as much a part of its meaning as is the object’s ancient history.

The general quality of the papers is high, although the wide range of topics and methodologies presented means that the volume has a rather disjointed character. Yet scholars working on the individual topics addressed in these papers are likely to find much of interest here. Specialists in Sicily and, in general, anyone seeking to learn more about the island’s diverse population and cultural traditions will especially benefit from this volume, as will scholars in Anatolian studies. Both editors are to be applauded for their prompt publication and careful work in bringing this collection of papers together.

Lynn E. Roller
Department of Art and Art History
University of California, Davis

Book Review of Religious Convergence in the Ancient Mediterranean, edited by Sandra Blakely and Billie Jean Collins
Reviewed by Lynn E. Roller
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 125, No. 1 (January 2021)
Published online at 
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1251.Roller

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