medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Hi again, Rochelle
Herewith some further matter to think about. As I'm behind on a paper I
have to deliver fairly soon, this and its companion response to your Part 2
will probably be all from me in this thread. While it's quite clear that
we still have areas of disagreement, I can say that I've learned from your
posts. Thank you. And to anyone else who might still be reading this
exchange, yes, there is some medieval content here as well.
At 12:47 AM 6/30/2004 -0300, you wrote:
> >>Yes, arch-construction was used by the Romans -- a
> >>different shape of arch, broader and flatter and not used on religious
> >Romans also used a narrower arch. Here are two examples (entrance; rear
> >statuary niche) from a second-century CE religious building:
> >The fact that this shrine served the Romanized form of Isis-worship
> makes the
> >building no less Roman and no less religious. Smallish shrines of this
> >general sort were widespread in the Roman world. I wonder what impact they
> >may have had on the design of smallish early Christian and medieval
> >shrines in areas where they were still around to be seen.
>Sorry, it does not make it Roman; it makes it found in Roman territory.
>The Empire was a melting pot. Just because x is found in a Roman city does
>not make it Roman-Roman.
By the early second century CE, despite early Julio-Claudian proscriptions
of the mystery cults, Isis-worship was a recognized part of Roman
religion. It's generally thought the cult was officially accepted under
Gaius. Isiac festivals were included in the Roman calendar under Nero
(again, perhaps already under Gaius) and the future emperor Otho is said to
have been a devotee. Domitian rebuilt the Aedes Isidis in the Campus
Martius (Rome's chief Isiac temple) after the fire of 80; he also either
built or enlarged the Iseum at Benevento, where he is depicted in Egyptian
dress. Benevento, of course, is in Campania, where Isis-worship was
accepted well before it was in Rome. For a brief survey, see Anne Roulet,
_The Egyptian and Egyptianizing Monuments of Imperial Rome_ (Leiden: E. J.
Brill, 1972; EPRO, vol. 20), pp. 1-3; more diffusely, R. E. Witt, _Isis in
the Graeco-Roman World_ (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971), pp. 70-88 and
222-36. For the history of Isis temple in the Campus Martius, see L.
Richardson, jr., _A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome_
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), pp. 211-12. The work of
Michel Malaise (cf. his art. in _Aufstieg und Niedergang_, II.2.17.3
[published 1984], pp. 1615-91, esp. pp. 1629-48) has emphasized the role of
slaves and freedmen in maintaining and propagating the cult in Italy but
does not alter our basic understanding of either its official acceptance
prior to the early second century or its first-century fashionability among
some upper-class Romans. Isis was syncretized into the Roman pantheon
during this period (this was also happening to Mithras; cp. M. as a
manifestation of Apollo in the prayer at the end of Statius, _Thebais_, Bk.
1) and accepted by Romans who were _not_ immigrants from the East. A
second-century CE Isiac shrine in Rome is not a foreign object.
> And where were these smallish shrines? By "general
>sort," do you mean a class model?
Yes. Object class: small roofed shrine (free-standing or abutting some
other structure). In contravention of ancient usage, these are sometimes
referred to as "sacella" (acc. to Festus, a sacellum was unroofed); cf. the
definition of "sacellum" in the glossary of the Forma Urbis Romae project,
where rooflessness is not mentioned: "Small shrine, either free-standing or
attached to a larger structure." They've been found from Spain and Britain
to Egypt and Turkey. If the Kiosk of Trajan at Philae were roofed (was
it?), it would be an example:
A medieval shrine of this general class would be this from Norcia in
Umbria, dated to 1354:
A larger late antique/early medieval example would be the famous tempietto
at Campello sul Clitunno, also in Umbria (4th to 7th cent.):
Note the shapes of the two entrances (side; base) of this structure now
thought to have been designed from the start as a Christian church. These
underscore your basic point (with which I do not disagree).
> >>..., the high rounded arch atop a narrow column is not Egyptian,
> >>Greek, Cretan, or Roman in concept; it is Sumerian and North Semitic.
> >>Interpretations of the arch were used throughout the North, North-central,
> >>and North-West Semitic areas. The precise shape of a narrow, straight-sided
> >>column topped by high round arch does not appear elsewhere in the Imperial
> >>domains until until after the advent of Christianity. <snip>
> >So the rounded-arch lararium I showed in the previous post is not narrow
> >enough to be an example of the sort of statuary niche you're talking about
> >(regardless of _whose_ icons are placed inside)? Here's another view of it
> >(left-hand column, about a quarter of the way down the page):
> >Here's another rounded-arch lararium, this time from Ostia:
> >Perhaps the column is insufficiently narrow and the arch insufficiently
> >high for it to be an example of what you're talking about. But if _is_
> >that sort of arch, I'm not sure that its appearance here is due to
> >specifically Christian influence. It seems to me more likely to be a
> >Roman domestic appropriation of a common Hellenistic form.
>I told you what the shape is and gave you models to look at.
You told me that it was a high rounded arch atop a narrow column. But how
high, how narrow? Is there an ideal proportion that instances may be
thought to approximate?
The only specific model you gave me to look at was this:
That's certainly narrower than the lararium from Ostia (which, however, is
a larger object). But I don't find the shape outlined by the Newark
phylactery very different from that of the space defined by these
foundation arches beneath the terraces of the Temple of Jupiter Anxur
(a.k.a. Sanctuary of Feronia) above Terracina:
These arches are dated to the second century BCE. I'm having a difficult
time reconciling their shape, date, and location with your assertion that
"The precise shape of a narrow, straight-sided column topped by high round
arch does not appear elsewhere [i.e., outside of certain Semitic areas] in
the Imperial domains until until after the advent of Christianity."
Another reservation, BTW, concerns your statement quoted above,
"arch-construction was used by the Romans -- a different shape of arch,
broader and flatter and not used on religious buildings." Apart from its
insistence that the Romans did not use arches of the shape we have been
discussing, this also seems to ignore the use of the flatter typical "Roman
arch" in Roman nymphaea (I had furnished an example of the latter from
Baiae in an earlier post). Or do you not consider nymphaea to be
Here's another Roman nymphaeum with such broader, flatter arches (the
so-called Temple of Minerva Medica; 2d half of the 3d century CE):
>As I have tried to make clear, the architectual arch (and vault) is
>Sumerian in origin in *Western* architecture. (The arch is found in Eastern
>architecture, but is quite different in execution, although not in symbol.)
>I'd be very cautious before deciding that something is "Hellenistic"
As would I. "seems ... more likely to be" is not the language of a
decision. Moreover, I was using "Hellenistic" in a customary Roman Studies
way to indicate a culture of immediate influence, not one of ultimate
origin. This usage usually assumes that there's a lot of primarily
non-Hellenic conceptual matter involved but (as you've noticed) doesn't
distinguish specific contributions.
Now on to part 2.
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