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Quantifying Piety: Pilgrimage to Republican Rome

Thursday Lecture Series

dateOctober 8, 2015 timeThursday, 12:15pm EDT location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
Rectangular stone with Latin words carved into the side

Religiously motivated travel is well documented for Christian Rome: late antiquity and the early middle Ages witnessed the institutionalization of a pilgrimage economy of which Rome—with its many churches—was a primary node. That Christian pilgrimage made use of (in some cases directly mapped upon) pre-Christian itineraries and networks of travel is no longer seriously disputed. What may come as more of a surprise is the claim that Rome was a hub for pilgrimage well before the advent of Christianity. This is the claim that my talk will explore. I’ll be arguing that already by the third and second centuries BCE Rome was attracting out-of-towners to visit its dense landscape of shrines and temples. Because the literary evidence for this traffic to Rome is in relatively short supply, my talk will concentrate on three types of material evidence: (a) a set of Latin inscriptions hailing from Rome and dating to the third and second centuries that record dedications to divinities; (b) a group of third-century vases and dishes manufactured in or near Rome that are inscribed with the name of a divinity followed by the word pocolom (“cup”); (c) uninscribed third- and second-century anatomical terracottas left as dedications at Rome’s temples and shrines. The first two-thirds of the talk will present these bodies of evidence and read them as signs (in the case of (b), relics) of the centrifugal-centripuntal dynamics of pilgrimage to Rome. Concentrating more narrowly on (c), the final third of the talk will quantify the anatomical terracottas and generate some (speculative but statistically premised) models for how many out-of-towners likely visited Rome to offer dedications during the third and second centuries.