Losing My Religion

I recently completed an article I was invited to write for a special issue of Leidschrift that focuses entirely on Pompeii and Herculaneum. My contribution looks specifically at the connections that exist between politics and religion. In doing so however, I noticed something that rather surprised me: it is difficult to reconcile the architectural and epigraphic evidence in regards to religious activity. There is a disconnect between which gods had temples dedicated in their honour, and which had active worshipers according to written records.

This map, with temple precincts shaded grey, locates the majority of temples and religious sanctuaries, with the exception of the Temple of Venus just outside the city walls, in Regio VII and Regio VIII, in and around the Forum and the Triangular Forum.

20150818_120913

From W. van Andringa (2012) ‘Statues in the Temples of Pompeii: Combinations of Gods, Local Definitions of Cults, and the Memory of the City’

The temples include the aforementioned complex dedicated to Venus, as well the Capitolium dedicated to the Triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, Apollo, Isis, Aesculapius, Fortuna Augusta, Minerva/Hercules, Divus Augustus, and other small shrines and altars. The official offices of priests and priestesses (sacerdos, flamen, and pontifex) that survive in the epigraphic record are limited to only three divinities: Venus, Ceres, and the Imperial Cult. Numerous men are named as sacerdos Augusti or flamin Augusti in the texts. I have previously discussed the priestesses, primarily from the Augustan and Tiberian period, who served Ceres and Venus. The precinct of Venus is well documented, but the texts that survive naming her priestesses are either funerary in nature, or in the case of Eumachia and Mammia, survive in dedicatory inscriptions on public edifices in the Forum. Despite epigraphic evidence for Ceres, there is no known temple, at least not within the city walls. A complex containing three small temples from the suburban area of Pompeii, may contain a Temple of Ceres, but identification is based solely on the discovery of two female statues, one of which is thought to represent Ceres.

On the contrary, the Temple of Isis, which has long been considered one of the most important religious centres in Pompeii, not least because of its speedy re-building after the earthquake in AD 62, has no identifiable priest.

CIL X 846 = ILS 6367
N(umerius) Popidius N(umeri) f(ilius) Celsinus / aedem Isidis terrae motu conlapsam / a fundamento p(ecunia) s(ua) restituit hunc decuriones ob liberalitatem / cum esset annorum sex{s} ordini suo gratis adlegerunt.
‘Numerius Popidius Celsinus, son of Numerius, rebuilt the Temple of Isis from the foundations at his own expense which had collapsed from an earthquake. Because of his generosity, despite his age of six years, the decurions nominated him to the ordo without charge.’

This is one of the only surviving inscriptions found in Pompeii that actually names a temple as such. However, there is no evidence of a priest of Isis. The few other inscriptions from the temple precinct are dedicatory and say little, if anything, about Isis. For example, the plinth on which stood a statue of Isis, was inscribed with the following:

CIL X 849
L(ucius) Caecilius Phoebus posvit / l(oco) d(ato) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
‘Lucius Caecilius Phoebus placed (this statue). Place given by decree of the decurions.’

LRT_13700156000Whilst there might not be any evidence for those charged with the office of worshiping Isis, there are some dipinti that indicate that the goddess did have adherents.

CIL IV 787 = ILS 6420b
Cn(aeum) Helvium / Sabinum aed(ilem) Isiaci / universi rog(ant).
‘All the worshipers of Isis call for the election of Gnaeus Helvius Sabinus, aedile.’

CIL IV 3141
Isi[acis – – – ]is ubique.
‘The worshipers of Isis are everywhere.’

CIL IV 1011 = ILS 6419f
Cuspium Pansam aed(ilem) / Popidius Natalis cliens cum Isiacis rog(at).
‘Popidius Natalis, his client, with the worshipers of Isis, call for the election of Cuspius Pansa, aedile.’

That this last dipinto is commissioned by a member of the Popidii may give some indication that this family was heavily dedicated to Isis, but still fails to provide evidence for a priest. On some level, this may not be surprising. Priests of foreign – especially eastern or oriental – religions tended to live separately, often marked by distinctive clothing, shaved heads, and were not unusually foreigners themselves. Evilness aside, the characterisation of the Egyptian Arbaces in Bulwer-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii wasn’t entirely unfounded. This may go some way to explaining the lack of priests in the epigraphic record.

However, that is not the case for many of the Roman gods that also have temples in the city, many of which were more prominent in terms of location and within the Pantheon of Roman religion.  Apollo, Minerva, and Aesculapius all have temples but no named priesthoods. Jupiter, independently and as part of the Capitoline triad, has two named priests, albeit one is sligtly problematic. An inscription, dated to AD 37, has Greek on one side that names Gaius Iulius Hephaistion, a priest of the community of Frigi, who made  a dedication to Jupiter Frigio. The other side contains a fragmentary Latin text:

CIL X 796
I(ovi) [O(ptimo)] M(aximo) / pro salute [C(ai) Ca]esaris Augusti / Germani[ci I]mp(eratoris) pontif(icis) max(imi) / tribunic(ia) p[ote]stat(e) consulis / [- – -]octus p(ecunia) s(ua).
‘To Jupiter Best and Greatest. For the well-being of [Gaius] Caesar Augustus Germanicus, hailed as victorious general, chief priest, holder of tribunician power, consul, [. . .]octus at his own expense.’

Because the text specifically names the priest as belonging to another town, it is a bit tenuous to claim this represents a religious office in Pompeii. Likewise, one text, also dated to the Julio-Claudian period, that survives naming a priest of both Jupiter and Mars belongs to a man who had a rather illustrious career elsewhere:

CIL X 797 = ILS 5004
Sp(urius) Turranius L(uci) f(ilius) Sp(uri) n(epos) L(uci) pron(epos) Fab(ia) / Proculus Gellianus praef(ectus) fabr(um) II pra<i>f(ectus) curatorum alvei / Tiberis pra<i>f(ectus) pro pr(aetore) i(ure) d(icundo) in urbe Lavinio / pater patratus populi Laurentis foederis / ex libris Sib<u>llinis percutiendi cum p(opulo) R(omano) / sacrorum principiorum p(opuli) R(omani) Quirit(ium) nominis/que Latini qua<i> apud Laurentis coluntur flam(en) / Dialis flam(en) Martial(is) salius pra<i>sul augur pont(ifex) / pra<i>f(ectus) cohort(is) Ga<i>tul(orum) tr(ibunus) mil(itum) leg(ionis) X / loc(us) d(atus) d(ecreto) d(ecurionum).
Spurius Turranius Proculus Gellianus, son of Lucius, grandson of Spurius, great-grandson of Lucius, of the Fabian tribe; staff officer twice; prefect of the curators of the Tiber channel; prefect with the powers of a praetor in charge of jurisdiction in the city of Lavinium; father of the deputation of the Laurentine people in charge of concluding the treaty with the Roman people in accordance with the Sibylline books, which relates to the rites concerned with the origins of the Roman people, the Quirites, and of the people of the Latin name, which are observed among the Laurentines; priest of Jupiter; priest of Mars; leading member of the Salii priesthood; augur and pontiff; prefect of the Gaetulian cohort; military tribune of the tenth legion (dedicated this) place by  decree of the decurions.’

One further example exists naming a flamen of Mars, but like Ceres, there is no known Temple.

CIL IV 879 = ILS 6364
M(arco) Lucretio flam(ini) Martis decuri//oni / Pompei[s].
‘To Marcus Lucretius, flamen of Mars, decurion of Pompeii.’

As the only two texts that name Mars consist of a man who had a long career elsewhere and a graffito, the worship of the war god in Pompeii remains somewhat speculative.

Overall, the evidence for religious activity in Pompeii is simultaneously abundant and scarce. There are ample architectural remains by means of temples, the city’s walls are covered with images of gods and goddesses in a mythological context, but the epigraphic record does not reflect the kind of religious activity one would expect. What strikes me as a potential solution to this paradox is evidence I have thus far overlooked, but is perhaps far more prevalent than the large public temples or official offices of priesthoods. The most visible form of religious activity is on a much smaller, localised scale – that of the household, street and neighbourhood shrines dedicated to the lares and genius of individual families and vici. It is here that the daily worship of Pompeians can be seen, but that is a post for another day.

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