The Religion of Ancient Rome

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Discovery of 2,000-year-old bronze statues will rewrite Italy's history

ROME (AP) — Italian authorities on Tuesday announced the extraordinary discovery of 2,000-year-old bronze statues in an ancient Tuscan thermal spring and said the find will "rewrite history" about the transition from the Etruscan civilization to the Roman Empire.
The discovery, in the sacred baths of the San Casciano dei Bagni archaeological dig near Siena, is one of the most significant ever in the Mediterranean and certainly the most important since the 1972 underwater discovery of the famed Riace bronze warriors, said Massimo Osanna, the Culture Ministry's director of museums.

Thanks to the mud that protected them, the two-dozen figurines and other bronze objects were found in a perfect state of conservation, bearing delicate facial features, inscriptions and rippled tunics. Alongside the figures were 5,000 coins in gold, silver and bronze, the ministry said.

As evidence of the importance of the find, the ministry announced the construction of a new museum in the area to house the antiquities.
Jacopo Tabolli, who coordinated the dig for the University for Foreigners in Siena, said the discovery was significant because it sheds new light on the end of the Etruscan civilization and the expansion of the Roman Empire in today's central Italy between the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.
The period was marked by wars and conflicts across what is today's Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio regions, and yet, the bronze statues show evidence that Etruscan and Roman families prayed together to deities in the sacred sanctuary of the thermal springs. The statues, including depictions of Apollo and Igea, the ancient Greek god and goddess of health, bear both Etruscan and Latin inscriptions.
Italy Ancient Discovery

A statue is seen at the site of the discovery of two dozen well-preserved bronze statues from an ancient Tuscan thermal spring in San Casciano dei Bagni, central Italy, in this undated photo made available by the Italian Culture Ministry, Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. (Italian Culture Ministry via AP)

"While there were social and civil wars being fought outside the sanctuary ... inside the sanctuary the great elite Etruscan and Roman families prayed together in a context of peace surrounded by conflict," Tabolli said. "This possibility to rewrite the relationship and dialectic between the Etruscan and Romans is an exceptional opportunity."
Some of the two dozen bronzes are entire human-like figures of deities, while others are of individual body parts and organs which would have been offered up as votive offerings to the gods for intervention for medical cures via the thermal waters, the ministry said in a statement.
"This is almost an X-ray of the human insides from the lungs to the intestines," said Osanna, gesturing to a lung at the restoration laboratory where the bronzes are being treated. "There are ears and other anatomical parts like hands. So, all these things that curative waters and the intervention of the divinities would have been able to save."

The find represents the largest deposit of bronzes from this era in Italy, notable also because most surviving antiquities from the period are primarily in terracotta, the ministry said.
"It's a discovery that will rewrite history," Tabolli said in a statement.
The discovery comes 50 years after the Riace bronze warriors were found by a recreational diver in the waters off southern Calabria and went onto become one of Italy's most spectacular archaeological finds. The 5th century bronzes, currently on display at the national archaeological museum in Reggio Calabria, feature two naked life-sized and life-like Greek warriors, with rippled muscles and intricate, curly beards.

Italy Ancient Discovery

Italy Ancient Discovery

Italy Ancient Discovery

Very interesting. I found this quote a while back from Robin Lane Fox's Pagans and Christians, where he talks about how these statues were viewed by later Christians. These were the idols railed against in the Bible - or, germane to the discussion above about Fustel and deamons - the physical representation of demon worship.

Ancient history is not a static or finite subject: a lifetime ago, much that I discuss was not even available for study. Nor is this branch of it “ancient” to us or somehow dead and buried.

“What is clear,” a fine theological study of vision concluded, “is that Christianity came into a world tantalized by a belief that some men at least had seen God and had found in the vision the sum of happiness, a world aching with the hope that the same vision was attainable by all.” The opposite, in fact, was true. Pagans kept nightly company with their gods and those who sported in dreams with Aphrodite needed no new route to heaven. Among pagans, these “visits” were freely enjoyed, and there was no restraining orthodoxy, no priestly authority which restricted the plain man’s access to a nightly contact with the gods. Art [in particular the proliferation of statues as material reminders of divine presence] and the long centuries of literature had combined with myth and the general setting of its stories to contain these visions in harmless traditional forms. Their beneficiaries took no stand against authority and did not claim to know better than their civic leaders in the matter of pleasing the gods. The divine dreams of Artemidorus and his friends sounded no call for reform or orthodoxy and took no interest in history. In Artemidorus’ sample, they were not concerned to take men on a tour of the next world or to menace them with fears of what might happen after death. Dreams did predict people’s imminent end and its manner, but visions of the next world and its torments were most prominent in philosophic dialogues and perhaps in the theologies of small religious groups. Many people dismissed them, the absurd inventions of women and children. 60

Pan still piped, the gods still showed their anger and stood invisibly beside favoured men: to contemporaries, the evidence of the statues seemed indisputable. To account for it, the Christians cited demons. 49 To their heirs, early Christians have at times seemed obsessed with these figures, who have earned them a black mark as “claustrophobic” or “guilt-ridden” individuals. There are many explanations, but part of the demon’s prominence derived from this simpler cause. Like pagans, Christians still sensed and saw the gods and their power, and as something, they had to assume, lay behind it, by an easy, traditional shift of opinion, they turned these pagan daimones into malevolent “demons,” the troupe of Satan. They were most demonic when they were most plausible, lurking under the statues and working wonders and visions as if from the gods who were represented. It was irrelevant that nobody ever saw them. Their power was manifest, but among Christians, too, only the pure and virtuous could see their physical bodies. Far into the Byzantine period, Christians eyed their cities’ old pagan statuary as a set of the demons’ presence. It was no longer beautiful: it was infested.
I've came across an article in french, with a list of prodigies/portents recorded during first century BC. It gives a good idea of the strangeness of some events of these times, for context.
Here's an excerpt's googletraduction :

"Magic and sorcery in Rome in the last century of the Republic [article]"

"We wish to show here that the last century of the Republic was a decisive period for the evolution of magic in Rome, marked both by a notable revival of interest in the practices of magicians and sorcerers and by the development of a new magic, more attractive for the cultured and social circles of the capital. It is precisely the success of this black science, new or at least renewed, which will better explain the anxious skepticism of Cicero, the attacks of the poets, the condemnation and the repression of Augustus."

"Whereas, as A. Alföldi 5 has clearly shown, the power of attraction of mantics tends to diminish from Marius and Sylla, not without however retaining the favor of the masses, where the new ideas about the world and the fate of man, the only ones capable of undermining old beliefs in dark forces, in the powers of the stars, in omens, these must have contributed to impressing a preoccupied, weary and soon horrified by civil wars. Not since the time of the Second Punic War, so fertile in prodigia, has Rome known as much as in the 1st BC. J.-C, all exploited, of course, the prodigy having become a "weapon of choice in political struggles" . R. Bloch, who studied them very well, mentioned several of them, as examples. By completing his list, but without claiming to make it exhaustive, we see the following cases reported:

- In 90, during Sylla's military campaign in Italy, a flame rises from the half-open earth (Plut., Sylla, VI, 9). - A little later, a laurel wreath, a symbol of victory, appears on the liver of a victim he is in the process of sacrificing (Ibid., XXVII, 16).

- In 88, under the consulate of Sylla, a trumpet blast resounded in a serene sky (Ibid., VII) .

- In 87, under the consulship of Cn. Octavius, a comet appears (Cicero, De nat. deor., II, 5, 14); it is the year of comet Halley. It is also the year of the fulmination of Pompeius Strabo. We hear the sound of arms clashing in the sky; chasms open in the earth, from which spring flames, etc. The head of the statue of Apollo falls to the ground and attaches itself to it (him. Obs., 56 ss. [116]; Appian, B.c., I, 325 ss.) .

- On July 6, 83, during the dictatorship of Sylla, the collection of Sibylline Books burned in the fire of the Capitol. The eagerness to reconstruct it (which was done in 76) proves the interest that many attached to it; the number of its "guardians" - the decemuiri sacris faciundis - was on this occasion increased to fifteen (Den. Hal., IV, 62, 6). The same year, between Capua and Volturne, we hear a clash of arms and standards, accompanied by a frightful clamor (him. Obs., 57 [118]). From 65, we expect a "kosmische Zeitwende" (cosmic turning point) . Through the intermediary of the muse Uranie, are enumerated and described the celestial phenomena (comets, bolides) and terrestrial (nocturnal appearances of spectra), heralding the serious events of 63 (De consulatu suo, in Cic, De diuin., I, 17, 11 ss.; him. Obs., 61 [122]).

- In 57, a column of Jupiter on Mount Albain was struck by lightning (Cass. Dio, XXXIX, 3).

- In 56, a subterranean rumbling is heard in the Ager latiniensis (Cic, De harusp. resp., 20 ss.).

- At the end of 50, a graue ostentum is announced on the Cuman territory (a tree with too few branches), which according to the Sibylline Books means an approaching carnage (Pliny, H.N., XVII, 243); and

- on January 12, 49, during the passage of the Rubicon, a man of extraordinary size and beauty appeared (Suét, Diu. lui, 32).

- In 48, the year of Pharsalus, the celestial phenomena multiply: superic minaces prodigiis terras implerunt, aethera, pontum: comet, lightning in a serene sky, lightning on the "latial summit" (stars in broad daylight, disruption of the solar and lunar system, eruption of the iïtna, conflagration of the Alban altar of Vesta, etc., Lucain described with complaisance these "sure pledges of a worse destiny" (Phars., I, 524 ss.; him. Obs., 65 125).

- In 44, numerous wonders accompanied the death of Caesar: trumpets and the sound of arms in the sky, the sun was deprived of its light, the statues of the gods wept, oxen spoke (Tib., II, 5, 71 ss; him. Obs., 68 [128]). And especially in July 44, during Caesar's Victory Games, between the 20th and 30th, it was the appearance in the sky of Rome of the famous comet - the sidus Iulium - from which Octave-Augustus knew how to draw all the a party that is known to support with astral beliefs the apotheosis of the deceased imperator and the foundation of the imperial cult.

- In 43, a "bolide" appears during the battle of Modena (Pliny, H.N., II, 96). But it is the foundation of the second Triumvirate and its first decisions which are accompanied above all by frightening signs: wolves are seen on the Forum, oxen are talking, statues are crying, the sound of arms and horse races are perceived; the sun looks strange; lightning falls on temples and statues (Appian, Ce, IV, 4, 14; him. Obs., 69 [129]).

- In 42, the year of Philippi, new prodigies are reported: three suns are seen; the statue of Jupiter on Mount Alban oozes, etc. (him. Obs., 70 [130]).

After which the Liber prodigiorum remains silent until 17/16 to then mention the appearance of a comet. Whether Cicero, Pliny, and others who reported these wonders showed some skepticism about their interpretation as "astrological signs," matters little."
I've came across an article in french, with a list of prodigies/portents recorded during first century BC.
I've finally read the whole article, I would tell it's a good study on the "greeks enforcers' hand" in action through the Roman society.
The footnotes are a real mine of references regarding latin's texts, and past studies (mostly in french but not only) on the subject/importance of paranormal in roman times. The article's conclusion :

"Thus - there can be no doubt about it - it is indeed in the last century of the Republic that magic, without however gaining citizenship in Rome, has infiltrated into the mores of the new ruling class and the demimonde in training, while witchcraft, still confined to cemeteries and the disreputable district of Subure 104, excited more and more the "curiosity" and the interest of Romans of all social classes. Fashion issue? May be. It is often difficult to separate fashion from that of deep psychological realities. Sling? Or already desire to go beyond limits of permitted knowledge? A bit of all of that, no doubt. But in a period - which in more than one respect resembles ours (written in 1976) in need escape that drives men - where the taste for the marvelous and the supernatural manifests itself in literature 105, where illusionism triumphs in art106, where the decline of the traditional gods, which does not yet compensate the influx of Eastern religions, creates a certain "void of souls", if not spirits, one can understand that magic and witchcraft have found their square. The new attraction they provoke constitutes for this period what what we call today a fact of collective mentality. At the same time, the 1st century BCE takes in the history of magic and witchcraft a new importance from a sociological point of view, but also from a strictly historical point of view: still faithful to tradition Hellenistic, he saw the beginning of the great effort to renew the "black magic" which will triumph in the imperial era."
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