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D7 Oriental Cults (project completed)

From the Orient to Rome and back again. Religious flows and the expansion of oriental cults in the Roman Empire

Coordination: Joachim Friedrich Quack, Christian Witschel

Abstract

Cult relief of Mithras, Rome, Musei 
Vaticani. Photo by Darius Frackowiak.

Cult relief of Mithras, Rome, Musei
Vaticani. Photo by Darius Frackowiak.

This project will concentrate on the spread of various ‘oriental’ cults in the Roman Empire. These cults originated either in Egypt (Isis) or in the ancient Near East (Iuppiter Dolichenus, the local gods of Syria); but some of them, like the cult of Mithras, may also have originated in the West. Such cults as were genuinely eastern underwent transformations on their way from East to West, at the same time retaining an alien and exotic flavor. We intend to study how these processes of religious flow – running against the power structures dominated by Rome – worked by looking to the way these cults were conceptualized in the West on linguistic, visual and ritual levels. Also important are the agents who set the transfer in motion and the locations where this happened. How, finally, were these cults received in their homelands when they came back in remodelled form?

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