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Ditte Maria Damsgaard Hiort

Altars in the Decapolis region, 1st century B.C.E. – 5th century C.E. Religious remedies in context: typology, ritual practice, and societal patterns

Die Arbeit wird betreut von Herrn Prof. Dr. Stefan Pfeiffer.

Altars played a crucial role in all ancient societies, and in particular Greek and Roman sanctuaries were organized around the use and placement of altars. Altars as a religious remedy constituted the greater part of religious life, and infiltrated all layers and societal structures. Nonetheless, has the scholarly interest been mostly focused elsewhere, why the study of altars in many parts of the Greek and Roman world still lacks. The region termed the Decapolis consists of cities mainly placed in today’s Jordan. Few cities are placed in Syria and Israel. The exact relation between the involved cities has over the years undergone much dispute. It seems clear that the cities did share some sort of common Hellenistic heritage, while at the same time expressing themselves locally through choice and use of religious remedies. Also, it seems evident that the cities did not always follow core-Roman trends and sometimes rather “looked back” in time and reused ancient Levantine religious symbols.

The aim of this project is to gather all empirical material from the large Decapolis site of modern-day Jerash in Jordan, also known as the ancient site of Gerasa. A large number of different types of altars are scattered all over the site. One of the largest groups is the so-called horned altar group, which displays a highly interesting iconography. In the process of ordering the material from Gerasa and establishing typologies along with chronological frameworks, the body of material will undergo extensive comparisons with empirical data found elsewhere in the Decapolis region as well. The strict focus on the empirical data will ensure a consistent and thorough understanding of the contextual situation surrounding the altars both in regard to archaeology, epigraphy and history. Also, it will form the basis of accessing the altars from different theoretical angles, for example religious, social, culture-historical and spatial-analytical. Here several aspects could be studied. For example what the altars and the way in which they were used actually reveal about existing and changing ritual structures, also in connection to social and ideological structures. The project wishes to combine quantitative and qualitative methods, while studying the altars on a macro and micro level in order to consider and include all contextual facts and possibilities.

Ditte Maria Damsgaard Hiort ist Stipendiatin ist Stipendiatin des Max-Planck-Instituts für ethnologische Forschung: http://www.eth.mpg.de/hiort   


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