EXC 2060 A3-13 - “Euphrates, Protective Shield?” – Religious Diversity and Cultural Identity in the Roman Middle East Between Tradition and Construction

in Process
Funding Source
DFG - Cluster of Excellence
Project Number
EXC 2060/1
  • Description

    The landscapes west and east of the middle Euphrates, Northern Syria and Northern Mesopotamia are perceived as a space for exchange and meeting which for centuries has been constitutive for the formation and development of religious and cultural identities. On the one hand the region appears to be a source of innovation, from the Neolithic revolution to the development of new religious ideas, on the other hand a border region where the East and the West meet, both in peaceful exchange and in a confrontational manner. Such a double interpretation has had an impact on western discourse to today, and the perception of the region as frontier to an imagined and hostile Orient is predominant.
    This reception is in line with a long tradition of attributions, drawing up frontiers and constructions of identity and alterity. Their roots go back to antiquity. The time when Rome established itself as a global player in the eastern Mediterranean world was decisive; when a line of demarcation between the Roman and the Iranian/Parthian areas of influence was drawn in the first century before Christ. The river Euphrates was conceived as a political frontier between East and West for the first time, which then was also connoted culturally and religiously to an increasing degree. In contrast, hardly any research was done on how the interplay of politics, conflicts and acculturation in the region itself worked and which effects it had. How did local groups and local cults on both sides of the Euphrates react to the new political situation? Did the cults east of the Euphrates have a more oriental image that was dominated by Mesopotamian as well as Persian influences and the Western ones in contrast a more Greek-Roman character? Comprehensive epigraphic, numismatic and archaeological evidence allows local religions to materialise and thus makes it possible in this way to understand how local and regional religious structures are altered by transregional processes of exchange, assimilation and transformation, but also by confrontation and violence.
  • Persons

  • Dissertations

    Julia Arnkens, M.A.


    Doctoral Thesis

    The Religious Landscape of Upper Mesopotamia in the Arsacid Period. Pagan Cults in Urban and Rural Contexts

    Doctoral Subject
    Klassische Archäologie
    Doctoral Degree
    Dr. phil.
    Awarded by
    Department 08 – History/Philosophy

    From the second century BCE until the third century CE, Upper Mesopotamia was the scene of military and political confrontation, economic interaction and cultural exchange between the eastwards expanding Roman Empire and the Parthian/Arsacid Empire as it expanded towards the west. These circumstances provide an interesting backdrop for a study of local cults and the development of religious beliefs in a culturally diverse region. Archaeological remains, coinage, inscriptions and literary descriptions offer glimpses into the religious life of the area during this period.

    In the course of my research, I am compiling the archaeological, numismatic, epigraphic and literary evidence of cultic activities from both cities and rural areas in Upper Mesopotamia in order to analyse the attested cults in their archaeological and historical context. The aim of this analysis is to provide an overview of cult places, worshipped deities, religious structures and prevailing beliefs where possible. Such an overview opens up the possibility to trace influences, regional differences and shared characteristics within the area under investigation and thereby outline the character of the religious landscape of Upper Mesopotamia.