(B2-16) Media Strategies of Cities and Rulers in Multi-Religious Societies of Antiquity: "Foreign" Cults in the Light of Material Evidence

This project addresses a specific aspect of ancient religious policy, that is, how multi-religious societies dealt with ‘foreign’ cults (e.g., Egyptian or so-called oriental cults) in the media. Our research centres around the question as to how far the public presence or absence of deities or cults indicated religious political interests or disinterests of political authorities.

The face design as the only mobile mass medium in societies of ancient Greece and ancient Rome plays a central role here. In the process, we will not examine coins in an isolated manner but in the context of other material evidence of religiousness and religious communities, such as sacred sites, cult statues and votive offerings. Our investigations start at the assumption generally accepted in research that all minting authorities transported religious moral values through the medium of the face design. These find expression in the presentation of deities of the Greek and Roman pantheon and their symbols, to which central importance is attached – on a monarchic (‘ruler cult’) or local level ( ‘polis religion’) – and which can also be detected in other archaeological and/or written types of sources. In this, the religious image is usually exploited with a political purpose.

As a rule, the ancient coins display a homogeneous Greek or Roman imagery. They might therefore present a varied set of gods but for the most part remain limited to their respective own pantheon. In this context, two phenomena that deviate from the rule can be observed, which we intend to examine across regions and epochs as to their significance:

  1. Presence: in several periods, coins with “foreign” religious images that did not originate from the canonical Greek and Roman pantheon were issued.
  2. Absence: there are widespread “foreign” cults in the coins’ circulation area which did not manifest themselves in the official face design but which can in many cases be detected by means of other archaeological and epigraphic evidence (equipment of sacred sites, votive offerings, inscriptions).

The methodical approach intends a comparative examination of the findings and evidence, contrasting on the one hand, by means of case examples, the numismatic material in question with the epigraphic, literary and archaeological testimonials in order to be able to show and to classify historically the media strategies in the religious policy of cities and rulers. The comparative approach of interpreting case examples from different minting categories enables us on the other hand to consider the entire classical ancient world, as we can correlate the different media reactions of different ancient periods or political sovereigns (person responsible for the minting = sovereign).

The Project is part of coordinated project groups Dealing with religious diversity and Figurations of the religious and the political.