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CALL. 15.12.2018: [SESSION 4] The so-called "Oriental Cults" in the Roman Empire: Mithras,




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: University of Tartu (Tartu, Estonia)


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For quite some time now, the so-called "oriental cults" (Isis, Mithras, Mater Magna, Attis, Sabazios, Jupiter Dolichenus) have played an important role in the study of Roman religious history. If earlier scholars regarded these cults as separate "religions" alongside the Greco-Roman religion, the dominant paradigm of recent research has suggested that these cults must be considered within the context of Greco-Roman religion. The general term "oriental cults" has also been criticized: Why is the cult of Isis classed, for example, as an oriental cult, whereas the cult of Aphrodite, however, is not so regarded, although it is evident that this goddess has an ancient Near Eastern background? What links the gods and goddesses mentioned above with each other, apart from the fact, that they carry names that come from the East (as seen from the Greco-Roman point of view)? Do the cults of these gods and goddesses have a common characteristic and, if so, of what does that consist? The other important question concerns the continuity of these cults. While earlier scholars suggested that the Greeks and Romans adopted the abovementioned cults in the same form as they existed earlier in Asia Minor, Egypt, Syria, and Iran, contemporary research has abandoned this view. It is evident that all these cults were first created in the Greco-Roman world, but they were created around the figures of gods, who by their name were already known in ancient times in the Near and Middle East. Do these gods and goddesses of the new cults only have names in common with ancient Near and Middle Eastern deities, or do they share common characters and myths? Are there in these new cults, ritual elements that have been taken from ancient Near and Middle Eastern Religions? This session will discuss the above questions.

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