Project Description

Popular Abstract

The ancient polytheistic world is full of deities, diversified as human societies on female and male, indigenous and foreigners – incomers with the new politic settings and cultures in contact. The territories of Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia present a mosaic of cultures, people, traditions and gods especially in the period between the 4th century BCE to the 4th century CE. This is a period of many sources: inscriptions, art and architecture providing knowledge about the organization of the religious life of people living in Near Eastern cities. As linking element to verify the hypothesis about the polytheistic religious systems mirroring the multicultural and multiethnic societies was chosen the worship of two goddesses, Atargatis and Allat, who received cult in different, at times distant places like Palmyra (Syria), Hatra (Mesopotamia), Petra (Arabia), etc.

State of the art and research questions:

The research focused before only on one aspect (like architecture) generally limited to one archaeological site, where the goddesses were venerated, but both human element of the worship and broader overview were left without deeper attention. This project examines on which scale the divine society imitates the human model and to which degree it can influence social changes, basing on the worshippers of these two goddesses. The choice of the goddesses is not only based on their popularity within the material evidence, but also on the shared iconographic features as being represented as seated on a throne flanked by lions. What does it mean in relation to the position of the goddesses and women? Why this particular motive connects these two deities? To understand social roles of men and women in the cult, the Principal Investigator argues that it is necessary to understand the role of goddesses in the local panthea, their images and names within the position they take among people who pay homage and serve them. Concerning the cult of female deities, there is a question of the position and role of male and female worshippers: are they visible in the studied material, what is their role? Are there also men involved in the rites and what is their function? Which cultic personnel required the cult of these particular deities? These are only few essential questions touched within this project. It is believed that in the past women were the ones who did not have a strong position in the societies, who were “only” mothers and daughters. The same stereotype was applied for goddesses who were and are seen as mother-goddesses of fertility, forgetting about the war, hunt, animals and other divine competences of female deities. This project is the first, which poses openly the question: on which scale the biological sex of the worshippers was important in the context of cult of the goddesses? It analyzes the involvement of society with cultural, i.e., gender roles of its representants. In such formulated goals, the project enriches the modern debate on the position and role of the women (also as female divine figures) in the religious systems.

Implementation of results

Seeing the goddesses through the eyes of the people has a big impact on the study of the ancient cultures and religions, because according to the studied material, the cults, rites and gods were a significant sphere of life of the ancients. The result will form useful comparative material for historians, archaeologists and all who are interested in the roles of men and women in ancient societies, organization and administration of cultic places and interplay of traditions and patterns in the context of ancient religions. One of the results of the project will be visualization of the network of worshippers and reconstruction of the worship of the female deities within the societies living in Syria, Mesopotamia and Arabia during the most vivid politically and culturally times. It will permit to see the region as a whole, not through the scraps of sites or sub-regions, sharing the same traditions and socio-political circumstances. The results will influence on the view of ancient societies and the cultural role of man and women in the religious aspect, which is still covered with many stereotypes connected with colonialism and patriarchy or feminism. It will reveal the “human” activities within the cult of the goddesses, making the antiquity more “impersonated”, thus visualizing how the ancient cultic places were full of life and people. The PI will create website for broader audience who can follow up the work in progress as well as organize events for public to discuss and make people curious about the pre-modern societies and processes to focus on the aspect that there are not so many differences between US and THEM.