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Religious Dynamics of Space in the Ancient Mediterranean (ARGO/CIRCE)

This title covers two programs that emerged in the years 2010-2013 :
CIRCE (Constructions, Interprétations et Représentations Cultuelles de l’Espace = Cultic Constructions, Interpretations, and Representations of Space) and ARGO (Religion et économie dans la Méditerranée antique = Religion and Economy in the Ancient Mediterranean). This program is part of a research trend that is renewing the study of the Mediterranean as a geographical and historical framework ; it privileges the analysis of micro-regions and the flows of exchange that invigorate them on different levels and interconnect or link them, with varying intensity. Religious phenomena are privileged objects of study in both programs : they are one of the key elements of spatial conceptions in ancient societies and are integrated in the circulation patterns – of goods, persons, ideas – that delineate significant groups and processes. While CIRCE concentrates on topographic and spatial concepts, economic factors are the particular focus of ARGO.
Both associated programs conduct their own research and regularly present it for exchange and discussion at joint seminars and workshops as they work to define spatial paradigms that can help us understand ancient societies.



Cecilia D’Ercole (EHESS)


Lucijana Selsej (post-doc)


Gabriella Pironti (Université "Federico II", Naples), Barbara Kowalzig (Université de New York), Anna Magnetto (Ecole Normale de Pise)

External partners

Corinne Bonnet (Université de Toulouse), Matteo D’Acunto (Université "L’Orientale", Naples), Irad Malkin (Université de Tel Aviv), Sara Nardi (Université de Picardie), Lucia Rossi (Centre Camille Jullian)


The original purpose of the Argo program is to analyze the intersection of religion (beliefs, ritual practices) and economic dynamics (search for resources, exchange networks) in maritime contexts. The program stands out for its emphasis on the longue durée (from Archaic Greece to the Middle Ages). After two workshops in 2010 and 2012, dedicated respectively to defining general concepts and to exploring a specific question (“What is a port ?”), the focuses of the program in the new four-year period may be summarized as follows :
a) the exploration of case studies on different spatial levels (micro- and macro-regions) where interaction between religion and economic dynamics seem best represented. The cases of the Adriatic and the Corinthian Isthmus will be studied in particular ;
b) institutional aspects that emerge in places where different groups interact, especially the norms and procedures that govern cohabitation, the reception of foreigners, and financial forms, and their ties to sanctuaries ;
c) the topographical relationship between the maritime countryside and river mouths, communication routes to the sea, and penetration to the inland regions, spaces that often exhibit a particularly dynamic correlation between religious and economic facts.
Each of the points presented here will be pursued in the coming years based on a collaborative network consisting of the founding members of the program, associate members and external partners. In this connection, we are pleased to host a young colleague from Croatia, Lucijana Seselj (University of Rijeka), thanks to a Fernand Braudel mobility grant (April-December 2014). Already in 2015 and in the following years, these initiatives will translate into invitations for foreign colleagues to attend seminars (Matteo D’Acunto) and into cooperation with workgroups on institutional and linguistic aspects of ancient navigation (Scuola Normale di Pisa). Moreover, the third research topic is being pursued in cooperation with the work group on “Rivers” (“Fleuves”) in the Labex DynamiTe (Dynamique des Territoires = Dynamics of Territories) of the PRES HeSam.

Preliminary Agenda for 2014-2015

­­­­– Presentation of Adriatic sanctuaries dedicated to the cult of Diomedes at the colloquium “Approches topographiques du fait religieux” (“Topographical approaches to religion”), UPEC, January 2015 (C. D’Ercole, L. Seselj).
– Participation in workshops on rivers organized every three months by the workgroup “Qui maîtrise les fleuves ?” (“Who controls rivers ?”), Nanterre, June, 25, 2015.
Further initiatives are currently being planned, particularly concerning the publication of past meetings.



François de Polignac (EPHE)


Despina Chatzivasiliou (post-doc), Sonia Darthou (Paris XII-Evry), Adrian Robu (post-doc)


Ioanna Patera

Exterior Partner

Jean-Sébastien Gros (BSA, Athènes), Alexandre Mazarakis (Univ. de Thessalie, Grèce)

In collaboration with the team

EVCAU (Espace Virtuel de Conception Architecturale et Urbaine = The Virtual Space of Architectural and Urban Conceptions, directed by A. Del), École d’architecture Paris Val-de-Seine.


The CIRCE program is compiling a topographical inventory of cult sites in ancient Greece in the form of an online database with integrated georeferencing ( This tool is intended to facilitate the analysis of several forms of spatial differentiation that place sanctuaries and gods in different relational contexts to one another and help us understand the roles that they might play (sometimes on different levels) in society.
The main research objectives are :
a) to compile the inventory, prioritizing the regions that participated most actively in navigation and in exchange networks in the Archaic and Classical ages (Central Greece, Attica, Euboea, the Aegean Islands...) ;
b) to analyze the concept of “maritime religious countryside” so as to identify different kinds of sanctuary sites with significant relationships with maritime space, to study the deities or configurations of deities concerned, and to identify those that are genuinely integrated in a maritime system and how ;
c) to extend the subject of territories by analyzing systems of contact, communication, and exchange : the circulation of offerings, cultic analogies and differences, and the epicleses of deities that might design religious paths or groups across the Mediterranean region or in connection to other, terrestrial spaces. The aim is to highlight the different meanings that places of worship can have within various configurations in the same space.
The CIRCE program is integrated into the workgroup “Environnement, usages et constructions plurielles de l’espace” (“Environment, Customs, and Plural Constructions of Space”) of the LaBex DynatiTe (“Dynamique des Territoires” = “The Dynamics of Territories”) of HeSam University.


F. de Polignac, J. Scheid ed., « Qu’est-ce qu’un paysage religieux ? », Revue de l’Histoire des Religions, 227-4, 2010, p. 427-724.


– Postdoctoral post in the LaBex DynamiTe to compile an inventory of cult sites, 2013-2014
– Workshop “Archéologie du rituel en Grèce à haute époque” (“Archeology of Ritual in Classical Greece), Monday, May 12, 2014.

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