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Piety in Cult Practices : Images and Inscriptions

in “CHRONOS : Chronologies of Religious Evolutions : Religious Forms, Cult Practices and Agents (2nd cent. B.C.-1st cent. A.D.)”


Nicole Belayche (EPHE)
Anne-Françoise Jaccottet (Université de Genève)


Michel Aberson (Genève), Nicole Belayche (EPHE), Yann Berthelet (CNRS), Michel Fuchs (Lausanne), Anne-Françoise Jaccottet (Genève), Véronique Rey-Vodoz (Musée romain de Nyon, CH)

This core group of participants will collaborate with other ANHIMA colleagues and scholars outside itself, depending on the topics under examination.


“Piety in Cult Practices” amount to choosing a medium of communication between a worshipper and a divinity, a form that leaves material traces behind (a votive offering or inscribed stele) in such a way as to both advertise and commemorate the act of worship. The materiality of devotional acts, these visible objects that communicate messages, involve the entire community as guarantor, witness, and both indict motivator and beneficiary of the act of communication.
The place where material traces of worship are displayed is a significant part of the communicative process. This framework creates a discourse and implicitly completes the message, all while conferring special status on the object. This research project will investigate documents that convey a twofold message, both verbal and visual. Since they are influenced by various factors and respond to different stimuli, images are naturally sensitive to developments that may reveal a movement, variation, or change that inscribed texts may not reflect, or at least not in the same way or at the same time. By virtue of their twofold message, the selected documents enable us to analyze communication differentiated by medium of expression (text versus relief) and by developments peculiar to each medium.
We will search for substantial dossiers from distinct geographic areas, both in the East and in the West (Anatolia, Greece, Italy, Gallo-Roman sanctuaries), and especially from various historical, social, and political contexts that led to different developments, depending on the circumstances and timing of contact with elements or events. These features caused devotional practices and ways of expressing them to evolve.
All the various dossiers incorporate both texts and images and follow common lines of inquiry :
– Putting in the front evidence from periods of transition. Such evidence is able to reveal structural or institutional repositioning on account of / because of “political” change, and may also attest shifts in communication, depending on the interlocutor (change of geopolitical paradigm).
– Analysis of relations between private individuals and institutions (“private” – “public” / official) ; the respective place and role of “individuals” (cf. ongoing debate) and institutions in devotional practices and their modes of expression (e.g., the importance of local priests in monitoring how devotional practices are expressed) ; internal vs. external norms.
– The representation of the god and the (self-)representation of the worshipper ; representation in a broad sense, both in text and image, as well as in complex messages sent by a combination of the two.
– The dynamics of evolution – a study of the motors of potential evolution : geopolitical, cultural, institutional contexts, etc. ; a broad (historical) contextualization to assess the extent to which devotional and institutional developments proceed in tandem or asymmetrically over historical time.
– Between local and regional spheres, between town and country, or even between center and periphery. Can one, and, if so, to what extent and in what way, illustrate the way developments were disseminated ? Should we imagine an inflexible model that always moves from center to periphery ? Should the “stature” of a sanctuary or place of display be taken into account together with or in place of the center-periphery model ? (By “stature” we mean the level of official status, prestige, representativeness, etc.).
– Reflections on the implicit and explicit. Tacit agreement underlies every mode of communication. Here, we shed light on what is explicit – what is said, shown – and what is implicit – what is not said, not shown, because it is taken for granted. What is implicit reveals as much as what is explicit, but does so in relief : it can disclose a code of reading, communicative norms, evidence of consensus-based discourses regarding the display context of a stele or object and even regarding the social, institutional framework, and more. It is this consensus that may change according to historical and political circumstances and institutional developments and thus indirectly – perhaps even unconsciously – translate into different ways of expressing devotional practices, between implicit and explicit.


General introduction (methodology and objectives) of the subject at the prospective CHRONOS workshop, January 24-25, 2014, Paris, INHA.


French-Swiss research collaboration through a PUC “Germaine de Staël” collaboration (2016-2018) will result in the organization of a final conference in Paris for which the Swiss ambassade will be contacted.

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