Ditte Maria Damsgaard Hiort

Altars and altar iconography from Roman-Period Gerasa and the region of the Decapolis, 1st-3rd century C.E. Sacred markers in the context of regional and local socio-religious expressions

Altars played a crucial role in all ancient societies. In particular, Greek and Roman sanctuaries were organised around the use and placement of altars. Altars as a religious remedy constituted the greater part of religious life and infiltrated all layers and societal structures. Nonetheless, the scholarly interest has mostly been focused elsewhere, thus the study of altars in many parts of the Greek and Roman world still lacks. The Decapolis region consists of cities mainly placed in today’s Jordan, a few also in Syria and Israel. The exact relation between the involved cities has undergone much dispute over the years. It seems clear that the cities did share some sort of common Hellenistic heritage, while at the same time expressing themselves locally through choice and use of religious remedies. Also, it seems evident that the cities did not always follow core-Roman trends and sometimes rather “looked back” in time and reused ancient Levantine religious symbols.
The aim of this project is to gather all empirical material from the large Decapolis site of modern-day Jerash in Jordan, also known as the ancient site of Gerasa. A large number of different types of altars are scattered all over the site. One of the largest groups is the so-called horned altar group, which displays a very interesting iconography. In the process of ordering the material from Gerasa and establishing typologies along with chronological frameworks, the body of material will undergo extensive comparisons with empirical data found elsewhere in the Decapolis region. The strict focus on the empirical data will ensure a consistent and thorough understanding of the contextual situation surrounding the altars in regard to archaeology, epigraphy, and history. Also, it will form the basis for assessing the altars from different theoretical angles, for example religious, social, culture-historical, and spatial-analytical. This touches on several aspects such as what the altars and the ways they were used actually reveal about existing and changing ritual structures, also in connection to social and ideological structures. The project wishes to combine quantitative and qualitative methods, while studying the altars on a macro and micro level in order to consider and include all contextual facts and possibilities.

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