Summary of the Cultic Experts in the Ancient World Seminar

This year's second AMME seminar focused on cultic experts in the ancient world. The speakers of the evening, Dr. Sandra Jacobs (Leo Baeck Collage and King’s Collage London) and Dr. Outi Sihvonen (Tampere University), gave us two interesting presentations.

With a topic ‘The Language of Temple (Personnel) Consecration: From Babylon to the Hebrew Bible’ Dr. Jacobs clarified the terminological association between the consecration of Levites in the wilderness sanctuary, with the donation of širkû (oblates) in the Neo-Babylonian period. Dr. Jacobs’s presentation focused on legislations of the Holiness Code and the physical (bodily) marking or branding of širkû. Dr. Jacobs discussed for instance the possibility of physical marking such as branding the slave with the owner’s name and the ways people might have got around the Hebrew law prohibiting body marks. Lack of evidence outside of biblical sources and different translations and interpretations of the texts makes it difficult to have any certainty of actual physical marking instead of figurative, non-physical marks.  

Dr. Sihvonen focused on the officials of religious cults in Rome with a topic ‘Taking Care of the Cultic Practices – The Assistants of the Arval Brethren and the Vestal Virgins’. Sihvonen discussed the personnel and duties of those who worked for the group of twelve Arval brothers and the sisterhood of the six Vestal virgins in the third century Rome. Dr. Sihvonen’s aim was to focus on the personnel's relationships and position with the priests and priestesses and their day-to-day duties. Sihvonen mentioned two groups of assistants called calatores (mentioned in the Acta Arvalium, the records of the Arval brotherhood) and fictores  (in the honorary inscriptions for the Vestal Virgins). Calatores and fictores were special religious officials. For example, fictores originally baked the sacrificial cakes but the third century fictores formed an institution of officials who assisted the priestesses and possibly the priests at the temple's daily life. Fictores were male officials for the cult of Vesta, goddess of the heart, and they came from different social backgrounds, some of them were even equestrians, high ranking officers.  

Both speakers gave the audience a vivid discussion of religious officials in the ancient world and also body modification in form of a body markings such as tattoos and piercings.