Greek Terracotta Dolls: Between the Domestic and the Religious Sphere

In: Hellenistic and Roman Terracottas
Author: Frauke Gutschke

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There are many hypotheses regarding the function and the meaning of the so-called “dolls”, a widespread type of terracotta during Classical and Hellenistic times. Two main streams in the interpretation of the type can be recognised. According to one, the figurines should be seen as ordinary toys, because they have movable limbs. The other asserts that the terracottas should be seen as religious votive or funerary items, because of the archaeological contexts, in which they are found.

In this article, I attempt to demonstrate how these two hypotheses could be combined. A thorough investigation will show the relation between the domestic and the religious spheres and will answer questions about continuity and change of function and meaning of objects, when these move from one sphere to the other. These terracotta figurines are very rarely found in a domestic context, and never in a context that proves their use in a given house. So, a direct change from a secular (house) context to a religious (temple) or funerary (grave) context cannot be proved archaeologically. However, the use of these terracottas in burials and votive deposits, i.e. their occurrence in non-secular contexts, is evidenced by the vast majority of the finds and contexts, in which these ceramic artefacts are found. So, a secular looking terracotta type that has the features of a toy (movable limbs) occurs almost exclusively in graves and temple deposits. In this contribution I discuss processes that take place in the Greek votive industry when changing a secular object into a specific, votive one. Questions like how the change of the final destination of an object can influence the changes in its characteristics will also be addressed.


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