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In: Magical Practice in the Latin West
SENSORIVM: The Senses in Roman Polytheism explores how a range of cults and rituals were perceived and experienced by participants through one or more senses.

The present collection brings together papers from an international group of researchers all inspired by ‘the sensory turn’. Focusing on a wide range of ritual traditions from around the ancient Roman world, they explore the many ways in which smell and taste, sight and sound, separately and together, involved participants in religious performance. Music, incense, images and colors, contrasts of light and dark played as great a role as belief or observance in generating religious experience.

Together they contribute to an original understanding of the Roman sensory universe, and add an embodied perspective to the notion of Lived Ancient Religion.

Contributors are Martin Devecka; Visa Helenius; Yulia Ustinova; Attilio Mastrocinque; Maik Patzelt; Mark Bradley; Adeline Grand-Clément; Rocío Gordillo Hervás; Rebeca Rubio; Elena Muñiz Grijalvo; David Espinosa-Espinosa; A. César González-García, Marco V. García-Quintela; Jörg Rüpke; Rosa Sierra del Molino; Israel Campos Méndez; Valentino Gasparini; Nicole Belayche; Antón Alvar Nuño; Jaime Alvar Ezquerra; Clelia Martínez Maza.


our intention here is to analyse how the senses participated in the identity-configuration processes of the Isiac cult at the end of the Republic and during the Principate. The post-Said paradigm has cast doubt on the suitability of the category of “oriental religions” for identifying a range of cults, including that of Isis, so we do not intend to use this aspect of identity formation to confront or interrogate the vague notions of “Western” and “Oriental” in their sensory dimensions. In other words, it does not seem appropriate to try to establish and systematise the sensory markers proper to the generic category of “oriental cults” as opposed to those pertaining to an alleged Roman tradition. In other chapters in this volume, the authors suggest that each one of the new cults for which a roughly oriental background can be detected has a distinct sensory output. Our approach here is different. The archaeological evidence does not reveal radical differences between the aromata or food offerings in the temples of the gens isiaca compared to those of any other cult. Of course, visualism is a clear differentiating marker, but even the architecture of temples and the aesthetics of statues generally undergo modifications that strip off the pre-Hellenistic Egyptian character of the cult, due to different artistical, technical or infrastructural reasons. On the other hand, there are sensory outputs that are without doubt exclusive to the cult of the gens isiaca. First, the priests are systematically described as being dressed in exotic clothing, even if we have to consider that such descriptions seem to be a topos. In addition, the sonority of the cult leaves no room for doubt about its character: the chants and the use of the sistrum were recognisable as exclusive of the cult of the gens isiaca. It is the double game of, on the one hand, mimesis—the adaptation of the cult to the political, social, and cultural variations of Roman imperialism—and, on the other, alterity—the preservation of a “genuine” exotic identity—engaged in by the cult of Isis and her paredroi that will be the subject of our analysis here.

In: SENSORIVM: The Senses in Roman Polytheism
In: SENSORIVM: The Senses in Roman Polytheism