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Emily Hurt (Yale) – Voveo vobis templa ludosque facturum: The evocatio and Risk Management

The sacking and destruction of cities was endemic to the ancient world. Even the strongest cities were sometimes unable to hold back their enemies: Athens was devastated by the Persians, Alexander the Great destroyed Thebes, and the Romans wiped Carthage, a 700-year-old Mediterranean power, off the face of the earth. However, ancient cities also had an amazing power of survival, their collective memory was held in tradition and rituals that often outlasted the physical cities themselves. This paper focuses on the the destruction of cities under the Roman Republic and argues that the Roman ritual of the evocatio, in which the tutelary god of an enemy city was ritually called out and invited to Rome, was part of a process of risk management. Symbolically, the bringing of conquered gods back to Rome was a sort of insurance policy, designed to combat the power of the collective memory of ancient cities by stripping away one of the focal points of collective, civic identity and integrating it into the city of Rome. The paper is a reexamination and reframing of Rome’s famously “tolerant” religious policy, one which incorporated foreign and sometimes hostile gods into the Roman pantheon. I argue that it was less a policy of “religious toleration” than a strategic move to mitigate the risks inherent with the incorporation of a large number of geographically and culturally diverse cities under a single empire ruled from Rome.


David Harrap (Queen Mary University of London) – ‘May every enemy power, every adversity, every calamity be far removed from Her’: Liturgical Responses to the Perils of the Sea during the Middle Ages

To take ship in the middle-ages was to enter a space of infinite contingency.  Calamities ranged from the inconvenient (delay, lack of terrestrial comforts) to the terrifying (shipwreck, having one’s body lost among the unconsecrated billows).  Faced with the threat of immanent
disaster and death, voyagers often turned to liturgical and para-liturgical palliatives.  This paper will examine liturgical sources, primarily from western Europe and the western Mediterranean, to examine the medieval conception of the physical and spiritual risks of sea travel. Specifically, it will address how liturgical and para-liturgical activities envisaged and portrayed those risks, and what ritual strategies were evolved to address them.


All welcome, this seminar is free to attend but booking is required.

Please note that bookings for this seminar will close 24 hours in advance to allow the meeting link to be distributed.