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The cult of Jupiter Dolichenus (‘Jupiter of Doliche’, a city whose ruins are located in modern southeastern Turkey) most likely originated shortly after the Roman conquest under Pompey of Syria and Pontus in 64 BC. The original deity appears to have been a “ba’al” (meaning simply ‘lord’, an honorific), the local ‘storm god’ known variously as Teshub or Hadad. Hadad was a Semitic deity of the region referred to as the lord of the gods, and whose governance included agriculture, the weather—especially storm—and fertility. Teshub was the name of a Hurrian (Anatolian) god whose attributes were much the same as that of Hadad; hence the two were conflated, in much the same manner as the Romans were later to identify ‘Teshub/Hadad’ with their own supreme deity.
Such an easygoing syncretism may be somewhat perplexing to our modern society, whose worldview is conditioned by two thousand years of monotheism (at least officially). However, an average Roman would not have been bothered by the labels assigned to a particular deity—Jupiter was Teshub was Hadad was Zeus, in many respects—and most certainly was not offended by the varying religious practices of others, as evidenced by the relatively easy incorporation of various Eastern mystery cults into Roman society. Although it is perhaps dangerous to generalize about religious belief across a region spanning Britain to Syria, it’s probably safe enough to say that the typical pagan inhabitant of the Empire was quite happy to worship in his or her own fashion and to let others do likewise. At a more elevated level, Platonic (later known as Neoplatonic) thought of the early and middle Imperial period evolved a justification for syncretism by asserting that the classical gods were themselves simply attributes of a supreme Godhead. In this worldview, the paths to ‘the One’ were innumerable and of equal validity.
In essence, much of the population worshiped those deities they knew but were equally happy to welcome other cults, generally—though not always—identifying the attributes of the newer cult’s deities with their own familiar gods’.
In any case, although there is little evidence concerning the spread of the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus, its presence is attested in Africa by the early second century, and later in the century along the Rhine and Danube frontiers, as well as in Rome itself. Its popularity was greatest under the Severans. Unlike Mithraism, however, the worship of Jupiter Dolichenus was not mainly restricted to the military, though—as in Mithraic practice--the cult was a mystery religion whose rituals were secret and into whose practices prospective followers must be initiated. Unfortunately, the secrecy surrounding the cult’s beliefs means that we cannot know exactly what they were, nor can we make accurate assertions about the meaning of the symbolism associated with the cult.
Some is clear enough, and taken direct from the imagery of Teshub/Hadad: military attire (signifying ‘lordship’ rather than a specifically military orientation), a double-headed axe (‘labrys’), and a Phrygian cap and trousers. Roman influences perhaps show up in a beard and lightning bolts. The god is uniquely always depicted as standing on the back of a bull, probably representing strength and fertility, and indicative of the deity’s role as lord over nature and the wild.
The deity’s place of worship was, unlike classical ‘public’ fanes, designed to exclude outsiders. The temple would have contained enough space for the initiates to gather, but presented a blank face to the outside world, possessing a narthex (anteroom) and a cella (place of worship). Little is known of the cult’s beliefs or practices.
The worship of Jupiter Dolichenus appears to have declined from the early third century, and with the sack of Doliche itself by the Persians in the 250s CE the god lost his credibility as a martial figure.
Page created by Eric Jacobson
|11:21 AM Dec 5|