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Maritime risk and ritual responses: sailing with the gods in the Ancient Mediterranean

from HISTORICAL CASE STUDIES: The Mediterranean world

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2017

Sandra Blakely
Affiliation:
Emory University, United States
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Summary

ABSTRACT.This contribution assesses literary, artistic and archaeological evidence for the religious ideas and practices of the maritime peoples of the ancient Mediterranean. It focusses on how the performance of maritime rituals created symbolic connections between the human and the divine worlds, arguing that theses rituals linked social classes and groups beyond the seafarers themselves, providing psychological comfort, creating maritime communal identities and facilitating the successful pursuit of maritime endeavors.

RÉSUMÉ.Cette contribution compare différentes sources littéraires, artistiques et archéologiques comme témoins des idées et pratiques religieuses des peuples marins de la Méditerranée antique. Elle s'intéresse particulièrement au déroulement des rituels marins et aux connexions symboliques qu'ils établissaient entre les mondes humains et divins. Permettant une communion entre les différents groupes et classes sociales bien au-delà des marins seuls, ces rituels apportaient un réconfort psychologique, et permettaient de créer des identités maritimes communautaires et de faciliter le succès des futures entreprises maritimes.

The centrality of seafaring to ancient Mediterranean economies means that the ritual responses to it were many and varied. Maritime rituals were neither restricted to the gods most often associated with the sea, nor to individuals whose primary source of livelihood was seafaring. They encompassed civic rites and personal apotropaia (charms to turn aside evil) headland shrines and votive plaques. These ranged in their effect from the purely symbolic to the intensely practical, offering mnemonic aids, building social cohesion, and ensuring the flow of information on which maritime safety relied. Relevant data are preserved in inscriptions, archaeological sites, artwork, literary and historical texts. These, reflecting the divisions within academic specializations, have typically been studied in terms of the form in which they are preserved – literary, monumental, iconographic or epigraphic – and by scholars specializing in the culture and historical period from which those data derive, primarily Aegean, Phoenician, Roman, and Greek.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2017

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