Rituali di guerra: i Dioscuri a Sparta e a Taranto
In: Archeologia Classica: 60, 2010
This study addresses the issue of the use of archaeological sources in reconstructing ritual
behaviour and, in particular, interpreting votive deposits. A concrete case is taken into
examination – that of the Taranto contexts – with cult material of the Dioscuri, to verify its use
and relationship with religious practices. Various forms of deposit and various stages of the
ceremonies are then identified, consisting mainly in theoxenia rites performed by groups of individuals who may also have had a social role of a public nature. One of the votive deposits
may have been situated in a city gymnasium in the vicinity of the Agora and the Museum, thereby
attesting to the connection between the cult of the Dioscuri and the world of the ephebia also
attested in Greece. Alongside more specifically archaeological examination research also focuses
on the documentation of the sources and ancient literature, concentrating above all on Sparta,
one of the major centres for the dissemination of the cult of the Divine Twins.
Here, too, can be documented the practice of theoxenia and important collective celebrations associated with regality, war, and the activities of the ephebes. Similar forms can be reconstructed at Taranto, a centre that absorbed symbols and forms thoroughly typical of the Spartan tradition, to the extent, indeed, of suggesting that the rituals attested by the votive deposits were introduced from outside and grafted on to a pre-existing cult. In the second half of the fourth century BC we may see as a channel for the dissemination of such very specific practices the presence of individuals from the Spartan royal family in the Italian city, with roles of military and political command. In the West, however, associated with the warlike and ephebic aspects are funerary elements creating specific ritual characterisation. The cult practices seem to have died out before the mid-third century BC: the areas reserved for altars, dokana and other religious elements were levelled and the objects ritually deposited after the plunder of the city wreaked during Hannibal’s war, thus forming the collections of votive objects examined.