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The experience of pilgrimage in the Roman Empire: communitas, paideiā, and piety-signaling

Rutherford, I. ORCID: (2020) The experience of pilgrimage in the Roman Empire: communitas, paideiā, and piety-signaling. In: Gasparini, V., Patzelt, M., Raja, R., Rieger, A.-K., Rüpke, J. and Urciuoli, E. (eds.) Lived Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World. De Gruyter, Berlin, Germany, pp. 137-156. ISBN 9783110557572

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1515/9783110557596


Pilgrimage of various types is well attested in the pre-Christian religions of the Roman Empire, but there is comparatively little evidence for the personal experiences of pilgrims. Some recent studies have argued that typical pilgrims of this period were members of the intellectual elite highly versed in literary culture (paideia) who saw sacred places as museums of Greek culture. In this paper, I try to reconstruct what we can about the experience of pilgrimage in early Roman Empire, looking at three cases studies: a. Philo’s somewhat idealized account of Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which stresses intense common feeling (or communitas, to use Victor Turner’s term) between participants; b. Pilgrimage to the oracle of Apollo at Claros, to which cities of Asia Minor and elsewhere sent sacred delegations, largely made up choirs of children who performed hymns at the sanctuary. It may be suggested that the experience of the pilgrimage was in large part an educative one - learning about Greek culture and learning how to behave in public; itmight even be seen as a sort of rite of passage. c. The healing-pilgrimages of Aelius Aristides to Pergamum and elsewhere. Aristides’ experience at Pergamum is full of paideia, though that was not the primary motivation, and it sometimes approaches communitas, though in the end the presence of other people tends to serve the purpose of an audience and foil for his own brilliance. Key aspects of his experience seem to be: a) suffering and b) a feeling of closeness to the god, sometimes bordering on identification with him.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Classics
ID Code:90126
Publisher:De Gruyter


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