Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice: Images, Acts, Meanings

Book (Edited Book)

Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice reappraises the diverse religious texts and practices of the late Hellenistic and Roman periods, investigating the meanings and functions of sacrifice in the ancient world. Gathering together essays that address sacrificial acts, ancient theories of sacrifice, and literary as well as artistic depictions of sacrifice, the connections between Mediterranean religions are highlighted, as are the significant differences among them. The attempt to identify a single underlying significance of sacrifice, this collection demonstrates, is futile. It is simply not adequate to define sacrifice solely as a primal expression of violence, despite the frequent equation of sacrifice-religion and sacrifice-violence in many modern scholarly works, nor is it sufficient to suggest that all sacrifice can be explained by guilt, by the need to prepare and distribute animal flesh, or by the communal function of both the sacrificial ritual and the meal. Sacrifice may be invested with all of these meanings, or none of them: the killing of the animal, for example, may take place off stage and the practical, day-to-day routine of plant and animal offerings may have been invested with little meaning at all. Still, sacrificial acts, or discourses about these acts, did offer an important site of contestation for many ancient writers, even when the religions they were defending no longer participated in sacrifice. Negotiations over the meaning of sacrifice remained central to the competitive machinations of the literate elite, and their sophisticated theological arguments did not so much undermine sacrificial practice as continue to assume its essential validity.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Duke Editors

Cited Editors

  • Várhelyi, Z; Knust, JW

Published Date

  • January 19, 2012

Published By

Place of Publication

  • New York and London


  • 352

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780199738960

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199738960.001.0001