Gender and Ageing Agency in Urban and Extra-urban Religious Spaces in Antiquity
A Two-day Workshop to be held in Hamburg (16-17 July 2021 tbc) organized by Francesca Fulminante, Giulia Pedrucci, and Martina Seifert
Religious spaces can be urban, suburban, or extra-urban. The meaning of these adjectives is only apparently evident. While transition between urban and extra-urban spaces can be gradual and often imperceptible, we consider urban a, more or less densely, built-up area of a certain size (generally in the range of 100 ha or above, in any case more than 15-25 ha) where public and religious buildings and spaces are present, often surrounded by a city’s walls, which makes the distinction between in-side and out-side generally sharper and more obvious but not in all cases. Suburban is outside, but close to the limit of the densely populated area or the city wall, if present: expressed in real life terms, we can say that, for instance, suburban sanctuaries would have been located roughly within the radius of a healthy adult’s easy walking distance there and back in a day, before night and darkness makes the journey more uncertain and perilous. Easily within a woman’s walking distance, too, therefore but maybe less so for a pregnant woman, or a woman caring for children. Extra-urban is outside the city wall, and far away enough not to be considered suburban. The extra-urban sanctuaries had usually been founded to serve purposes related to mediation and the political control of a particular territory while urban sanctuaries serve more local, internal socio-political dynamics of the civic community.
The importance of investigating domestic and funerary spaces with a contextual approach for a better understanding of women and infant/children in the past/present has already been shown by a long tradition of studies culminated in the recent works Children, Spaces and Identity, edited by Margarita Sánchez Romero, Eva Alarcón García and Gonzalo Aranda Jiménez (2015); and Famille et société dans le monde grec et en Italie du Ve au IIe siécle av. J.C., edited by Jean-Baptiste Bonnard, Véronique Dasen et Jerôme Wilgaux (2017). However, the activity of women and infant/children in public spaces has received much less attention. We want to investigate to what extent and why religious activities involving women and infants implied the choice of an urban, suburban, or extra-urban space and the appropriation of them; and vice-versa, if urban, suburban, or extra-urban religious places and spaces were built or created specifically to host rituals involving women and infants.
Whether a space is urban, suburban, or non-urban affects, for instance, the visibility and the accessibility of any sanctuary located within it. A sanctuary’s location, as we have said, tells us how accessible (for a pregnant woman, for instance) it was, and how evocative and awe-inspiring the religious experience of visiting it might have been. The location of a religious place has also relevance in terms of visibility (to other citizens or to external conquerors) and private and public dimensions. Obviously bearing in mind, as Rüpke reminds us, that the public sphere is never absent in any religion. As correctly defined by this scholar, religions can be considered as “the ascription of agency to non- or super-human agents [...] usually performed in communicative action [...]” that is “[...] bidirectional: with other human beings and with non-human or super-human beings” (Pantheon. A new history of Roman religion, 2018).
The analysis of the location of religious spaces in which performances involving women and infants took place—combined with other variables such as the historical period, the cultural background, the nature of deities, archeological and epigraphical findings, etc.—can help us in casting new light on the lives of the most neglected and “ventriloquized” part of ancient societies, i.e., women and infants, and, hopefully, in breaking down clichés about the rigid separation of men, women, and children in the ancient world.