Tiny and Fragmented Votive Offerings from Classical Antiquity

Hughes, Jessica (2019). Tiny and Fragmented Votive Offerings from Classical Antiquity. In: Martin, S. Rebecca and Langin-Hooper, Stephanie M. eds. The Tiny and the Fragmented : Miniature, Broken, or Otherwise Incomplete Objects in the Ancient World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 48–71.

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Abstract

This chapter focuses on votive offerings from the ancient Greco-Roman world— objects that were left for the gods in sanctuaries or other sacred places. Votive offerings intersect closely with this volume’s themes: many offerings are tiny (or at least “miniaturized”) representations of larger bodies or objects; in turn, many votives can also be understood as fragments—whether because they are deliberately broken objects, or because they show clear signs of incidental “wear and tear,” or because they represent isolated parts of human bodies such as legs, arms, or heads. The first half of this chapter discusses these different types of votive fragmentation, arguing that such deliberate or accidental fragmentation frequently increased the symbolism and perceived value of the offering in the eyes of both the community and the recipient deity. I also introduce the further possibility that all votives might in some sense be seen as fragments, insofar as they constitute part of a worshiper’s property or converted wealth—an idea inherent in the ancient concepts of dekatē and aparchē.

The second part of this chapter focuses on one particular type of fragmentary votive—the anatomical model—and explores this object-type from the perspective of the miniature. Tiny body parts made in clay and metal began to be dedicated in the Middle Minoan (ca. 2100–1600 BCE) and then the Archaic Greek (ca. 800– 480 BCE) eras, and continued to appear alongside the life-sized (or near life-sized) anatomical votives that were a feature of Hellenistic and Roman ritual. In my discussion of the miniature anatomicals, I explore some of the possible resonances of these votives’ tiny sizes, focusing in particular on the ways in which these objects facilitate, or even demand, intimate touch and handling. I suggest that the act of touching the votives—whether this was performed, remembered, or simply imagined—had a special valency in the sphere of healing, in which divine touch often played a central therapeutic role. More generally, I suggest that such real or imagined touch could also imprint the votive with a sort of “sensory memory,” enhancing its ability to function as an indexical trace of the person who dedicated it [3]. Finally, I raise the possibility that the miniature votives in Hellenistic and Roman times may have harkened back to the tiny votives of earlier periods, thus enabling the votive to function not only as a token of thanks or hope but also as a tool of cultural memory.

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