Project 4: Decorative principles in sacred space

Temple of Isis in Pompeii
Temple of Isis in Pompeiipublic domain, source


WP 4 is an analysis of sanctuaries as decorated spaces of experience and agency. The highest concentration of archaeologically preserved sanctuaries of very different natures is found at Rome. In addition, there is a large body of literary references that provides details of usage and perception patterns for the urban temples at Rome.

The sanctuaries of the capital of the Empire are furthermore distinguished by the splendour of their decoration, as often the emperors themselves were responsible for their construction. For this reason, work package 4 will initially study the situation at Rome, selectively using the sanctuaries of other cities for comparative purposes. For sanctuaries, the same research situation applies as outlined above for residential contexts: to date, studies dealing with configuration and agency of temples mostly concentrated on individual categories of decor. Publications of individual temples in monograph form (e.g. the temple of Castor and Pollux) on the other hand, did not include any assessment of the aesthetic-semantic effects of decorative elements. In contrast to houses, however, the study must assume very different social practices and rites, and consequently contexts of representation and reception for sanctuaries.

Even for Rome alone, however, a detailed discussion of all sanctuaries is just as impossible as it would be for WP 1 to discuss all residential contexts of the Bay of Naples region. This necessitates a selection of key late Republican – early Imperial sanctuaries for a meaningful survey of the principles of decor usage. In many cases, the decor of Republican sanctuaries will only be accessible within limitations, as the Capitol and the temples in the Forum Romanum, on the Campus Martius, near the Circus Flaminius and in the Forum Boarium, whilst preserved in terms of their structural form, are only partially understood in terms of their decorative programmes. The datasets available for the early Empire are significantly more reliable, as they include other sanctuaries, such as those of the Imperial Fora, in addition to the above contexts. In a second step, the work package will be expanded to include selected, particularly well-preserved Italian sanctuaries (e.g. Brescia, Pompeii).

While the WPs focussing on houses investigate closed interior spaces, atmosphere and agency of sanctuaries must be approached from dual viewpoints. On the one hand, sanctuaries do include interior spaces with decorative features (e.g. cult images and statues, floor-, wall- and ceiling decors) that need to be discussed in terms of their dependency on the spatial qualities of their surroundings – particularly so in terms of access and layout. This involves very similar research approaches to those outlined for the work package dealing with residential contexts above. At the same time, however, it involves a very different framework of action, that of ritual and cultic activity.

On the other hand, this WP also needs to address questions regarding the staging and agency of temples within an urban setting – i.e. an open, urban and public space. In many cases, temples are placed within purposefully designed areas that are framed and therefore demarked by porticoes (e.g. the sanctuaries on the Circus Flaminius, as well as the later Imperial Fora in Rome), but there are also temples that develop within grown urban settings (e.g. on the Forum Romanum). The project will address the agency of temples in such homogenous and heterogeneous settings on the basis of concrete forms of their layout and design.