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Public Cults in Private Hands: the Appropriation of cult sites from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD


.Drawing on exciting new discoveries in the Colli Albani area, the CULTUS project offers an unprecedented opportunity to explore the role of religion in Roman élite competition, identity creation, and state ideology, from the perspective of actual practice, agency, and integration into daily activities and more mundane physical surroundings. The identification of the famous sacrarium of Bona Dea at the ʽVilla of Clodiusʼ, Castel Gandolfo, and a re-assessment of the villas of Secciano and La Torretta, have closed important gaps in our knowledge of the Colli Albani’s sacred landscape, and have paved the way for the successful application of an innovative approach that moves away from still-prevailing paradigms of normative and static concepts of religion, and binary oppositions such as public/private or official/popular. Focussing on the much-neglected semi-public cult sites situated in private properties, the study aims to identify the patrons of these initiatives (male and female private individuals; emperors), and the reasons for their actions (self-promotion and socio-political ‘cultural capital’) over four centuries of extensive change in Roman political and social history (2nd c. BC to 2nd c. AD).
The project comprises five work packages: Comprehensive data collection (WP1) and analysis (WP2) of three main case study sites and several comparative sites; the interpretation and contextualisation of these findings in a wider set of historical questions (WP3); training and outreach activities (WP4 and 5). Key concepts to be developed further are: (a) the ‘mapping of social history’ that proposes to study human action and interaction from the perspective of their spacial interconnectedness; (b) ‘lived ancient religion’ that emphasises individuals as religious agents instead of institutions, cities or ethnic groups; and (c) gender studies, that explore how women used their engagement with (semi ) public cults for self-promotion.
Leaflet | Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors, Credit: EC-GISCO, © EuroGeographics for the administrative boundaries




The Queen'S Drive Northcote House
Ex4 4qj Exeter

United Kingdom

Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 224 933,76

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 844113


Ongoing project

  • Start date

    1 July 2019

  • End date

    30 June 2021

Funded under:


  • Overall budget:

    € 224 933,76

  • EU contribution

    € 224 933,76

Coordinated by:


United Kingdom