Pagan Religion in the Lower Danubian provinces during the Late Roman period

Pagan Religion in the Lower Danubian provinces during the Late Roman period
Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"                                                                DOI                                                 
Archaeology Department   
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Abstract:  The current paper examines the available information on the worship of pagan cults in the Lower Danubian Roman provinces during the Late Roman era (284–395). At the beginning of Diocletian’s rule, following the stabilization of the military and political situation, there has been a certain revival of the ancient votive tradition of erecting altars and statues dedicated to the gods. However, the number of currently known monuments is considerably fewer than that of the pre-mid-third century period. Even during the Late Roman period, the supreme Roman god Jupiter remained the most popular god. Unlike the period of the Principate, however, he did not serve as the usual recipient of prayers for the welfare and safety of the rulers. Under the rule of Diocletian, this role was filled by the Mother of the Gods and the sun-god Sol Invictus, as well as the only once attested god Jupiter Olbiopolitanus. A new impetus has been given to the cult of Liber Pater/Dionysus, venerated by the primipilarii of the Roman army following the fulfillment of their assigned task of providing the army with food. They also erected statues of the deity in the legionary camps of Oescus and Novae. The latest dated monument with certainty dedicated to a pagan deity by a senior imperial official, in this case the commander of the garrison of Scythia Minor, originates from the end of Licinius’s rule. Following the establishment of Constantine’s sole authority in 324, these state officials ceased to venerate pagan deities, and around the middle of that century this tradition had been abandoned by those lower in the hierarchy as well, such as the primipilarii.

Keywords: Paganism, Lower Danube, Jupiter, Liber Pater, Magna Mater, Sol


Generally speaking, it is not an easy task to characterize Roman religion during the 3rd century AD and it goes far beyond the scope of the current study. I shall therefore confine myself here to some very brief remarks in order to provide the background of its development in the early years of Late Antiquity. 

The period of the Principate has been considered an era of decline concerning Roman religion for a long time. In fact, this decline began as early as during the late Republic, while Augustus’s attempts to revive ancient customs and religious practices had not any particular result. The characteristics of the Roman religion during that period were, on one hand, the imperial cult, which was purely political in character, and, on the other, the widespread various Eastern cults, such as those of Isis, Sarapis, the Mother of the Gods, Dolichenus, Mithra and later that of Christianity. Apart from this, the traditional gods remained in the background, while their worship especially that of the supreme god Jupiter the Best and the Greatest has been purely formal and can be considered an expression of loyalty to Rome and the emperor at most. These tendencies became clearer particularly during the time of the Severan dynasty and afterward, when the Eastern cults also attained an important place in the state religion. The emperor Septimius Severus himself trimmed his beard in such a way to resemble that of the Egyptian god Sarapis, and shortly afterward Elagabalus introduced the cult of the Syrian sun god to Rome and even placed him first in the official pantheon of the empire.[1]

These views on Roman religion during the Empire were dominant in historiography until the 1970s. Shortly afterwards scholars started to pay more attention to the sources coming from the Roman provinces, which presented a different picture, especially the sources during the period from the second until the first half of the third century. Statistical analysis of Latin inscriptions from the western Roman provinces indicates that traditional Roman deities such as Hercules, Mars, Fortuna, Mercury, and Silvanus were much more popular than eastern cults. Everywhere except in North Africa the monuments to Jupiter have been the most numerous, something which contradicts the notion that the worship of the supreme Roman god had been reduced to meaningless ceremonies.[2] The leading role of Egyptian deities in the religious propaganda of Severan dynasty also appears to be overestimated. It has recently been suggested that Septimius Severus aspired to resemble more to the Roman Jupiter rather than to the Egyptian Sarapis, while the case of Elagabalus can be considered as a brief interval in the history of Roman religion that remains without significant consequences for its development.

The religious propaganda of the emperors in the 3rd century can be traced mostly through the minted coins. Personifications of various virtues and qualities inherent in the rulers dominate the reverse images of the period 193–284; their goal is to demonstrate the prosperity and welfare of the empire and particularly its military prowess. The images of the gods occupy the second place, and among them the traditional state gods of Rome undoubtedly dominate; although Jupiter himself is not the most represented god on the coins.[3] In a number of coin types Septimius Severus and his sons are celebrated as restitutor urbis[4], which according to Géza Alföldy should be understood not as a title about the restoration of individual buildings, particularly temples in Rome, but also as a restoration of the traditional relationship with the Roman gods as well as religion in general.[5] Since the time of Alexander Severus and so forth, the slogan restitutor orbis has become particularly popular on coins and inscriptions, having also a sense of religious revival.[6] From the middle of the 3rd century, the supreme Roman god Jupiter assumed an increasingly important place on coins.[7] During Gallienus the theme of divine investiture of rulers is revived. The images of Jupiter granting a globe to the emperor intend to stress the divine origin of power and consequently to claim legitimation outside the army. The motif has been used extensively in the coinage of emperors following Gallienus right up to the imposition of the independent authority of Constantine.[8]

One of the few innovations during the second half of the third century that had more lasting impact on Roman religion, both in the Rome itself and in its provinces, has been the elevation of the sun god Sol to one of the leading positions in the official pantheons under Aurelian. In fact, during the first years of his rule, Aurelian propagated that the origin of his power came from the supreme god Jupiter, and it was only in the second half, following the victories in the east, that Sol took the leading role. Moreover the emperor attributed his victorious campaigns to the Invincible Sun, Sol Invictus along with the opportunity to unite the empire. The image of the sun god appeared also on coins in the summer of 273 and became the dominant type by the end of Aurelian’s rule[9]. In several coin types in Cyzicus and Serdica Sol even grants a globe to the emperor[10]. A magnificent new temple was erected in the capital city of Rome, where a new college of priests (pontifices dei Solis) was established and games were organized in honor of Sol (agon Solis)[11], while its popularity on coins continued under subsequent emperors[12].

Traditionalism represented the basis of the religious propaganda of the third-century emperors. This message, conveyed through various means– inscriptions, coinage etc, was totally clear: ancient Roman religion must be preserved and revived in order for the Empire itself to be restored. This traditionalism has been particularly visible in the Roman provinces along the Rhine and Danube, where some of the emperors of the second half of the century were born[13].

The religious propaganda of Diocletian and his colleagues fits within the framework laid down by their predecessors representing a logical continuation of conservative policies in the field of religion. Only traditional Roman gods, such as Jupiter, Hercules, Mars and the prominent under Aurelian Sol, were represented on the coins. The various personifications, extremely popular in the preceding period, have been reduced to the Genius of the Roman People, Virtus, Providentia, Salus, Pax, Moneta and others, but only the Genius of the Roman People occurred relatively frequently. If in the period 193–284 images of the deities occupied less than a quarter of the coin types[14], during the Tetrarchy types with Jupiter Conservator, Hercules, Sol Invictus, Mars Victor or Pacifer undoubtedly dominated.

Diocletian, like most of his predecessors, ascended to the throne thanks to the army. In the decades following the assassination of Alexander Severus in 235, it was the army that became an institution of paramount importance concerning the election and overthrow of emperors. This is the main reason why, from Gallienus and onwards, every newly proclaimed ruler sought to legitimize his power in other ways also and consequently attempted to reduce the influence of the military. One of the tools of achieving this goal was the propagation of the concept of the imperial power’s divine origin and therefore the role of the emperor as a divine vicegerent on earth. This idea itself has not been new to Rome, although it was for the first time propagated with such consistency and insistence. In this respect Diocletian and his colleagues are not an exception, but even develop further these tendencies.

Since the very beginning of Diocletian’s reign, the emphasis of his religious propaganda has been placed on the supreme Roman god Jupiter, and particularly on Jupiter as the protector, guardian and defender both of the emperor and the entire empire itself[15]. In this respect the epithet Conservator, which Jupiter retained until the end of the coinage of Licinius in 324, is exceptionally illustrative. It is Jupiter Conservator who handed over the empire to Diocletian, as shown by the coins as early as 284 at Tripoli and Antioch[16]. From this moment on, the supreme Roman god became an invariable motif in coinage for Diocletian. Later, with the proclamation of Maximian as Augustus and subsequently of Constantius Chlorus and Galerius as Caesars, Jupiter also appears on the coins minted in their name, but in a considerably smaller percentage compared to the coins of Diocletian[17].

The authority of Diocletian’s co-ruler Maximian was also considered of divine origin. The coins from the time when he has been already Augustus (after 286) depicted a scene of investiture by Jupiter, who hands the ruler a globe with a figure of Victoria on it[18]. However, since the promotion of Maximian to Caesar in 285 Hercules had been chosen as his patron. The first task with which the new Caesar had been entrusted was to put down the so-called Bagaudae revolt in Gaul and to secure the border along the Rhine threatened by the barbarians. The restoration of order in the western Roman provinces has been identified with the exploits of Heracles/Hercules and his victories over the forces of chaos, especially with the assistance, which the hero rendered to Zeus/Jupiter in his struggle against the giants. To commemorate the victories, the mint of Lugdunum cut a series of coins featuring the exploits of Hercules[19]. The relationship of the august Maximian with the son of Zeus/Jupiter had been reflected in the Latin panegyrics of that era[20]. In the spring or summer of 286 Diocletian and Maximian have also adopted the names of Iovius and Herculius[21]. The idea, embodied in the names Iovius and Herculius, however, does not have as a goal to identify the two augusti with their respective gods, regarding them as their incarnations upon the earth, but to place the rulers under the direct patronage of Jupiter and Hercules[22].

Following the accession of Constantius Chlorus and Galerius as Caesars along with the establishment of the Tetrarchy (293), the circle of divine patrons of the rulers had been widened. Mars and Sol have been included in official religious propaganda and their images have been represented well upon coins. The historiography holds that Mars has been the patron god of Galerius, while Constantius Chlorus was placed under the protection of the Invincible Sun, while he also professed some kind of solar monotheism. Three inscriptions in Latin from Timgad (Tamugadi) in the province of Numidia, North Africa, in addition to the coin depictions are considered that they support the above view. The monuments have been erected by the provincial governor to Jupiter the Best and the Greatest, patron of Diocletian, to Hercules, patron of Maximian and to Mars, patron of Galerius[23]. Undoubtedly there was a fourth inscription dedicated to the patron deity of Constantius Chlorus. It is assumed that Sol was honored in the unpreserved monument. However, an analysis of the coins minted for Constantius Chlorus indicates that Sol is represented on only 9% of them, while for Galerius is 20%. In fact, the most popular deities on the coins of the two Caesars, and subsequently the augusti, were Jupiter for Galerius, who had been included in the Jovian family (53%) and Hercules for the Herculean family member Constantius Chlorus (60%). Overall, the impression is that the relationship to a particular patron deity for the two Caesars has not been so clear and strict[24]. Apart from this, Dionysus probably played also a role in Galerius’s religious politics as a mythical conqueror of the East[25].

A different circle of patron deities of the Tetrarchy is represented on one of the panels of the Arch of Galerius at Thessalonica. The seated augusti Diocletian and Maximian, flanked by the upright Caesars Galerius and Constantius Chlorus, occupy a central position in the relief. The rulers are surrounded by Jupiter, Isis, Sarapis, Fortuna, the Dioscuri, Virtus and Honus, as well as personifications of the earth, sea and sky. Another panel of the arch shows Diocletian and Galerius performing libations on an altar with images of Jupiter and Hercules, and also a battle scene between Galerius and the Persian king Narses, while the eagle of Jupiter places a wreath on the head of the victorious Roman Caesar[26].

Despite the variety of deities invoked as protectors of rulers and of the empire, the pre-eminence of the supreme Roman god Jupiter had never been questioned. This position is very clearly indicated by the monument erected in the old Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Tetrarchy. The monument represents a structure of five columns located in the western part of the forum. A statue of Jupiter was placed on the middle column, surrounded on either side by images of the two augusti along with statues of the Caesars on the two last columns[27]. Only the base of one of the columns bearing a statue of one of the Caesars has been preserved. The sculptural structures on the walls of the base are entirely made according to the vein of traditional Roman religion. One of them depicts a ruler in a scene of sacrifice in the presence of Mars, Victoria, the goddess Roma and Sol. Another scene shows a sacrifice of a pig, a ram and a bull –the so called suovetaurilia. The third side shows a procession of military personnel. The scene along with the suovetaurilia and the procession of the military personnel is directed towards the sacrifice scene, which clearly represents the peak of the celebrations[28].  

Initially, at least, Diocletian’s successors adhered to the framework of religious policy that he had laid down. The coins of Galerius as Augustus are definitely dominated by images of Jupiter Conservator, while those of Constantius Chlorus by Hercules, however, the supreme Roman god is also adequately represented in the coins. In the subsequent rulers, however, Jupiter Conservator represents the dominant type only for Licinius, while the preference of Maximinus Daza and especially Constantine is for Sol. In the coins of Maxentius, for example, Jupiter is entirely absent at the expense of Hercules and especially Mars[29].

In relation to the religious policy of the rulers of the period under consideration important is an inscription from Carnuntum[30]. The altar is dedicated to the Invincible Sun Mithras, called patron, protector (fautor) of the empire, while the dedicators are the most pious (religiosissimi) augusti and caesars of the families Jovii and Herculii. Probably in relation to the meeting held at Carnuntum in November 308, the former and latter emperors rebuilt the sanctuary of the god Mithras in the city.

Although brief, the review of the emperor’s religious policy since the accession of Diocletian to the throne in 284 until the establishment of Constantine’s independent authority exactly 40 years later indicates conservatism and adherence to tradition. In the period 284–306, even the very popular god Sol Invictus relinquished his leading position on the coins to Jupiter, Hercules and Mars. The concern for preserving the norms of traditional Roman religion along with the hope of securing the prosperity and well-being of the Empire is also expressed in the persecutions that have been undertaken against Christians, however, the current paper does not delve into this issue.

* * *

The study of ancient religion in the eastern parts of the Balkan Peninsula during the first three centuries after Christ mainly within the provinces of Lower Moesia and Thrace, has a long history. The focus of research, however, is mostly on the 2nd and 3rd centuries, because we have numerous and informative sources from that era, while the records of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries have not been the subject of independent in-depth study according to the context of their respective historical period. The sharp decline in the number of epigraphic monuments around and after the middle of the 3rd century, as well as the cessation of coin cutting at the cities around the same time, deprives researchers almost completely of information about religious life at that era. Following the stabilization of the military and political situation in the last decades of the 3rd century, the number of epigraphic monuments increased again, but it was far from reaching the levels of the first half of the century. The profile of dedicators also changed sharply, with the almost complete disappearance of local civilians and military figures at the expense of well-represented imperial officials. This feature makes it possible to trace to a considerable extent the manifestations of official imperial propaganda in the field of religion, but at the same time provides almost no information about the religious beliefs of the local population.

The granting of offerings to various deities by imperial officials has begun since the very beginning of Diocletian’s rule. During the period 286–393, under the protection of Gaius Aurelius Domitius (or Domitian) the walls of Tomis were rebuilt. A dedication to Sol Invictus (?) had been placed probably over one of the city’s gates for the welfare of the ruling emperors Diocletian and Maximian. The fact that the Caesars Constantius Chlorus and Galerius are not mentioned points to a date before 1 March 293.  All the researchers of the inscription assume that Gaius Aurelius Domitius (or Domitian) belonged to the equestrian nobility and held accordingly the post of provincial governor of Scythia Minor or commander of the military contingent in that province. The last suggested reconstruction of the text on the inscription of M. Zahariade, argues that the person in question was a Dux. The rebuilding of the ramparts and the construction of the offering had been made in the city of Tomis[31]. The choice to offer the welfare of the rulers to the sun god, perhaps also bearing the usual epithet Invincible (Invictus), was entirely in the spirit of the official religious propaganda of that age. The cult of Sol Invictus has not been particularly popular in Lower Moesia during the preceding period. More offerings are known from Novae[32], where perhaps a temple to him had been erected in the era of Elagabalus[33]. It is probably no coincidence that the only monument from the Tropaeum Traiani had been dedicated by a centurion of the First Italian Legion encamped in Novae[34].

Another commander of the garrison of Scythia Minor, Aurelius Firminianus, dedicated an altar to the Mother of the Gods in the provincial capital of Tomis. The monument was erected for the welfare and safety of the Augusts and the Caesars, and is dated to the period 293–305[35]. The mother of the Gods has been known in Tomis since the Hellenistic era and retained its popularity also during the Roman era[36]. Actually, her cult has been included in the state Roman religion as early as in the Second Punic War, while her popularity grew particularly during the Late Antiquity. The celebrations were taking place in her sanctuary on Vatican Hill in Rome and the taurobolia retained their popularity until the late 4th century[37]. The small four-columned temple in the residence of Galerius at Felix Romuliana[38] is considered to be a temple dedicated to the Mother of Gods, but the evidence supporting this view is inconclusive[39].

An offering was made to Jupiter Olbiopolitanus at Tropaeum Traiani for the welfare and safety of the rulers of the First Tetrarchy (293–305). The inscription can be found upon an architectural fragment– the left half of a triangular pediment with a shield in the middle. Unfortunately, the dimensions of the fragment are not given in any of the publications and it is not clear from what kind of building originates from– whether from a temple or from another smaller structure, an aedicule for example[40]. The epithet of Jupiter is derived from the name of the Greek colony of Olbia, situated on the shore of the Southern Bug estuary on the north-western shore of the Black Sea, and its use could be explained by the origin of the initiate Nevius Palmas Theomitianus. The position he held was inscribed on the lost right side of the monument. P. O. Karyshkovsky suggests that he was a centurion of the Roman contingent in Olbia, which had been withdrawn to Lower Moesia during the era of Diocletian or shortly before that[41]. The choice of the local god Jupiter Olbiopolitanus at the expense of the supreme Roman god Jupiter the Best and the Greatest probably does point to a connection of Nevius Palma Theotimianus with Olbia, but is not clear whether he was a centurion or held some other office probably even that of provincial governor or dux of Scythia Minor.

Although Jupiter the Best and the Greatest undoubtedly occupied a leading place in the religious propaganda of Diocletian and his successor Galerius, in the lands along the Lower Danube the Roman state god seemed to recede into the background as the patron of rulers. The only dedication to Jupiter for the welfare and safety of the emperors is represented by the inscription from Tropaeum Traiani, but there Jupiter/Zeus is honored as the god of the city of Olbia and not the Roman state. Senior administrative and military officials, however, erected dedications to their own health and that of their families. Two monuments from Durostorum probably date from the era of Diocletian. The first of these is dedicated to Jupiter the Best and the Greatest, bearing also the epithet Salutaris, to Juno the Queen and to all immortal gods. The dedicator is Silvius Silvanus, provincial governor (praeses) of Lower Moesia. He erected the altar for his own health and that of his family[42]. The second monument from Durostorum– this time a base for a statue– was dedicated by a provincial governor Aurelius Dizzo. The honored deity is none other than Jupiter the Best and the Greatest, while the statue has been erected for the health of the dedicator and that of his closest relatives[43]. The inscriptions do not contain any more clues to date them precisely. The fact that the provincial governors bore the title praeses and belonged to the equestrian rather than the senatorial nobility points out to dating during the time of Diocletian or shortly before or after his rule. Another altar dedicated to Jupiter the Best and the Greatest Conservator is dated about the same time. The monument originates from the village of Drenovets, Vidin region. The consecrator Aurelius Priscus was a dux– i.e. commander of the garrison of Dacia Ripensis province[44].

The three dedications to Jupiter the Best and the Greatest have been made by members of the equestrian nobility, provincial governors or commanders of garrisons in the Lower Danubian provinces in the late 3rd or early 4th century. Unlike the monuments erected by their counterparts in the capital of Scythia Minor, Tomis, these are not dedicated to the welfare of the ruling emperors, but to their own welfare and that of their families. The fact that Jupiter, the Best and the Greatest, is not summoned to watch over the Augusts and Caesars during that period is something surprising in my opinion, although it is quite possible that this is due to the relative scarce sources. Only the latest known dedication to Jupiter the Best and the Greatest has been made for the welfare of the two emperors. Moreover, Mars Conservator has been also included in the dedication formula. Although the lower part of the altar has been damaged and the decipherment of the names of the rulers is inconclusive it is accepted, though with doubts, that these rulers are Constantine and Licinius[45].     

A relatively large group of fourth-century inscriptions are dedicated to Liber Pater and Dionysus. Apart from the identity of the deity what is common to them is that they have been erected by primipilarii in the camps of the Fifth Macedonian and First Italian Legions, at Oescus and Novae respectively. One of the earliest of these is considered to be the Oescus altar. On one side of it there is a Latin inscription in honor of Diocletian in 285[46], while on the other there is a dedication to Liber Pater, called guardian, savior (conservator) of the two augusti. The dedicator was Flavius Zosimus, a primipilarius of Ephesus in the province of Asia. The date suggested by B. Gerov in the corpus of the Latin inscriptions from Bulgaria is the beginning of the 4th century[47]. The inscription itself does not allow for more precise dating, but in the last years the most possible view is that it belongs to the period of 340–350, from which the other two inscriptions of the primipilarii[48] of Oescus are also dated[49].

The monuments from Novae are more numerous. The earliest of them, such as the Oescus inscriptions that we have discussed already, is dedicated to Liber Pater Conservator. Here the god is not only the guardian of the Augusts and the Caesars, but of the First Italian Legion as well. The dedicator, Aurelius Porphyrius, has been a primipilarius from the province of Phoenicia. Since the text mentions two Augusts and two Caesars the publisher of the inscription T. Sarnowski suggests that it dates from the period 293–311[50]. Two other monuments from Novae represent bases for statues of Dionysus. The first of these has been erected by the primipilarii Theodore and Palladius from the province of Helespontus for the victories of the two emperors. The dating on the basis of the mentioned indication and the two Augusts is placed in the years 348/349 or 363–364[51]. The second statue of Dionysus of Novae has also been erected by primipilarius from the province of Helespont– Flavius [- - -]an[52]. According to the interpretation from A. Lajtar the god is defined as bestowing victories and fruits[53]. Apart from Dionysus, the primipilarii of Novae have made dedications to Apollo too. In the only surviving monument, the god is called the savior of the First Italian Legion. The names of the dedicator, as well as the province from which he originated have not been preserved[54].

In Late Antiquity, the primipilarii were civilians that had the task of supplying the army with food. Since the beginning of the 3rd century, the feeding of the army has been entrusted to the primipili, the first centurions in a legion, and since the time of the Tetrarchy this task has been taken over by the civilian primipilarii. Their task was to organize and carry out the transport of the already collected annona from the particular province to the borders of the empire[55]. All the commented inscriptions of Oescus and Novae are dedicated precisely after the fulfillment of their assigned tasks, namely feeding the army. The choice of the primipilarii to erect statues in honor of Liber Pater and Dionysus is not accidental. The latter is not only the god of wine, but of fertility in general, while the former has been extremely important for the successful accomplishment of the tasks by which the persons in question were in charge[56].

Two reliefs carved on the cliff near the banks of the Danube are also attributed to the Late Roman period. The relief near Somovit, Pleven region, was destroyed in 1937 and is known only from a photograph. Furthermore, the façade of a temple with a triangular pediment supported by two columns is carved into the cliff, while in the pediment a round shield is depicted. Between the columns a naked male figure can be seen upon a rectangular stand holding in his outstretched right hand an oblong object, while his left is raised upwards. T. Gerasimov suggests that this figure represents Zeus Sbelsourdos with an eagle in his right hand and a lightning bolt in his left, which are not visible due to erosion. To the right of the relief, in a shaped tabula ansata, there was an inscription in Latin by soldiers of the Fifth Macedonian Legion. The date suggested in the primary publication is the second half of the 3rd century[57]. The inscription has been attributed subsequently both to the Flavians, Trajan[58] and to Diocletian too[59]. Recently the argumentation of S. Torbatov led him to reject a possible dating in the Late Roman era[60].

The rock cliff relief has been discovered in a stone quarry near Axiopolis (Cernavodă, Romania). Hercules is represented upright, naked, in a semicircular niche. In his right hand he holds a cup and in his left, which is covered with lion’s skin, a staff. According to the research this relief is dated to the second half of the 3rd or early 4th century, and it is possible that its design is related to the work of the Second Herculean Legion in the quarries; a legion founded in the time of Diocletian and based in Troesmis[61].

A dedication in Latin in Tropaeum Traiani is also associated with Hercules. The inscription is written on a limestone slab and has been erected by the veteran Julius Valerius. The deity honored is Hercules Ripensis. This epithet occurs for the first time and points to the idea of Hercules as the defender of ripa Danubii– i.e. the Danubian coast. The monument is related to the era of the Tetrarchy[62].

Two identical dedications in Greek, made on behalf of the city itself, originate from Tropaeum Traiani. The first is to Hera and the second to Poseidon. The monuments are dated to the rule of Constantine and Licinius and are related to the discovery of new water sources for the city. A large water reservoir with an aqueduct has been uncovered at the southeastern end of Tropaeum Traiani, next to the walls. Probably it has been built at the same time as the walls, while the dedications to the two deities are immediately related to the then newly laid aqueduct[63].

The only monument related to the local Thracian god-Heros originates from the region of Ulmetum in Northern Dobrudzha. The altar was dedicated by Aurelius Valens, commander of the shield-bearing horsemen– pre(positus) e[q(uitum)] scut(ariorum), while god Heros is called upon to watch over the commander himself and the unit from Capidava (vexillatio Capidavensium)[64].

The dedication under consideration is in fact the only one that could be dated to the late Roman era according to its text. The vast majority of the votive tables of the Thracian Horseman, however, are without an epigraph or with very brief inscriptions, containing mostly the name and the epithet of the deity and also the name of the dedicator, but less often his position. There has been a discussion about the dating of the reliefs of the Horseman[65] in Bulgarian historiography recently and I believe that is quite possibly many of them to have been made during the 4th century. The same could be said about some votive tablets of other deities. However, I have chosen to confine myself here to the monuments that are relatively securely dated to the late Roman period.

The last notorious pagan emperor of the first half of the 4th century Licinius took special care to maintain the pagan cults in his dominion. A silver image of the Mother of the Gods was made for her temple in Dionysopolis under his personal command, while the governor of Scythia Minor province Aurelius Speratianus took care of it personally[66].

A series of dedications of members of equestrian rank, holding the posts of provincial governors or commanders-in-chief of garrisons in their respective provinces, ends with an extremely interesting inscription from the last years of the rule of the emperor Licinius. The text was written on the back side of an earlier tombstone that served as the base for a statue of the sun god Sol. The statue has been consecrated on 18 November and according to the orders of Licinius and his son Licinius II had to be venerated annually on that date by the commanders and soldiers of the garrison at Salsovia (west of Mahmoudia, Tulcea religion, Romania). The orders of the two rulers stipulated that the worship of the sun god should be done by burning incense, lighting candles and making libations. The commander (dux) of the garrison of Scythia Minor, Valerius Romulus was in charge of this task. Moreover, only the Eastern emperors Licinius I and Licinius II are mentioned in the text, but not Constantine and his sons, which points to a date during 322–323, when the rift between the two augusti was already in place[67].

Constantine’s victory over Licinius in the late summer of 324 proved to be a turning point in the history of the Roman Empire. Following these events, the highest officials, provincial governors and commanders of garrisons in certain provinces, no longer made offerings to pagan gods. I am not aware of a single monument securely dated after 324 to be dedicated by a member of equestrian rank from the lands along the Lower Danube. It is quite possible that at least some of the examples discussed above to date after that year, but definite clues are lacking to support that statement. The changes under Constantine and his immediate successors have not been so radical until the middle of the fourth century at least. The festivals related to the state gods in the capital Rome continued without much disturbance, while the attachment of the senators to the old cults has not been a secret to anyone. Nevertheless, the administrative and military officials directly appointed by the emperor, at least on the Lower Danube, refrained apparently from erecting official offerings to the pagan gods. Members of lower ranks, however, such as the primipilarii continued to erect statues of Liber Pater and Dionysus until the third quarter of the fourth century at least and perhaps even later.

The temporary revival of traditionally erecting altars and statues of various deities under Diocletian until the imposition of the independent authority of Constantine had not affected all the strata of the population in the Lower Danubian provinces as it did until the middle of the 3rd century. Ordinary soldiers and even officers of higher ranks hardly were represented. The activity of the local civilian communities had been also extremely weak. The provincial governors and the commanders of the military contingents came to the fore instead, as did “foreign” elements such as the primipilarii. The still functioning pagan shrine indicates that the local population continued also to pay homage to their traditional gods, however, significant changes in votive practices appear to have taken place.


[1] For these older views see: Штаерман 1987, 209–210; Alföldy 1989, 53–55; Beard, North at al. 1998, 117–122, 168–169 along with scholarly literature cited there.

[2] MacMullen 1981, 5–7.

[3] Manders 2012, 49, fig. 1, 102–107.

[4] For example RIC IV, 1, 108, no. 140–140а; 113, nos 167–168; 127, nos 288–289; 194, nos 757a-b; 218, no. 41; 262, no. 323.

[5] Alföldy 1989, 59–60.

[6] Alföldy 1989, 60 with references of numerous examples in note 24.

[7] Manders 2012, 103, fig. 19.

[8] Fears 1977, 279–280, 296, 302.

[9] Watson 2003, 188–189.

[10] RIC V, 1, 297, no. 282; 300, no. 312; 305, no. 353.

[11] Watson 2003, 191–193.

[12] Manders 2012, 124, fig. 22.

[13] Alföldy 1989, 66, 96.

[14] Manders 2012, 49: 21.8% оf the coin types represent so-called divine associations.

[15] Kolb 1987, 15–16, 19

[16] RIC V, 2, 256, no. 324; 257, no. 328.

[17] Smith 2000, 480: 76% for Diocletian, 31% for Maximian, 53% for Galerius и 21% for Constantius Chlorus.

[18] RIC VI, 667, no. 46b; 670, no. 59b (Alexandria).

[19] Bastien 1972, 36–37, nos 45–48.

[20] Desnier 1993, 158–164.

[21] Kolb 1987, 64.

[22] Liebeschuetz 1979, 238, 242; Kolb 1987, 88, 92.

[23] ILS 631–633.

[24] The issues are discussed in detail by Mark Smith in two successive articles: Smith 1997; 2000.

[25] Nicholson 1984, 257–261.

[26] Pond Rothman 1977, 441, fig. 20, 443–444, figs 23–24.

[27] Kleiner 1992, 413–417, figs 382–385, 412; Kalas 2015, 34–39, fig. 1.9.

[28] Kalas 2015, 36–37, figs 1.11–1.14

[29] Smith 1997, 204–206.

[30] CIL III, 4413 = ILS 659.

[31] CIL III 14450 = Popescu 1976, no. 3 = ISM II, 155 = Zahariade 2017, 433–449. The interpretation adopted here is in accordance with the corrections and additions of M. Zahariade.

[32] IGLN 44; Najdenova 2000, 311–312, nos 1–2. The second monument from the publication of V. Naydenova is dedicated to Sol Augustus. 

[33] Bunsch, Kolendo et al. 2004, 44–50, no. 1, fig. 1.

[34] ISM IV, 33.

[35] CIL III, 764 = Popescu 1976, no. 2 = ISM II 144.

[36] Тачева-Хитова 1982, 235–238; Tacheva-Hitova 1983, 154­–155.

[37] CIL VI, 497–504.

[38] Čanak-Medić & Stojković-Pavelka 2011, 77–80.

[39] Gavrilović Vitas 2021, 35–35.

[40] CIL III, 12464 = Popescu 1976, no. 169 = ISM IV, 22.

[41] Карышковский 1968, 167–179.

[42] Доневски 1976, 61, № 2 = Velkov 1977, 422, no. 1 = ISM IV, 96.

[43] Доневски 1976, 61, № 1 = Velkov 1977, 422, no. 2 = ISM IV, 97.

[44] Лука 2011, 533, обр. 2; AE 2011, 1108.

[45] Pârvan 1916, 693–695, no. 57 = Popescu 1976, no. 109 = ISM I, 132.

[46] ILBulg 8a.

[47] ILBulg 8b.

[48] ILBulg 9–10.

[49] Bresson, Drew-Bear et al. 1995, 141.

[50] Sarnowski 2013, 139–141.

[51] Łajtar 2021, 122–124.

[52] Гочева 2013, 196–197.  

[53] Łajtar 2015, 282.

[54] Łajtar 2015, 277–282.

[55] Łajtar 2013, 105–106

[56] Łajtar 2015, 284.

[57] Герасимов 1961, 236.

[58] Gerov 1979, 25; Sarnowski 1988, 42, 53, 96, prz. 33.

[59] Ivanov 2000, 171–174.

[60] Торбатов 2016, 243–247.

[61] Рабаджиев 1990, 54–59 and literature cited therein.

[62] Popescu 1976, no. 172 = ISM IV, 29

[63] ISM IV, 24–25.

[64] Popescu 1976, no. 220.

[65] Vagalinski 1997; Ботева 2008.

[66] Шаранков 2013, 54–55; Sharankov 2013, 53–54.

[67] Popescu 1976, no. 271 = ISM V, 290.



AE = L’Année épigraphique. Revue des publications epigraphiques relatives a l’antiquité romaine (Paris), 1888-.

CIL = Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (Berolini), 1863-.

IGLN = Kolendo, J. & Božilova, V. (1997) Inscriptions grecques et latines de Novae (Mésie inférieure) (Bordeaux).

ILBulg = Gerov, B. (1989) Inscriptiones Latinae in Bulgaria repertae. Inscriptiones inter Oescum et Iatrum Repertae (Sofia).

ILS = Dessau, H. (1892–1916). Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae (Berlin).

ISM I = Pippidi, D. M. (1983) Inscripţiile din Scythia Minor greceşti şi latine. Vol. I. Histria şi îm­prejurimile (Bucureşti).

ISM II = Stoian, I. (1987) Inscriptiones Scythiae Minoris graecae et latinae. Vol. II. Tomis et territorium (Bucureşti).    

ISM IV = Popescu, E. (2015) Inscriptions de Scythie Mineure. Vol. IV. Tropaeum – Durostorum – Axiopolis (Paris).

ISM V = Doruţiu-Boilă, E. (1980) Inscriptiones Scythiae Minoris graecae et latinae. Vol. V. Capidava, Troesmis, Noviodunum (Bucureşti).   

RIC IV, 1 = Mattingly, H. & Sydenham, E. A. (1936) The Roman Imperial Coinage. Vol. IV, part 1: Pertinax to Geta (London).

RIC V, 1 = Webb, P. H. (1968) The Roman Imperial Coinage. Vol. V, part 1: Valerian I to Florian (London). 

RIC V, 2 = Webb, P. H. (1968) The Roman Imperial Coinage. Vol. V, part 2: Probus to Diocletian (London).

RIC VI = Sutherland, C. H. V. (1967) The Roman Imperial Coinage. Vol. VI. From Diocletian’s reform (A.D. 294) to the death of Maximinus (A.D. 313) (London).


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