The Cult of the ‘Great Mother’ in Imperial Rome

Mary Beard

in Greek and Roman Festivals

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199696093
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191745744 | DOI:
The Cult of the ‘Great Mother’ in Imperial Rome

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  • Religion in the Ancient World


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This chapter explores the cult and rituals of Magna Mater (or Cybele) and Attis in imperial Rome. It briefly reviews the history and festivals of the goddess and the sacrifice of the taurobolium (focusing on the controversial account by Prudentius), throwing light on some of the very processes by which we can (or cannot) access ancient rituals and festivals. But the main focus is on the eunuch priests (or galli) and the unresolved tension between the incorporation of the cult and its rejection. The paper argues that Roman reactions to these priests, the hostility and the ridicule, needs to be seen in the context of constructive debates on the nature of what is Roman in Roman religion—debates that lie at the heart of Roman religious culture.

Keywords: Attis; Cybele; eunuchs; foreign; galli; hostility; incorporation; Magna Mater; prudentius; rejection; the ridicule; taurobolium

Chapter.  15267 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religion in the Ancient World

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