AIA-3H: Religious Communication in the Terracotta Temple Decoration of Central Italy (Colloquium)

  Hybrid   AIA Session   Colloquium

Sponsored by:

AIA Etruscan Interest Group


Alexander Ekserdjian, Yale University; and Allia Benner, University of Oxford


Corinna Riva, University College London

Overview Statement

Recent analyses of architectural terracottas from the sanctuaries of Central Italy between the 6th and 1st centuries BCE have emphasized the ritual dimension of temple decoration. Challenging narrowly political or cultic readings, scholars such as Riva (2021), Warden (2012), Tuck (2010), Neils (2008), and Izzet (2007) have developed more nuanced frameworks for the interpretation of sacred meaning.

This colloquium aims to contribute further analyses to this discourse, and, at the same time, test the validity of these ideas across the long arc of temple terracotta manufacture in Central Italy. Moreover, by looking to the information communicated about the divine through architectural decoration, this session seeks to draw closer to ancient experiences of temples and their images, which were grounded in the ritual context of the sanctuary.

The opening paper, ‘Ways of Seeing: On Temples and their Terracottas in Republican Rome’, prioritizes the wider visual context in which temple decoration would have been encountered, reconstructing the reception of terracotta ornament by worshippers in a sanctuary. This contribution introduces the shared methodological commitment to context, ritual, and the analysis of sacred meaning in the remaining papers.

The next paper, ‘The End of an Era: Reinterpreting the Herakles and Athena Acroteria (ca. 540-530 BCE)’, orients the figures within the iconographic and ideological contexts of the preceding terracotta roofs of the Orientalizing and Archaic periods in order to untangle and distill the long-term socio-political and religious meanings embodied by the statues.

This will be followed by ‘Sacro-Creative Action and the Making of Gods in and beyond Rome’, which centers on the maker communities responsible for the creation of the architectural decoration of temples (ca. 400-200 BCE), positing craftspeople as generators of shared sacred meanings across political boundaries.

Next, ‘Space, place, and performance: the cultural poetics of Italic temple decoration’ offers a thorough and theoretically ambitious analysis of the connections between temple decoration and ritual performance.

Finally, providing an apt culmination to the session, ‘Disposing of Sacred Images: The End of the Life of Architectural Terracottas’ analyzes the objecthood of temple decoration, proposing that the sacred status of the terracottas can be determined through their ritual disposal.