The Favissa Project and the Votive Deposits Database

Project Leader(s): Professor Ian Haynes

This project combines detailed site level study with a broad-based survey of the favissa phenomenon to offer a radically new understanding of the practice and its significance. Study of favissae also contributes to our understanding of past societies in two important ways. First, it expands our knowledge of the processes of cultural transformation that affected the provinces of the empire. Precisely because favissae articulate so many different assumptions about what constitutes appropriate behaviour, they reflect more profound cultural exchange than many of the more commonly cited indicators. Furthermore, studying these notions contributes more generally to the ‘archaeology of cult’, an important field within which the initial promise of early theoretical development by scholars such as Carver and Renfrew has remained sadly underdeveloped. In particular, favissae illustrate how current theoretical perceptions of the boundaries between sacred and profane require far reaching reappraisal. The dramatic discovery of a series of favissae and additional placed deposits in the sanctuary of Liber Pater at Apulum (Alba Iulia, Romania) allows for comprehensive investigation of the phenomena in an intensively researched setting. Part of the Favissae Research Project consists of a study of the Apulum favissae – from the cutting of pits to accommodate the rich assemblages through to the complex closure rituals. Analysis indicates that while the Apulum material contains aspects that are site and cult specific, its study can nonetheless illuminate the practice of such internments across the empire. To capitalise on such insights, the team is also undertaking a survey of favissae from across the Roman world. Combining site-level case study with a wider survey of such discoveries across the empire enables a more penetrating understanding of the dissemination, internalisation and adaptation of this culturally charged practice. At site level, the project explores intra-site variation. At Apulum, some favissae that are demonstrably contemporary with one another and from the same sanctuary complex contain different assemblages and are of significantly different form. The project was able to examine the degree of variation that exists within the range of favissae at a single site and to consider the reasons for it. It also observed the significant degree to which material recovered in these deposits differed from that found elsewhere within the excavations. Certainly a very limited picture of activity at the site would have emerged if the favissae had not been identified and excavated. Fragmentation, the theme of an important study for an earlier period by Chapman, also required scrutiny. Here several key questions are being considered. To what extent does the presence of intact objects within favissae reflect notions of sacred time that demand the regular replacement of particular items? Why are some object types singled out for destruction once deposited within the favissa (eg CAM 306 pots complete with contents), while others (eg empty money boxes) are not? Excavations at Apulum also underscored just how important analysis of the closure rituals linked to favissae deposits is required. Our evidence suggests that fires may have been lit on the northern edge of the earthen fill at the conclusion of the ritual. Excavation records from other sites seldom record such detail. At inter-site level, the team is reviewing references to favissae in archaeological and ancient historical sources. This includes both those in site reports and also more casual references in synthetic works that require further analysis. Wherever possible the database will include material recovered, form of cut, closure ritual, location within shrine, date range and cult affiliation. Team members are consulting excavation archives and/or, where possible, interviewing the original excavators to elucidate responses to detailed questions that are not covered in published material.