Dr. Jasmin Hettinger
March 2022 - April 2022
Research Project: Continuity and Discontinuity of Pagan Water Cults on the Iberian Peninsula in the Wake of Christianization
When in Late Antiquity Roman administration and hydraulic infrastructure got more and more neglected and finally abandoned, in many places once drained wetlands underwent rehumidification. This process apparently also caused changes in the use and perception of wetlands as well as in the corresponding management structures. The vita of Saint Severin from the 5th century AD, for example, relates that the increased risk of flooding in Quintanis on the banks of the Danube River could only be reduced once the saint himself took care of it – apparently, there was no other institution in charge of such tasks with the necessary capacities and competences.
Modern researchers agree on the idea of a changed perception and appreciation of wetlands that occurred between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages as a consequence of the infrastructural abandonment, but they are quite divided on the character and tendencies of these mental changes: While Giusto Traina, for example, likes to point to a quite negative perception of swamps and pagan water cults in Christian literature, Paolo Squatriti, on the contrary, is convinced that early medieval Christian clerics indulged in the sacred nature of water and thus, rather cherished rehumidified territory as an important source for food stuffs and other goods (in opposition to the former Roman practice of large-scale wetland drainage for the sake of agriculture). Although there was no exclusive cult towards wetlands in the Roman culture, sanctuaries on the outer boundaries of swamps dedicated to various deities like nymphs, Neptune or other gods were a common phenomenon in pre-Christian times. From a Christian point of view, it seems at first quite obvious that pagan cults carried out in swamps and other humid areas should have been undesirable, but on second thought, water played a decisive role even in Christian religious beliefs and cult practices. Probably, the transformation of water cults and wetland appreciation in the Long Late Antiquity was more complex and considerably more dependent on local circumstances than one might expect. Besides, apart from religious causes one should not forget about ecological changes that might also have played a role in the continuity or discontinuity of pagan water cults during the process of christianization: The abandonment of the Punic La Algaida sanctuary in the Baetis estuary (commonly identified with the Lux Dubia sanctuary mentioned by Strabo) that incrementally silted up in Roman times or also the abandonment of the temples of Apollo and Dionysos in Myous once the littoral environment changed into a lacustrine one are just two prominent examples.
Thence, more case studies from various local contexts are needed in order to get a clearer understanding of how and under which circumstances pagan water cults in waterlogged contexts continued or were abandoned. The Iberian Peninsula where a wide range of nymphaea and other water related sanctuaries can be found and where also many (early) Christian religious sites are well documented will provide sufficient epigraphical and archaeological evidence to conduct this study.
Dr. Jasmin Hettinger is a postdoctoral researcher at the History Department of the University of Leipzig. She studied history and classics in Constance, Dresden and Salamanca (Spain) and curated exhibitions on man-ocean-interactions at the German Maritime Museum / Leibniz Institute for Maritime History. In her PhD thesis she did research on ancient Roman flood management practices on an interdisciplinary basis, combining literary sources with archaeological materials and geoscientific data. She published articles on cultural perceptions of the natural environment, on ancient water engineering projects and on Roman land surveying techniques. Currently, she investigates the interrelations between Roman wetland exploitation, land drainage and the spread of malaria in the ancient Mediterranean, funded by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.
Hettinger, Jasmin (2022), Hochwasservorsorge im Römischen Reich: Praktiken und Paradigmen (Geographica Historica 44), Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag.
Hettinger, Jasmin (2022), "Nil mutandum censuerat. Wie aus religiöser Scheu antike Hochwasserprävention wird", in: Markus Bernhardt / Wolfgang Blösel / Stefan Brakensiek / Benjamin Scheller (eds.), Möglichkeitshorizonte. Zur Pluralität von Zukunftserwartungen und Handlungsoptionen in der Geschichte (Kontingenzgeschichten 4), Frankfurt am Main: Campus, 91-104.
Hettinger, Jasmin (2017), "Neues zum Kataster von Lacimurga. Die Darstellung der subseciva entlang des Ana", Chiron 47, 189-212.
Hettinger, Jasmin (2014), "Von aqua magna bis diluvium. Eine systematische Annäherung an den Hochwasserbegriff in den antiken lateinischen Schriftquellen", Orbis Terrarum 12, 109-128.