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The Cults of the Roman Empire Paperback – January 23, 1997

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (January 23, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0631200479
  • ISBN-13: 978-0631200475
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"... a treasure trove of information on the nature and diversity of mystery cults." Westminster Theological Journal <!--end-->

From the Back Cover

This book is about the multiplicity of gods and religions that characterized the Roman world before Constantine. It was not the noble gods such as Jove, Apollo and Diana, who were crucial to the lives of the common people in the empire, but gods of an altogether more earthly, earthy level, whose rituals and observances may now seem bizarre.

The book opens with an account of the nature of popular religion and the way in which the gods and myths of subject peoples were taken up by the Roman colonizers and spread throughout the empire. Successive chapters are devoted to the Great Mother, Isis, the cults of Syria, Mithras, The Horsemen, Dionysus, and to practices related to the performance of magic. It was above all with these popular religions that the early Christians fought for supremacy. In the concluding part of the book Professor Turcan describes this contest and its eventual outcome in the triumph of Christianity throughout the Roman world.

The author assumes little background or specialist knowledge. Each chapter is fully referenced and where appropriate illustrated with photographs and diagrams. The book includes a guide for further reading specifically for English-speaking students.

As well as being of wide general interest, this book will appeal to students of the Roman Empire and of the history of religion.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By George A Sherman on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
Turcan has given us the needed updating on Franz Cumont's work. The Cults of the Roman Empire, for the most part, avoids the unwarrented history-of-religions inferences Cumont made. Turcan sticks mainly to geographical evidence and iconographic description and analysis. This book is a necessary companion to Keith Hopkins' "A World Full of Gods" in that is conveys the individual and collective power of the so-called Oriental cults, which, in fact, were Romanized when they reached their zenith in the Antonine Age. According to Turcan the oriental gods who had the greatest following were Magna Mater (Cybele) and Isis. Mithras occupied a second tier in the popularity pole as did Jupiter Dolichenus. Other deities interested primarily local cultists. The chapter on Dionysus and his rites is especially interesting in that the author details the ritual and presents instructive data on the belief in afterlife. Turcan does stray from the positivist historian to offer his psychological explanations for the victory of christianity over the cults. While sympathizing with his views, I think he has glossed over the more important socio-political explanation: episcopal christianity alone provided the strongest social cohesiveness enforced by ecclesiastical sanctions. It was this strength that moved Constantine to attempt to co-opt the episcopal church rather than throw the future of his empire in with Mithras or Isis. The Cults of the Roman Empire is a must for students of christian origens. If they ignore the evidence contained in this volume, they will not fully appreciate some of the dynamic possessed by the victor.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By David E. Blair on May 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book contains copious information regarding the geographic spread of various pagan "Gods" not members of the original Roman pantheon. If you need this information, the book becomes indispensable and should be in any serious students library who is concerned with the religious atmosphere of the Roman World circa 300 BCE to 400 CE. This being said, that is the long and the short of it. The translation from French is not the best. The deeper insights one might expect are largely missing. And the explanation of the triumph of Christianity as presented is shallow and of little value. This book, one of a series of translations and reissues in the English language, commissioned by the University of Manchester, hangs its hat on the fact that it is an update of the classic work of Franz Cumont. For the generalist, the book is a loss and confusing. For the specialist, who needs a travelogue of certain Gods, the book is indispensable. Expect to work hard for what you get. Expect the prose to flow like mud, and where the translation breaks down expect confusion. I stress that this was a necessary read for my interests. There is much to be gained here. You only have to decide if you wish to pay the price.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Amy Barr on August 11, 2007
Format: Paperback
I used this text in preparing a 4 session workshop on ancient mystery religions ([...] I appreciate that this text is thourough and attempted a balanced position on the death of these religions and the rise of Christianity. I believe Turcan did a better job with task one than with task two. The primary drawback to this text is that it has the less-than-stimulating literary style of an older encyclopedia. Final summation: great reference work if you know the larger issues up for debate on Roman Cults. Excellent, scholarly, one-stop shopping for most cults of interest.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael Gunther on October 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the cliche goes, this book often loses the forest for the trees. Full of boring and mind-numbing detail, it belongs in every scholarly or specialist library, but if you are neither a scholar or a specialist then you will probably be much happier with Burkert (Ancient Mystery Cults, Harvard U. Press, 1987) or Godwin (Mystery Religions in the Ancient World, Thames & Hudson 1981). Twenty years later (2008), I do feel that the time is ripe for a new popular survey of this subject, and hope that someone else will pick up the ball!
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