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Merchant associations and domestic cults as economic agents in late Hellenistic Delos

Mantha Zarmakoupi

University of Birmingham

This paper examines the epigraphic and material evidence of private associations and domestic cults of Italian merchants in late Hellenistic Delos to address the ways in which merchants employed religious practices as economic agents in the dynamic urban economy of the island in this period.

Delos has yielded rich epigraphic evidence of different associations and groups that issued inscriptions from the third century BCE to the second century CE, while most inscriptions date from the heyday of the free port from 167/166 to 88 BCE (Bruneau 1970, 585-638). These inscriptions attest the geographic diversity of the mercantile influx into Delos in this period: Greeks, Italians and Phoenicians merchants came together in corporate groups that carried out cultic observances and built religious structures on the island.

While research has focused on the epigraphic evidence from public squares (Hasenohr 2000 and 2001), sanctuaries (Roussel 1916, 253-255; Bruneau 1970, 464-465, 471-472; Baslez 1977, 197-203, 249-268; Will 1985) and private clubhouses (Trümper 2002, 2006, 2008, 2011 and forthcoming), the role that domestic cults played in the emporion of Delos has not been addressed. The evidence for cult practices, in particular of the cult of Lares Compitales (Hasenohr 2003, 194-211, 219-23; Hasenohr 2007), shows that merchants employed the cult as a means to assert their corporate identity (Zarmakoupi 2015). In addition, recent research has indicated that the cult of Lares Compitales was intertwined with economic activities in the domestic sphere (Zarmakoupi 2015 and forthcoming).

By examining the epigraphic and material evidence of the cult of Lares Compitales and Italian merchant associations, this paper will address the ways in which domestic cults alongside merchant associations operated as economic agents in late Hellenistic Delos. The altars of the Lares Compitales that stood next to the entrance of houses of Italian merchants rendered omnipresent this group in the commercial cityscape of Delos, and strengthened the bonds of its urban economy with the Agora of the Competaliastes—where the public monument of the Lares Compitales stood. Both private and public manifestations of the Lares Compitales were a means of fashioning the corporate identity of the Italian merchant community and promoting its economic interests.

Session/Panel Title

Epigraphic Economies (organized by the American Society of Greek and Latin Epigraphy)

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