L. Dionysiac initiate under sacred phallus of renewal. R. Empress as Demeter.
3rd c Roman Gallo-Roman Sculpture
(active 1st c BCE - 4th c CE)
Lyon. Musée de la Civilization Gallo-Roman.
Among the most important manifestations of the new religious longings were the so-called MYSTERY CULTS which involved the initiates in mysterious rites and promised them some sort of eternal life as the result. Among them were what are known as the Eleusinian Mysteries, an older Greek cult which involved the earth goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone. The rites of the Isis and her partner Serapis came from Egypt, while those of the great mother Cybele and her lover/son Attis came from Asia Minor. From Persia came the cult of the sun god Mithras, which was especially popular with soldiers, and from Syria and Palestine came the worship of Baal, the ancient practice of Judaism and one of its sects, Christianity. All shared the need to give some meaning to human existence, a meaning that the traditional religion of Rome could no provide. Of the beliefs that flowed into Rome, only Judaism and Christianity have survived, but as we will see, many of them contributed ideas to the Christian beliefs that were being defined during this period.
The mysteries of Demeter and Persephone were celebrated each year at Eleusis in Greece by secret ceremonies in which the initiates joined Demeter in her mourning for her lost daughter and in her rejoicing at her return. The hope of rebirth was extended to the initiates of the cult.
The ancient mysteries of Demeter, identified with the Roman goddess Ceres, became very popular in Rome, and the figure of the Empress as a priestess of Ceres on the right comes in the Emperor's Villa itself. Here the Empress is shown as Demeter/Ceres holding the pods of the sacred poppy plant. In other representations she holds the wheat, the dead seed that is reborn.
Roman women throughout the empire were particular devotees of the mystery cult of Demeter/Ceres. In the relief on the left, which comes from the Roman colony in Lyon France, the human initiate in this divine drama of death and rebirth, is involved in a procession in which the sacred phallus of renewal is revealed. The phallus is thought to represent the Dionysus (Roman name Bacchus), the god of wine and fertility whose mysteries became associated with those of Demeter and Persephone.
GALLO-ROMAN | L. Dionysiac initiate under sacred phallus of renewal. R. Empress as Demeter.| 220-224 | Roman | Gallo-Roman