Anatomical Votive Reliefs as Evidence for Specialization at Healing Sanctuaries in the Ancient Mediterranean World
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In the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, people flocked to the healing centers of various gods and goddesses for the cure of diseases and for relief from painful injuries and disabilities. The famous Greek healing god was Asclepius (in Rome called Aesculapius), but other gods had sanctuaries where suppliants could be healed—for example, in Greece Amphiareus, and in Italy Menvra, Diana, and Juno. After recovering health and wellbeing, grateful suppliants dedicated anatomical votive reliefs in the sanctuary to testify to the god’s power. I will examine in this paper the thousands of anatomical reliefs found in the excavations of these sanctuaries. My purpose is to sketch out a map of healing centers that specialized in particular diseases. For example, it seems that of the Asclepian sanctuaries the one in Athens specialized in ocular diseases, while the cult center at Corinth was a place for patients with limb and appendage injuries and genital-urinary problems. In Italy, the cult at Ponte di Nona treated patients with foot and leg injuries as well as headaches and migraines, while other cult centers emphasized childbirth and gynecological matters. While the injured and the diseased in the classical world knew that many local healing centers were available to them, there were, as I will demonstrate, highly specialized centers of healing that they frequented. I will offer reasons for the specializations at certain centers (e.g., rural vs. urban lifestyles, environmental factors, local disease patterns, etc.).
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