New data on Aesculapius cult in Apulum
Autor: Radu Ota
Aesculapius’ cult was largly developed in the urban centre of Apulum, having an important place among the pantheon of the official cults adored here. The existence of an asklepeion beginning with the end of the II century- the beginning of the III century A.D. is attested by an important number of inscriptions dedicated to deities of medicine. Also two votive plates speak about the construction of two porticoes of the sanctuary dedicated to the healing deities through some charitable gestures manifested by two famous aediles Publius Aelius Syrus and Publius Aelius Rufinus. The maximum flourishing period of the asklepeion temple is the first half of the III century A.D., this thing being evidenced by inscriptions and by the existence of a famous doctor, Septimius Asclepius Hermes, honoured with ornamenta decurionalia for his special services brought to the community. This study wishes to bring forward new iconographic data about attesting the cult of these deities in the urban centre from Apulum. It is about two new sculptural pieces and a clay artefact which will be analyzed in the following lines.
The first piece (inventory no. R824, 32 centimetres – total height, 27 centimetres – height without pedestal) is a fragmentary statue made of limestone, which represents Aesculapius standing, dressed with a himation, schematically rendered in two oblique incisions (Plate1a, b). Only the part from thighs below is kept. The divinity is placed on rectangular pedestal (20X16 centimetres) which makes a common body with the statue. The sculptor does not respect volumes. The inferior limbs have larger dimensions than the real ones in comparison with the rest of the body. The right leg is easily flexed forward, all body’s weight falling on the left. The staff with the coiled snake, main attributes of the divinity, appear on the right of the god. The statue is roughly made, without great artistic characteristics. It is included in the inferior to medium artisanship.
It is difficult to state a closer dating having in mind its precarious state it was kept. It may be framed at the end of the II century A.D. or rather the first half of the III century A.D. Although it has small dimensions we think it is a statue destined to this cult.
More researchers long discussed the iconographic prototypes from which the Roman copies started, copies which show the god in this hypostasis. Gabriella Bordenache considered that this image of Aesculapius is the oldest representation of him, the bronze original being a creation of an Attic artist in the last decades of the V century A.D., exhibited in the asklepeion from Athens. An excellent copy is given by the statue named Aesculapius „Giustini” from the Museo Capitolini from Rome. Recent researches reached the conclusion that this iconographic type has its origin in a statue named Aesculapius, Tunis type, created at the end of the Hellenistic period; at its turn it is a variant of a statue made by Briaxis from Megara at the end of the classical Greek period (aproximately 320 B.C.); it is named Aesculapius from Eleusis.
We find close analogies to this type of representation in the artefacts from Tomis (4 statues and a relief) Scythia Minor, Naissus (3 statues), Moesia Superior, in Dacia to Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa, but in Italy too, to Rome, Naples or Venezia. Also, this is present in the west of the Empire through a Greek work from the III century B.C. (the Republican period), kept in the Museum from Barcelona and a Roman copy from Britannia. This iconographic type appears on the imperial monetary emissions. Under Marcus Aurelius denars on which Aesculapius beside Higya and Telesphorus appear, are issued in Apameea.
The second piece (Plate 2a, b) is a head from a cult statue of great dimensions which probably showed Aesculapius (36 centimetres height, length – 28 centimetres, neck’s diametre – 20 centimetres). It is not excluded to be quite Zeus’ representation. The divinity is rendered in a mature hypostasis, with curly hair. The beard is schematically reproduced, ending in an „imperial” and the nose is broken. The sight is upwards oriented, in a divine attitude, but easy pathetic. The eyelids are plastically marked with an incision. He wears a corona laurea on the head and the coiffure from the back is rendered in the successive incision with the tip technique. The usage of trepan for marking the curly hair from above the forehead is to be noticed. The beard is schematically reproduced and the hair falls on the backhead.
The sight is upwards oriented, the pathetic sight, the successive incision with the tip technique as well as the usage of trepan to mark curly hair indicate us the III century A.D., maybe its second quarter. The care for details, the hair and beard easily curled show us Antoninian reminiscences of the portrait. This head belongs to Asclepios Giustini type, remembered above, after a Roman copy from the Museo Capitolini from Rome. A statue of the same type comes from Naples and other three are to be found in the glyptoteks from Carlsberg şi München. A similar head is found in the glyptotek from Carlsberg. The last piece presented in this article is a double artefact, from burnt clay, medallion shaped, discovered in Apulum by chance (Plate 3). The piece was published aproximately fifty years ago by the regretted researcher of Apulum, Alexandru Popa. On one side of the artefact Aesculapius and Higya are represented. The deity is standing, with the half naked bust, the head is crowned with lemniscus and is dressed with himation. In the right hand he holds the well known staff and the coiled snake. The purpose of presenting this artefact is to bring completitions with respect to the prototype of the deity’s representation which is the same with the statue presented above.
Renewing knowledge about certain aspects of provincial art and religion is anytime welcome as well as for specialists and the audience eager for culture. Reanalizing the sculptural material from the Apulum centre by the author of these lines, from the old collections forgotten by the world and God in the basement of the museum is a necessary gesture of evidencing its scientific and museological value.