Bust Thymiateria and Cult of Dionysus in Olbia

Keywords: bust thymiateria, terracottas, cult of Dionysus, Olbia Pontica, Hellenistic period.

Abstract

Among terracotta busts thymiateria in Olbia Pontica, there is a group of female images with attributes of Dionysiac cult. Ten of them have mitra and ivy wreath shown already in a mould, while two items have handmade wreath added to the ready images. Similarly made bust thymiateria are known in North Pontic Tauric Chersonesos, Nymphaeum, and Hermonassa, another one is known in South-Eastern Pontic region.

Ivy wreaths made of handmade details on terracottas from various regions are discussed in the paper. The interpretation of a handmade cup on the head as a thymiaterion, but not a basket as it was known in the literature before, allowed expanding the map of spreading the bust thymiateria which were traditional for the Hellenistic Greek world.

Such busts found in Olbia, apart from a Dionysiac personage, presented Aphrodite and rarely the Mother of the Gods. There is no definite answer which of Dionysiac companions is presented in such a way. Apart from Ariadne, Dionysus appeared in art with other paredras: Aphrodite, later with one of maenads or nymphs, and even with Semele who died earlier than he was born, according to the myth. The 2nd century BC inscription evidences that there was a statue of this god with his mother in Olbia. Therefore, there is a probability that close in time bust thymiateria depicted Semele.

Most of terracottas analyzed in this paper were found in houses and referred to a family worship of Dionysus in Olbia, while one item comes from the botros at the Central Temenos. They accomplish the evidences of Dionysus’ cult in the Hellenistic period. The most vivid and spread of them were lead bucrania and labrises, terracotta bulls and votive altars with Dionysus, maenad and Silenus on one of their sides, etc. These terracottas were in fact the devices for performing the cult. Symbolic offerings or thymiam were put on them when Dionysus was worshipped. Less active spreading of incense did not require its burning and that is perhaps a reason why there are no traces of soot on most of them. This fact finds its parallels in other regions of Hellas.

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2020-04-03
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