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date: 30 October 2020


  • Holt Parker
  •  and Nicholas Purcell


  • Religion in the Ancient World

The miraculous transferral of the god of healing Asclepius from Epidaurus to Rome and the origin of the important healing-cult of the Tiber island there in 292 bce constituted significant moments in Roman narratives of the history of their religion (Val. Max. 1. 8. 2: Ovid made it his final Metamorphosis, Met. 15; 622–745); the summoning of a prestigious god from Greece, in accordance with the Sibylline Books (see sibyl) and perhaps after a consultation of the Delphic oracle, to remedy a Roman crisis (pestilence), represented a stage in the domestication of external religion and acted as a prototype for the closely related tale of the summoning of the Magna Mater in 204 bce. (See cybele.) In fact the cult was becoming widely diffused at that time everywhere (even our Rome-centred stories preserve some consciousness of the contemporary importance of the cult at nearby Antium). The therapeutic tradition on the island is well attested (e.g. Suet. Aug. 59; Claud.25), and survived to the point where it could be transferred to the tutelage of St Bartholomew, whose hospital there still functions. By the imperial period, in Italy and the provinces, a Roman cult is hard to disentangle from the very popular and varied combinations of healing deities blending local cults with a broadly Asclepian tradition.


  • H. Scullard, Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic (1981), 54–56.