A lucky throw every time: Ancient Maritime Religion & Roman Anchors from Malta

Several of the lead anchor stocks of the Roman era retrieved from the sea off Malta bear images in relief, from the names of the Egyptian gods Isis and Sarapis to astragaloi (latin tali), knucklebones used as dice in the ancient world, all with the same lucky cast of the dice, the ‘throw of Venus’ (iactus Veneris). Each bone is shown with a different face up, showing good luck, especially for sailors at sea, as enacted and replicated whenever the ancient sailors cast this anchor overboard. These anchors connect us to the ancient network of traders and travellers who frequented Roman Malta, from the 3rd century BC into Late Antiquity. From the artisans who cast these stocks, to its users on the ship, who threw it overboard and hauled it back in, and even to unwilling passengers like St Paul, these anchors illuminate a much wider world of maritime religion intertwined with technology. Through their broader archaeological and literary context around the Mediterranean, these anchors form important evidence for both symbolic and practical pagan maritime rituals, and also for current debates about the frequency of use of Maltese ports and shipping lanes under the Roman Empire.

Dr Amelia R. Brown, Senior Lecturer in Greek History and Language in the Classics and Ancient History discipline of the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland, Australia, will discuss these issues in a talk entitled A lucky throw every time: Ancient Maritime Religion & Roman Anchors from Malta on Wednesday 11 April 2018. The presentation is part of The Archaeological Society’s lecture programme, supported by APS Bank, and will be held at 6pm at the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, 173, St Christopher Street, Valletta.

Photo: Lead anchor stock, Gozo Archaeological Museum in the Citadel by Dr Amelia R. Brown.