VOTIVE OFFERINGS

Votive offerings were gifts that the ancient Greeks and Romans gave to a deity* as thanks for bringing good fortune or for granting favors. The offerings served as an important expression of the personal relationship between ancient peoples and their gods and goddesses.

Votive offerings often fulfilled obligations that individuals had made while praying. A merchant, for example, might promise to dedicate a statue to Poseidon in exchange for the safe arrival of a ship into port. Votive gifts frequently consisted of a portion of the bounty that a person believed he or she had received from a deity. A farmer might give part of his harvest. A soldier might offer items won in battle. Votive offerings gave thanks not only for favors already received but were sometimes made along with requests for future favors.

Ancient peoples typically made votive offerings to mark important life transitions. Children approaching adulthood often dedicated locks of hair to symbolize their passage into a new phase of life. A retiring artisan* might offer his tools to the gods. People also made votive offerings after an earthquake or other disaster to thank the gods for sparing them. In an age of inadequate medical treatment and incomplete knowledge about disease, gifts to the gods of health and healing were especially popular.

Unlike sacrifices, in which a gift to the gods was destroyed (often by burning), votive offerings were typically deposited intact in the temples. One of the primary functions of Greek and Roman temples was as a storage place for these offerings. The temples themselves were a votive offering, dedicated by the community as a whole to a particular god or goddess. (See also Cults; Divinities; Religion, Greek; Religion, Roman; Ritual and Sacrifice.)

* deity god or goddess

* artisan skilled craftsperson

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