Loosing Vows and Oaths in the Roman Empire and Beyond: Authority and Interpretation

and Moshe Blidstein


Vows, dedications and promissory oaths were an important category of language for people in the ancient Mediterranean. Using various formulae, people promised the gods (in the case of vows and dedications), or each other (in the case of oaths), that they would perform certain acts in the future, giving more than usual force to their words. The purpose of this article is to investigate the mechanics and hermeneutics of promises backed by divine power in the ancient Mediterranean.

  • Anagnostou-Laoutides, Eva 2015. ‘An Episode of Magic in Ovid’s Heroides 20 and 21.’ Scripta Classica Israelica 34. 93 – 114.

  • Ando, Clifford 2015. Roman Social Imaginaries: Language and Thought in the Context of Empire. Toronto.

  • Aston, Michael N. 2008. ‘A Legal Interpretation of Livy’s Caudine Sponsio: Using Roman Law to Test the Validity of Livy’s Caudine Forks Narrative.’ Past Imperfect 8. 5 – 32.

  • Aufhauser, J. (ed.) 1913. Miracula S. Georgii. Leipzig.

  • Bar-Asher Siegal, Michal 2014. ‘Concerning the Expression “As Trees Held by a Hair” (Mishna Hagiga 1, 8).’ Leshonenu 76. 137 – 148. [Hebrew].

  • Belkin, Samuel 1936. ‘Dissolution of Vows and the Problem of Anti-Social Oaths in the Gospels and Contemporary Jewish Literature.’ Journal of Biblical Literature 55:3. 227 – 234.

  • Benovitz, Moshe 1995. ‘The Prohibitive Vow in Second Temple and Tannaitic Literature: Its Origin and Meaning.’ Tarbiz 64:2. 203 – 228. [Hebrew]

  • Benovitz, Moshe 2010. ‘“Approaching a Sage”: Dissolution of Vows and Dissolution of Commandments.’ Sidra: A Journal for the Study of Rabbinic Literature 24/25. 49 – 69. [Hebrew]

  • Brunschvig, R. 1980. ‘Voeu ou serment? Droit comparé du Judaïsme et de l’Islam.’ In Hommage à Georges Vajda, ed. Gérard Nahon and Charles Touati. Louvain. 125 – 134.

  • Calame, Claude; Lincoln, Bruce 2012. Comparer en histoire des religions antiques. Liège.

  • Clark, Jessica H. 2014. ‘Roman Optimism Before Cannae: The Vow of the Ver Sacrum (Livy 22.10).’ Mnemosyne 67:3. 405 – 422.

  • Colish, Marcía L. 1990. The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages: Vol. 2, Stoicism in Christian Latin Thought through the Sixth Century. Leiden.

  • Colson, F. H. 1941. ‘Hypothetica.’ In Philo, In Ten Volumes, vol. 9. Cambridge and London.

  • Conybeare, Fred C. 1903. ‘The Survival of Animal Sacrifices inside the Christian Church.’ The American Journal of Theology 7:1. 62 – 90.

  • Crawford, M. H. 1973. ‘Foedus and Sponsio.’ Papers of the British School at Rome 41. 1 – 7.

  • De Jong, Mayke 1996. In Samuel’s Image: Child Oblation in the Early Medieval West. Leiden.

  • Delouis, Olivier 2008. ‘Église et serment à Byzance: norme et pratique.’ In Oralité et lien social au Moyen Âge (Occident, Byzance, Islam): parole donnée, foi jurée, serment, ed. Marie-France Auzépy and Guillaume Saint-Guillain. Paris. 211 – 246.

  • Derks, Tom 1998. Gods, Temples, and Ritual Practices: The Transformation of Religious Ideas and Values in Roman Gaul. Amsterdam.

  • Dillon, Matthew 1995. ‘By Gods, Tongues, and Dogs: The Use of Oaths in Aristophanic Comedy.’ Greece & Rome 42:2. 135 – 151.

  • Dölger, Fr. J. 1941. ‘Religiöse Waschung als Sühne für Meineid.’ Antike & Christentum 6. 73.

  • Duffy, J.; Bourbouhakis, E. 2003. ‘Five Miracles of St Menas.’ In Byzantine Authors: Literary Activities and Preoccupations, Texts and Translations Dedicated to the Memory of Nicolas Oikonomides, ed. J. W. Nesbitt. Leiden. 65 – 84.

  • Dyck, Andrew R. 1996. A Commentary on Cicero, De Officiis. Ann Arbor.

  • Ehmig, Ulrike 2013. ‘Pro & Contra. Erfüllte und Unerfüllte Gelübde in Lateinischen Inschriften.’ Historische Zeitschrift 296.2. 297 – 329.

  • El-Badawi, Emran 2013. The Qur’an and the Aramaic Gospel Traditions. London.

  • Eno, Robert D. (trans. and ed.) 1964. Augustine: Letters. Washington D.C.

  • Fleming, Julia 1998. ‘By Coincidence or Design? Cassian’s Disagreement with Augustine Concerning the Ethics of Falsehood.’ Augustinian Studies 29. 19 – 34.

  • Fletcher, Judith 2008. ‘A Trickster’s Oaths in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes.’ American Journal of Philology 129. 19 – 46.

  • Franchini, Lorenzo 2006. Voti di guerra e regime pontificale della condizione. Milan.

  • Fürst, Alfons 2009. ‘Hieronymus Über Die Heilsame Täuschung.’ Zeitschrift Für Antikes Christentum/Journal of Ancient Christianity 2:1. 97 – 112.

  • Glover, Graham 2004. ‘Metus in the Roman Law of Obligations.’ Fundamina 10. 31 – 58.

  • Graham, A. J. 1999. Colony and Mother City in Ancient Greece. Manchester.

  • Griffith, Francis L. 1913. The Nubian Texts of the Christian Period. Berlin.

  • Hammond, Charles E. 2004. Ancient Liturgies. Piscataway.

  • Harter-Uibopuu,‏ ‎Kaja (forthcoming). ‘Eide Im Griechischen Prozess Des Späten Hellenismus Und Der Kaiserzeit.’ In Prozeßrecht Und Eid: Recht Und Rechtsfindung in Antiken Kulturen, Teil II: Griechenland und Rom, ed. Robert Rollinger et al. Wiesbaden.

  • Hawting, Gerald R. 1994. ‘An Ascetic Vow and an Unseemly Oath?: ‘īlā’ and ‘ẓihār’ in Muslim Law.’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 57:1. 113 – 125.

  • Hawting, Gerald R. 2001. ‘Oaths.’ Encyclopedia of the Quran, ed. J. D. McAuliffe. Leiden. 4.560 – 566.

  • Herrmann, Peter 1968. Der Römische Kaisereid: Untersuchungen Zu Seiner Herkunft Und Entwicklung. Göttingen.

  • Herz, P. 1977. ‘Permittente Primulo Patre.’ Journal of Mithraic Studies 2. 184 – 188.

  • Hickson, Frances V. 1993. Roman Prayer Language: Livy and the Aeneid of Vergil. Stuttgart.

  • Humfress, Caroline 2007. ‘Judging by the Book: Christian Codices and Late Antique Legal Culture.’ In The Early Christian Book, ed. William Klingshirn and Linda Safran. Washington, DC. 141 – 158.

  • Johnson, Michael J. 2007. The Pontifical Law of the Roman Republic. PhD Diss. 191 – 203.

  • Kovaltchuk, Ekaterina 2008. ‘The Encaenia of St Sophia: Animal Sacrifice in a Christian Context.’ Scrinium 4.1. 158 – 200.

  • Malay, H.; Sayar, M. H. 2004. ‘A New Confession to Zeus “from Twin Oaks”’, Epigraphica Anatolica 37. 183 – 184.

  • Martin, Céline 2000. ‘Un conflit de serments en Espagne wisigothique.’ Actes de la Société des historiens médiévistes de l’enseignement supérieur public 31:1. 83 – 96.

  • Martinez, David 1995. ‘“May She Neither Eat nor Drink”: Love Magic and Vows of Abstinence.’ In Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, ed. Marvin W. Meyer and Paul A. Mirecki. Leiden. 335 – 359.

  • Mensia, Mongia M. 2004. ‘L’acte expiatoire en Islam: al Kaffāra.’ In Rituals and Ethics: Patterns of Repentance: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, ed. Adriana Destro and Mauro Pesce. Paris.

  • Munitiz, Joseph A. (ed.) 2011. Questions and Answers. Turnhout.

  • Nisbet, Robin; Hubbard, Margaret 1970. A Commentary on Horace: Odes. Oxford.

  • Nock, Arthur D. 1939. ‘A Feature of Roman Religion.’ The Harvard Theological Review 32:1. 83 – 96.

  • Noonan, John D. 2006. ‘Mettius Fufetius in Livy.’ Classical Antiquity 25.2. 327 – 349.

  • North, John A. 1976. ‘Conservatism and Change in Roman Religion.’ Papers of the British School at Rome 44. 1 – 12.

  • Oakley, Stephen P. 2008. A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X. Oxford.

  • Orlin, Eric M. 2002. Temples, Religion, and Politics in the Roman Republic. Brill.

  • Parenti, Stefano; Velkovska, Elena (ed. and trans.) 2000. L’Eucologio Barberini gr. 336. Rome.

  • Petzl, Georg 1994. ‘Die Beichtinschriften Westkleinasiens.’ Epigraphica Anatolica 22.

  • Ramsey, Boniface 1985. ‘Two Traditons on Lying and Deception in the Ancient Church.’ Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review 49:4. 504 – 533.

  • Ratzan, David M. 2011. ‘Contract Norms and Contract Enforcement in Graeco-Roman Egypt’. PhD Diss., Columbia University. New York.

  • Satlow, Michael 2005. ‘Giving for a Return: Jewish Votive Offerings in Late Antiquity.’ In Religion and the Self in Antiquity, ed. David Brakke, Michael L. Satlow, and Steven Weitzman. Bloomington. 91 – 108.

  • Scheid,‏ ‎John 1989. ‘Hoc Anno Immolatum Non Est. Les aléas de la voti sponsio.’ Scienze Dell’antichita Storia, Archeologia, Antropologia 3 – 4. 775 – 783.

  • Scheid, John 1998. ‘Les incertitudes de la voti sponsio. Observations en marge du ver sacrum de 217 av. J.C.’ In Mélanges de droit romain et d’histoire ancienne. Hommage à la mémoire de André Magdelain, ed. Michel Humbert and Yan Thomas. Paris. 417 – 425.

  • Scheid, John 2005. ‘Épigraphie et identité religieuse, ou l’art de la traduction.’ In Le monde romain à travers l’épigraphie: méthodes et pratiques, ed. S. Demougin and C. Hoët-Van Cauwenbergue. Lille. 217 – 229.

  • Scheid, John; Svenbro, Jesper 1985. ‘Byrsa. La ruse d’élissa et la fondation de Carthage.’ Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales 40:2. 328 – 342.

  • Schörner, Günther 2003. Votive Im Römischen Griechenland: Untersuchungen Zur Späthellenistischen Und Kaiserzeitlichen Kunst- Und Religionsgeschichte. Stuttgart.

  • Sini, Francesco 1995. A quibus iura civibus praescribebantur: ricerche sui giuristi del III secolo a.C. Torino. 113 – 29.

  • Sommerstein, Alan H.; Torrance, Isabelle C. 2014. Oaths and Swearing in Ancient Greece. Berlin.

  • Stocking, Rachel L. 2000. Bishops, Councils, and Consensus in the Visigothic Kingdom, 589 – 633. Ann Arbor.

  • Stroumsa, Guy 2009. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity. Chicago.

  • Trout, Dennis 1995. ‘Christianizing the Nolan Countryside: Animal Sacrifice at the Tomb of St. Felix.’ Journal of Early Christian Studies 3:3. 281 – 298.

  • Uhalde, Kevin 2007. Expectations of Justice in the Age of Augustine. Philadelphia.

  • Vuolanto, Ville 2016. Children and Asceticism in Late Antiquity: Continuity, Family Dynamics and the Rise of Christianity. London.

  • Wheeler, Everett 1984. ‘Sophistic Interpretations and Greek Treaties.’ Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 25:3. 253 – 274.

  • Yonge, Charles D. 1854. The Works of Philo, vol. 4. London.

  • Zimmermann, Reinhard 1996. The Law of Obligations: Roman Foundations of the Civilian Tradition. Oxford.

Purchase article
Get instant unlimited access to the article.
Price including VAT
Log in
Already have access? Please log in.

Journal + Issues

Archiv für Religionsgeschichte is a specialised journal dealing primarily with religions of the ancient world. The different aspects of the field of research are covered in essays, reports on the main areas of religious studies and in individual articles.