Beliefs: Nature, Magic and Religion

Rites, objects and places: Materials of the Mediterranean Imaginary

East and WestConjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

East and West

Between the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, Collado de los Jardines (Santa Elena) and Cueva de la Lobera (Castellar) were sacred places for communities located on either side of the Sierra Morena, among which Cástulo plays an important role (a point of periodic and forced meeting). They are located in the confines of the territory, and were places of pilgrimage, the destination of the initiatory journey that constitutes the key to religious experience.From the 8th century to the 6th century BC, the Muela sanctuary was linked to the port on the Guadalimar river, and therefore it was the gateway for oriental cults and their images, such as the goddess Astarte, or the sphinx, which will eventually identify the city of Castulo. In this place there were rites of offering and banquet, as well as metallurgical and commercial activities.

Astarte (-699/-600)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Representation of the goddess Astarte belonging to a thymiaterium from the Torrubia necropolis, near Cástulo and that it would have been manufactured in a Phoenician workshop in the South of the Iberian Peninsula. This figure, along with two similar ones as caryatids, was the support of the bowl in which to burn incense in ritual ceremonies.Along with this element numerous bronze fragments of the thymiaterium were preserved, such as the bowl, a doe and another similar caryatid.

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Lotus Flower (-500/-300)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This frieze of sandstone comes from the Estacar de Robarinas Necropolis, near Cástulo. The iconography refers to the Iberian culture both by the typical concentric circles and by the lotus flower, since this is the symbol of Astarte, a very important divinity in the Iberian Phateon and in the city of Cástulo. This goddess, therefore, is related to the custody and protection of the dead, so their location in a burial mound of an important Iberian character is perfectly compatible.

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Ring with Sphinx (-425/-350)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Ring with oval chaton in which is represented a winged sphinx played with an Egyptian klaft, and on which is the solar disk.This type of decoration could have a protective role against evil, since the Sphinx in the world is a divine animal guardian and protector of the deities.The orientalizing character of the decoration reflects the Punic influence in Iberian society, and according to its typology could be framed in a chronology of the end of S. V a.C. and the first half of the S. IV a.C.

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Pot with stand (-700/-600)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This pot is dated in the seventh century BC, and evidences the contacts at that time of Castulo with tartessios and Phoenicians. Since prehistory, the connection with the eastern Mediterranean is established through the Guadalimar river.

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Painted ceramic bottle (-500/-200)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This object is an obvious example where you can see the beginning of the Iberian Ancient Age. The decorative motifs of series of concentric circles in the ceramic vessels were typical of the societies of the Iberian, this motif being practically unknown in the Phoenician settlements of Andalusia.

We observe, therefore, a transformation of the cultural features of the Phoenician colonizing-commercial societies, towards a very particular interpretation of them by the indigenous world, which will give as a direct result the formation of full Iberian society.

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Bronze ex-voto (-500/-200)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

The ex-votos offerings are typical elements of the religious character of the Iberian culture, which is characterized by the use of public sanctuaries linked to the city and the territory, located in the middle of nature, in places where the landscape is impressive and there are caves strategically located, which are given the value of a sanctuary and where water from nearby springs is of great importance.

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Gobelete (-400/-300)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This small ceramic vessel was buried under the floor of an Iberian house of Cástulo. It is a rite of foundation of a house, and inside, an offering was found, there the bones of a small sparrow were conserved.

Alba Tower SanctuaryConjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Alba Tower Sanctuary

Alba Tower sanctuary  was in a prominent position on the acropolis of Cástulo. The first activities in this place date back to the VIII-VII centuries BC and in the III century a.C. It was a profound reconstruction in the context of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage. After the year 206 a.C., when Castulo was incorporated into the Roman Republic, the cult in the Alba Tower resumed, staying at least until the second century AD.

Carthaginian tower (-228/-200)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Alba Tower

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Terracotta (-300/-100)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

The votive offering was made with the intention of giving thanks to the benefactor deity. For this reason, it was mostly individual and, above all, voluntary. The devotee deposited an ex-voto before his god; it was, therefore, a gift in aeternum, different from the one verified in a sacrifice or in the offering of flowers, fruits of the earth or prepared foods.

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Harpocrates (-100/-1)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Small amulet carved on bone that represents Harpocrates.

This character was adapted by the Greeks from the Egyptian god Horus child, who represented the rising sun. Greeks transforming it into their Hellenistic god known as Harpocrates, an interpretation of the Egyptian Har-pa-khered.

This amulet was found in the northwest area of the city of Cástulo, where the presence of a temple or sanctuary and elements related to the worship for the deities stands out at least from the orientalizing age.

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Rock crystal intaglio (0/199)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This intaglio probably belonged to a pendant, and is made on high quality rock crystal.

The representation shows a rural scene, in which Eros appears in the attitude of trying, with a stick, to drive away a bird that is perched on the branch of a vine, a tree that also supports a ladder, on the side opposite.

The representation of Eros is common, having very close parallels in similar chronology, as in the Mosaic of Eros, in which also the scene presents a combination of winged birds and mythological beings.

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Askos (-500/-200)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This object was part of an askos, a deer-shaped jar. It is a piece that should have a ritual function, perhaps the realization of libations within religious and funeral activities.

Libations are rituals consisting of pouring wine or other liquids on some sacred element as an offering to the gods.

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Terracotta (-400/-200)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This type of foot-shaped containers are known in the Eastern Greek world since the beginning of the 6th century BC, although there are precedents in previous periods.

The place where we find it and its context allow to ascribe a ritual function, being located in the area of the Alba Tower sanctuary next to other elements deposited as an offering.

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Oinochoe (-300/-200)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This oinochoe in a production of black varnish pottery from the workshops of the city of Teano in northern Campania, and is an imitation of metallic productions, much more expensive.

This imitations of black varnish have their origin in the workshops of the Etruscan area since the end of S IV a.C.

This type of containers are identified as objects destined to ritual activities related to the cult of the deities. In this case, the container has been located, as an offering and together with other materials, next to the Torre Alba sanctuary of Castulo, allowing to determine its functionality within the cult activities.

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Bronze tweezers (-300/-100)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

In the Iberian Peninsula this type of tweezers were already known in contexts of the Bronze Age, although with a smaller size. In Iberian times, the tweezers ended up being part of funeral trousseaux, specifically warriors.

In this case, they were located in the area of the Alba Tower sanctuary, buried in the ground as an offering next to other objects, such as ceramics or the claw of a bear.

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The tissue in which it was wrapped when it was deposited in the place has been fossilized.

Bear claw (-300/-100)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

The claw of this bear was located in the area of the Alba Tower sanctuary, in a votive context with other elements deposited in the place as sacred offerings.

The presence of brown bear in Andalusia is confirmed until modern times, in the mid-seventeenth century, placing its definitive extinction throughout the nineteenth century.

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Roman PantheonConjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Roman Pantheon

Rome imposes a new religious order in the Mediterranean, where Jupiter,accompanied by Juno and Minerva (capitolina triad), they lead allthe Olympian gods, and where a cast of heroes, such as Hercules or Aeneas, and the deified emperors themselves are present.Minerva had a special veneration in Castulo (his image appears repeatedly), and is identified with the Greek Athena, who blesses his people with the olive tree, having in charge of the protection of the arts and practical knowledge, among which find the war.

Neptune (50/100)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This stucco with the representation of Neptune comes from one of the rooms of the building, possibly dedicated to Domitian, in which is the mosaic of Eros, in the monumental area of Cástulo.

In the lower area the representation of a hippocampus, a mythological animal with a horse's head and a fish body, has been preserved.

Hercules (50/100)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This stucco with the representation of Hercules comes from one of the rooms of the building too, possibly dedicated to Domitian, in which is the mosaic of Eros, in the monumental area of Cástulo.

Roman arula (0/100)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This object, by its shape and size seems to have a domestic use. This use could be ritual to burn aromatic essences in the small altars of the gods lares and penates or simply as a prophylactic function.

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Lucerne of Minerva (200/500)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Minerva for Rome, Athena for Greece; she is the goddess of wisdom, the arts and techniques of war, as well as the protector of Rome.

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Roman cameo with Winged Victory (-200/400)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

In Roman times it was very frequent the use of these gems in rings, whose use within society was recognized as a privilege that differentiated free people from slaves.

The engraving of the gems was carried out mainly in the manufacture of jewels, in rings especially. But the it were not only used on this support, but also use as amulets, whose possession protected the owner from various ills and diseases, and in many cases was deposited in the tombs, to protect the person even after his death.

Angels and DemonsConjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Angels and Demons

Christianity has coexisted with popular beliefs with the protection granted by votive offerings, medals and ribbons, which apparently remind us of the old amulets. In this new tradition, they do not pursue health or prosperity, but manifest identification with an omnipresent and protective God. A simple object that encloses a direct connection between the believer and his divinity. However, the amulets have not disappeared from our lives and we continue to live with figurines, rattles, clovers and stones.The amulets are found in all cultures, from the remotest antiquity to today, and they want to attribute extraordinary powers to preserve people and property from diseases, and spells. Bells and jingle bells, varied stones and other everyday objects neutralize the effects of curses that others can direct us (sometimes, written on lead plates).In ancient Rome, as well as in Castulo, the most usual amulets had the shape of a phallus.

Quartz Pendant (0/199)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

In the Western tradition, quartz has always been considered as a rock with high supernatural power. In ancient times, citrine quarz was used as a talisman to protect against plague, some skin problems and even to avoid evil thoughts, like the evil eye. Also it served as an enhancer of spells, some of which were certainly singulars, providing an antidote for bites of poisonous reptiles.

It is known that the gems-amulets were as important as frequent, and possessing them was not luxurious, instead it was something normal, like other bronze or terracotta amulets, much more present in the archaeological record.

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Phallic amulet (1/400)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

For the Romans, the phallic pendants offered protection against evils such as the evil eye, without having an erotic connotation.

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Roman magical gem (150/300)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Magical gems served as protection amulets against diseases and misfortunes, and began to have use from the second century AD. with the arrival of Eastern religions and Christianity.

These amulets are usually engraved on both sides, representing a figurative theme on the front and an inscription on the back, so that when the piece is linked to a ring, the text is hidden.

The inscriptions, which corresponded to words or magic formulas, are usually made with Greek characters, and in the representations were used Egyptian, Greek or Roman deities.

Tabula Defixione (0/200)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This lead plaque is written on both sides and it contains a prayer of magical-religious character, addressed to a divinity always referred to as "Dominus", so we do not know his identity. It is likely that the person who commissioned the inscription will be called Calvius Callidus, although we know for sure who it was intended for: Iulius Paternus, who is mentioned several times on both sides of the lead. It is probable that Iulius Paternus had committed some offense, for whose punishment, by the person who commissioned the inscription, the intervention of the divinity was necessary.

Letters have cursive character and it´s difficult to read.

MonotheistsConjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo


Monotheistic religions are also present in Cástulo, represented by Judaism, Islam and Christianity.

Roman lucerne with menorah (300/499)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

Archaeological excavations in the center of the city of Cástulo have revealed the existence of three lucernes decorated with the menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum that represents one of the most important ritual elements of Judaism.

These fragments of ceramics, together with the presence of other elements with writing in Hebrew, evidence the existence of a Jewish community in Cástulo around the 5th century AD.

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Hebrew script on ceramics (400/500)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

In the center of the town of Cástulo, a fragment of a ceramic bowl with a possible graphite in Hebrew was recovered, a bowl that should have been used as a cover for another container.

At this time, with few exceptions, in the Jewish communities they did not know Hebrew, although this was fossilized in small footprints that do not presuppose a sufficient knowledge of it.

Different interpretations of the text are proposed, although with difficulty, due to the nature of the support, the brevity of the text and the little skill of the person who wrote it.

One of the possible readings could be the following:

של כפרה
"Of forgiveness"

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Silver dirham (1121/1269)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

This type of square silver coins were minted for the first time in the Islamic West by the Almohad emirs, an empire that spread through North Africa and al-Andalus between 1121 and 1269.

On the obverse and on the reverse we can find in cursive scripture the shahada or profession of Islamic faith, the declaration of faith in a single God (Allāh) according to the Islamic faith and the teachings of Muhammad, also indicating the name of the Almohad Imam Al Mahdi.

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The paten of Christ in majesty (325/399)Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo

The paten represents one of the oldest and best preserved manifestations of Christian iconography on this support of the Iberian Peninsula.

The piece shows three characters with halo, highlighting the central figure, a Christ in Majesty flanked by two Apostles, probably Peter and Paul. The scene unfolds in the celestial orb, framed between two palm trees, which, in Christian iconography, represent immortality, the hereafter, the heaven...

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Credits: Story

Beliefs: Nature, Magic and Religion

Conjunto Arqueológico de Cástulo, Linares (Jaén)
Consejería de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucía

Universidad de Jaén – Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Arqueología Ibérica.

Curated by Marcelo Castro López y Concepción Choclán Sabina.

Texts: Francisco Arias de Haro, David Expósito Mangas y Marcelo Castro López.

Photography: Francisco Arias de Haro, Jose Manuel Pedrosa Luque and Yolanda Ogayar Martínez.

Infographic: Isidoro García Hernández (esTRESd Patrimonio Virtual) and Francisco Arias de Haro.

Digital layout: Francisco Arias de Haro.

Archaeological Ensemble of Cástulo.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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