Votive gifts from Central Italy

In the ancient Mediterranean it was customary for people visiting sanctuaries to offer a votive gift to the gods, in gratitude for divine help or asking for intercession. Central Italian bronze statues with this function are known already from the 9th century BC (1). In many places, the statuettes (2) followed Greek models (3), but there were also unique types, like the Umbrian votive bronzes here (4–11).

Terracotta statuettes often showed only the head of a figure. Although these cannot be regarded as portraits of the people who made the offerings, since they were made in large series using negative moulds, they aim to capture the diversity of human physiognomy. The mantle covering the head (12–15) is a motif known from Roman sources as the customary dress for offering a sacrifice.

These votive terracottas were equally popular among the different peoples of Central Italy from the 4th century BC onward. Their places of production are usually unknown: only the spherical head (16) can be tied to a Central Italian sanctuary, based on its characteristic modelling. Statues of a god holding a club and identified with the Greek Heracles were equally widespread (17–18), similarly to pieces representing people making offerings with a cup in their hands (19).

Some votive statuettes were shaped as body parts (20–27): people perhaps petitioned the deities for the healing of these limbs.