During rescue excavations between 2009 and 2013 carried out at the periphery of the vicus at Kempraten (municipality of Rapperswil-Jona, St. Gallen, Switzerland) a Gallo-Roman sanctuary, dating from the second quarter of the 2nd to the end of the 3rd century AD, was unearthed. The excavation included intense sampling for geoarchaeology and archaeobiology, which prompted the Archaeology Department of Canton St. Gall (KASG) to launch an interdisciplinary project. Four curse tablets attest to the cult of Magna Mater in the sanctuary at Kempraten.
This paper presents the first results of the interdisciplinary study and compares them to the Magna Mater sanctuary at Mainz (Germany), focusing on 1. the layout of the sanctuary, 2. sacrificing, 3. feastings and 4. cursing. The comparison between both sites showed that there was no strict setting of rituals in the cult of Magna Mater, but the importance of cursing and of burnt sacrifices is characteristic for both sites. Summing up: The temple precinct at Kempraten had a specific setting, which showed on one hand local and regional influences, for instance in terms of the temple architecture and the choice of food offerings. On the other hand, distinct differences between the Kempraten sanctuary and local Gallo-Roman sanctuaries can be observed, for instance in relation to cursing, the composition and the importance of the burnt offerings.
Chapter 12 of the 8th-century Parastaseis syntomoi chronikai claims that two brazen hands on spears and a bushel (modion) were set up on an arched doorway near a granary in Constantinople under the emperor Valentinian (364–375) after the hands of a treacherous grain merchant had been cut, in remembrance of this event. However, hands on spears are a well-known type of Roman military signs, while the bushel should be explained as an altar for burnt offerings. Both objects may well have been depicted together on a votive relief which decorated the arch in Constantinople, but this has nothing to do with the grain trade in the city. The relief can have been fixed on the arch only long after Valentinian’s time, for the building to which it belonged must be identified with a 5th-century palace complex known in later times as ta Amastrianou, the “house of the man from Amastris”, of which remains do still survive.