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Quarrying Cult at Simitthus (Chemtou, Tunisia) Wallace-Hare, David


The entry focuses on the religious activities of a group of imperial freedman procurators in their management of the marble quarries at Simitthus, a city in the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis, in active operation as imperial property beginning in the second half of the second century CE to the mid third century. The marble quarry, which formed the economic backbone of the city of Simitthus, is also a site where the boundaries of public and private religion blur as the procurators and their staff utilized local deities to control risks associated with extractive operations through targeted on-site deployment of deities connected to or made to connect to extraction operations. This entry strictly examines a period from 64 CE - 211 CE when the religious activities of these extraction officials are epigraphically attested (largely our only way to understand the religious dynamics at this site. The use of deities connected with industrial operations, in particular in imperial mining districts, has several analogues from other contemporary extractive operations, such as in the provinces of Dalmatia and Aquitania. The on the job utilization of certain types of local and agricultural deities, like Tellus and Terra Mater, and deities connected with mountains, is seen across several mining districts and seems to represent a reflex of Roman religious practices connected with the aversion of risk, especially agricultural risk, from economic operations. In engaging in these behaviours and moving around different mining districts, it is likely that a sort of orthopraxy for dealing with unseen risks accreted around certain deities like Terra Mater and Tellus, and created avenues for estimating what sorts of deities would be most efficient to seek out in unfamiliar areas (mountains). The religious feelings of the slave workforce, housed in a barracks-like structure to the northwest of the town, are little known. The marble quarrying zone, roughly 0.4 km in extent, occupies a zone comprising three hills at the heart of the city more or less. The quarrying zone is demarcated by a low wall that separates the town from the quarry. The quarry is bounded on one side by the river Bagradas, which allowed for the transport of the special yellow marble produced in the area, known to scholars as giallo antico.

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