UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Evidence of Orphic mystery cult in archaic Macedonian and Thracian burials Tweten, Lisa


Gold foil is found in numerous burials in the Mediterranean dating to the early Mycenaean period and the material was used as clothing attachments, jewelry, headbands, wreaths, and other decorative adornments. One of the more distinctive uses of gold foil was as a mouth-plate (or epistomion), which is an ellipsoidal or rhomboidal piece of gold foil placed on the mouth of the deceased in a burial. An apparent increase in artifact occurrence in Macedonia during the archaic period was the impetus for this thesis, as a change in grave goods suggests a change in funerary rituals. This change may be linked to the rise of local private cults, including mystery cults, that took place in the archaic period. Furthermore, these artifacts are stylistically, materially, and contextually similar to the later Classical and Hellenistic periods use of gold foil for the inscribed Orphic gold tablets. The inscribed Orphic tablets have clear links to mystery cults and are related to both the initiation and the afterlife expectations of the deceased. Taking a selection of the uninscribed gold foil mouth-plates found in archaic burials of Macedonia and Thrace, this thesis examines the potential links between these two practices and asks whether the uninscribed gold foil mouth-plates can be assigned to the category of 'things Orphic', or if they are part of an unrelated burial tradition. While it is difficult to arrive at a definitive classification for these artifacts at the moment, this thesis offers a starting point to place the archaic mouth-plates in their proper social, cultural, and ritual context.

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