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Race and Religious Transformations in Rome - Franz Cumont and Contemporaries on the Oriental Religions

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Contemporaries of Franz Cumont (1868–1947) often applied racial theories to the supposed cultural, spiritual and political decadence of Rome, holding Oriental immigrants and their religions responsible. In his Oriental Religions (1906) Cumont explicitly rejected Houston Stewart Chamberlain and Otto Seeck, arguing instead for spiritual progress in Late Antiquity, under Oriental influence. Our analysis shows certain ambiguities and stereotypes in Cumont's publications on the Orient. We also present unpublished archive material from the Academia Belgica in Rome, showing Cumont accepted, in the 1920s, racial theories (Tenney Frank). He now explained the religious transformations in Rome by a change in the population.
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Keywords: CONVERSION; CUMONT; ORIENT AND ORIENTALISM; RACE; RELIGION; ROMAN EMPIRE

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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  • Historia, first published in 1952 by Karl Friedrich Stroheker and Gerold Walser is an international, peer-reviewed journal on Greek and Roman antiquity. Articles are in English, German, French and Italian. It features original articles on Greek history, the Roman Republic and Empire as well as late antiquity. It covers all aspects of political, economic, religious and social life and deals with legal, archaeological, numismatic and epigraphical questions.
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