AbstractThis paper concerns a collection of rough-hewn flat stelae excavated from the precinct of Zeus Meilichios in Selinus, Sicily between 1915 and 1926, a majority with two heads or busts, one male and one female, carved at their tops. These crudely fashioned idols are unique in their iconography. They combine the flat inscribed Punic stela with the Greek figural tradition, with some indigenous features. Their meaning is totally obscure – especially since they lack any literary reference. No comparable monuments have been found in ancient Mediterranean cult. The twin stelae were often set up above a collection of burnt rodent and bird bones, ashes, lamps, broken and burnt pottery and terracotta figurines, as a memorial of a sacrifice. The stelae were the objects of a gentilicial cult, similar to that posited for the inscribed “Meilichios stones” with which they shared the Field of Stelae of Zeus Meilichios. The theory advanced here interprets these diminutive stelae (average height 30 cm) as the objects of domestic cult. It was customary in many parts of the ancient Mediterranean, from the Bronze Age down to the Roman period, to venerate household or family gods who protected the health and the wealth of the family. They were thought to embody the spirits of the ancestors and could at times be identified with the gods of the state religion.This divine couple whose effigies were dedicated in the Field of Stelae over a period of four centuries, into the third century, cannot be claimed as Greek or Punic deities. What these nameless protectors of the family were called we cannot say: Meilichios and Meilichia, Father and Mother, or Lord and Lady of the household? As the objects of such a personal domestic cult, their names might have differed with each family.
Journal of Ancient History – de Gruyter
Published: May 26, 2019