Scythopolis II: A Mutilated Statue of Bacchus

Excavations in 1990 in the Eastern Bathhouse at Scythopolis, introduced in yesterday’s post, revealed a statue of Dionysos. It was found in the same layer as the mutilated and discarded statue of Venus. Here it is again the genitalia that have been attacked, whereas the damage to the head is more characteristic of that of a fall (contra Foerster 2000). Selective destruction of nose and mouth is usually characteristic of Christian mutilation, but here it is also the chin and part of a cheek that has been battered, and as such it appears to be non-selective.

The Scythopolis Bacchus. From Tsafrir & Foerster 1997, fig. 40.

The popularity of Dionysos is well attested in late antiquity by the commonality of representations of him in sculpture, Egyptian textiles and the epic poem Dionysiaka. But again we only need to consider Theodoret’s caricature of Dionysos as “that limb-loosener and effeminate creature” to get a glimpse of why early Christians would commit such acts.

Yoram Tsafrir & Gideon Foerster. 1997. “Urbanism at Scythopolis-Bet Shean in the Fourth to Seventh Centuries”, DOP 51: 85-147.
Gideon Foerster. 2000. “A Statue of Dionysos from Bet Shean (Nysa-Scythopolis)”, pp. 135-143, in: Agathos Daimon. Mythes et cultes – études d’iconographie en l’honneur de Lilly Kahil. BCH Supplément 38. Paris.
Yoram Tsafrir. 2003. “The Christianization of Bet Shean (Scythopolis) and its Social-Cultural Influence on the City”, pp. 275-284, in: G. Brands & H.-G. Severin (eds.) Die spätantike Stadt und ihre Christianisierung. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag.

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