Offerors, musicians and priestesses: women and religious rites
Religious activities and ritual practices were essential aspects in the life of Phoenician and Punic communities. Good harvests, calm sea voyages and safe journeys; protection from wars, natural disasters, plagues and illnesses; successful pregnancies and births and guaranteeing the continuity of the family were the main day-to-day concerns of the Phoenician and Carthaginian peoples.
The divinities were considered to be directly involved in all these areas and in the Phoenician and Carthaginian world they were both female and male. To obtain divine favour and achieve the intervention and blessing of the deities, they were invoked through worship, sacrifices and offerings, including food, aromas, fabrics and other gifts.
These ritual practices were carried out in public sacred areas, including temples and small local shrines, and even in private contexts in houses. The participation of women in religious activities is documented in all these areas. Based on literary sources, epigraphy and iconographic representations, we know how some of these women were involved in religious and ritual practices.
This information indicates that they were offerors, prayers and devotees, as well as officiants who participated in the celebration of religious ceremonies and even led them. These women are depicted on stelae and terracotta pieces, mainly as dancers and musicians, but sometimes also as priestesses, exhibiting gestures and with the attire and attributes of the priestly body. We know some of their names and where they came from and, in some cases, the position they held in the priestly hierarchy, which could include that of high priestess.
These women, who possessed the ability to connect to people and divinities, represented an area of female power in a hegemonically masculine and strongly patriarchal field.
Picture: Phoenician priestess at the door of a temple officiating a religious ceremony. Illustrated by ªRU-MOR