“ἡμιγύναικα”
: The Galli of Cybele, Latian/Anatolian archaeological evidence and comparative analyses

  • Christopher Cavanagh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

This thesis addresses the ancient Greco-Roman Galli priesthood of Cybele; priests renowned for their behaviour, including ritual castration, mendicancy and gender-variant behaviours (e.g. cross-dressing, wearing makeup etc.). Many of these behaviours contradict Greco-Roman socio-cultural norms and values – as such, the literary record is overwhelmingly hostile to the priesthood, in spite of the cult’s proliferation and wealthy material archaeological record. Some scholars have begun to investigate the priesthood as an example of a potential third gender/non-binary group in antiquity, and several have drawn initial parallels between the Galli and similar gender-variant groups across the globe. With this in mind, this thesis explores the parallels between the Galli and several gender-variant groups in human society; the Mahu of Polynesia, Hijra of India and Berdache/Two-Spirit of North America, all of whom are separated by time and geographical distance, and share similarities regarding gendered “other” attire, religious associations and sexual relationships prevalent among each group. In an etic approach, said parallels are then extrapolated and applied to the Galli material record (specifically, Latium and Anatolia, both of which are also comparatively analysed in an emic manner) in an effort to better understand the contradictions between the literature and archaeological record. Chapter 1 addresses both the ancient and modern approaches to sexuality and the Galli, while Chapters 2 and 3 cover the Anatolian and Latian evidence respectively. Chapters 4 and 5 comprise the comparative analyses between both datasets and the case study groups.
Applying the aforementioned parallels to the Latian/Anatolian archaeological records in this thesis has revealed that the Galli appear to receive differing treatment in Latium and Anatolia, the latter receiving higher official esteem, while the Latian Galli are much more ostentatious in self-representation and cult paraphernalia. In addition, the Latian Galli appear to utilise more euphemism and symbolism in their stelae which in line with literary accounts could indicate localised marginalisation, necessitating pragmatic euphemism/allegory to convey identity on the part of the Latian Galli, as well as defiance in the form of ostentatious symbolism and attire.

Furthermore, comparative analyses between both Anatolian/Latian Galli and the Mahu, Berdache and Hijra show intriguing parallels, exhibiting a curious dichotomy of acceptance from indigenous sources and hostility from Western-based sources, seen with the Galli in Anatolia/Latium, yet also with the Berdache, Mahu and Hijra, all of whom experience a hostile portrayal under Western sources, yet also are accorded a level of prestige and esteem locally. With regards to the Galli material record, the lack of “blood” children in the Latian and Anatolian Galli might share parallels with all three groups. Paradoxical iconographic elements (namely, fertility symbols) may be explained in the archaeological record via comparison with the Berdache and Hijra, while homosexual liaisons seen in Anatolia and Latium may also be indicative of a “Galli marriage”, exhibited by the comparisons between the use of specific terms such as ‘συμβίου/contubernalis’ in the archaeological record and symbolic marriages between Hijra and their male-bodied partners or pantis.

As such, this thesis demonstrates the validity of comparative analyses between an ancient social group and modern counterparts in helping improve our understandings of the former. As such, future studies into additional “othered” identities in history and modernity (e.g. the Khanith of Oman, or the Femminelli of Naples, modern Drag, Non-Binary/Genderfluid/Genderqueer/LGBTQ+ groups etc.) might offer further insights not only on the Galli, but upon other “deviant” subcultures or individuals within historic and contemporary societies.

Thesis is embargoed until 31 July 2025.
Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorJohn Curran (Supervisor) & Laura Pfuntner (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Galli
  • Cybele
  • cult and religion
  • ancient history
  • ancient sexuality
  • comparative analyses
  • archaeology

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