Thursday, August 22, 2013

Votives: Promises and Gratitude to the Gods - Guest Post by Elisabeth Storrs (includes Giveaway)

I'm very pleased to welcome Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice to the blog today for a guest post related to ancient Etruscan customs.  If you haven't read either of Elisabeth's two fabulous novels I highly recommend you do so. 

As part of this guest post Elisabeth has also graciously offered to provide a digital copy of The Golden Dice, her most recent release, to one lucky reader -- giveaway details are outlined at the end of this post.

Without further ado I'll hand the floor over to Elisabeth.


Votives: Promises and Gratitude to the Gods 

‘I give so that you give’ is the principle behind votive gifts in the ancient world. These were rituals objects offered to the gods to grant a wish. And if the request was answered, another votive was given in thanks.
Votive male figurine
The Etruscans followed this practice with enthusiasm. Thousands of these gifts were deposited in trenches within sanctuaries or outside city walls, and in the countryside beside rivers and crossroads. In temples these votives were placed on tables or against walls or niches. When the space became overcrowded, the offerings were moved to make room for new ones. They were then ritually buried within the sanctuary to ensure they remained consecrated.

Votives could take the form of ceramic ware and utensils such as knives, jugs and bowls for dining after the ritual. Others consisted of pottery or bronze figurines made to win the gods’ favour. Little statuettes of animals such as horses, pigs and cows were often proffered in place of living beasts.

Votive hands

A votive was commonly offered to the gods to ask for an improvement in health. These could be in the form of full body figurines representing the supplicants themselves or sculptures of their heads. Some heads were life size, others in miniature. Many are covered by a mantle, a sign of respect when performing a religious ceremony. Most charming of all are those of swaddled babies, the offering of a mother seeking protection for her child.

Votive of swaddled babies

There are also grotesque models of body parts and organs such as feet, hands, fingers, eyes, ears, tongues, breasts, wombs and penises as well as representations of entrails and bodies cut open to display various internal organs. Each reveals the prayer of a person seeking to cure a disease or ailment. One votive is of a womb that appears to be undergoing contractions, perhaps a plea from an anxious pregnant woman to ensure she survives childbirth. In other cases, models of wombs are believed to be a request to a god to grant fertility.

Votive of womb showing contractions

Humble wooden shrines dotted the sides of the road before which small votives vied for space as well as for divine favor. Some were fashioned into the shapes of hands or feet engraved with imprecations to soothe crippled fingers or heal a broken toe.’  The Wedding Shroud – A Tale of Ancient Rome

Votive female head with mantle

Which gods received votives? Although there are inscriptions on bronze images offered by wealthier, more educated Etruscans, there are virtually no engravings on the terracotta images that were mass produced and used by an illiterate eschelon of society. However, some votives were believed to be of the gods themselves such as Tinia (Apollo), Turan (Venus) and Fufluns (Dionysus). And while there are inscriptions seeking the protection of Uni (Juno), the goddess of marriage, women and children, there were also dedications to Selvans (Silvanus) the god of the forest. This supposedly would have been to appease him as his presence was an evil omen when in childbirth.

‘Little votives cluttered the space around the statue’s feet representing pleas and prayers. Among them were many small images of Uni, appealing to the vanity of the divinity as much as her mercy.’
The Golden Dice – A Tale of Ancient Rome

It is doubtful the poorer people would have been able to afford even a moulded votive. Instead they may have offered perishable goods: wood, cloth, bread, fruit or flowers. Whether modest or expensive, though, the Etruscan’s use of votives and inscribed vows reveal the universal desire of mankind to seek help in need and give thanks when blessed.

The characters in my Tales of Ancient Rome series also seek the protection of the gods through votive offerings. The books chronicle the events of a ten year siege between Rome and the Etruscan city of Veii. The Wedding Shroud ends when war is declared. The Golden Dice continues the story seven years later at the height of the conflict. In addition to following the Roman treaty bride, Caecilia, two other strong female characters are introduced: Semni, a young Etruscan girl, and Pinna, a Roman tomb whore.  I hope readers will enjoy visiting Etruria again, or venture into this world for the first time to learn how three women of the ancient world endure a war. You will find more information on the background to the book in this post on my blog, Triclinium. The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice are available on Amazon as an ebook and paperback or via other retailers listed on my website. And I would love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.

The Golden Dice

During a ten year siege between two age-old enemies, three women follow very different paths to survive:

Caecilia, a young Roman woman, forsakes her city by marrying the Etruscan Vel Mastarna, exposing herself to the enmity of his people and the hatred of the Romans who consider her a traitoress…

Semni, a reckless Etruscan girl, becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna, embroiling herself in schemes that threaten Caecilia's children and her own chance for romance…

Pinna, a tomb whore, uses blackmail to escape her grim life and gain the attention of Rome's greatest general, choosing between her love for him and her loyalty to another…

In this second volume in the Tales of Ancient Rome series, the lives of women in war are explored together with the sexuality, religion, and politics of Roman and Etruscan cultures, two great civilizations of ancient history.

The Wedding Shroud

In 406 BC, to seal a tenuous truce, the young Roman Caecilia is wedded to Vel Mastarna, an Etruscan nobleman from the city of Veii. The fledgling Republic lies only twelve miles across the Tiber from its neighbor, but the cities are from opposing worlds so different are their customs and beliefs. Leaving behind a righteous Rome, Caecilia is determined to remain true to Roman virtues while living among the sinful Etruscans. Instead she finds herself tempted by a hedonistic culture which offers pleasure and independence to women as well as an ancient religion that gives her a chance to delay her destiny. Yet Mastarna and his people also hold dark secrets and, as war looms, Caecilia discovers that Fate is not so easy to control and that she must finally choose where her allegiance lies.

Exploring themes of sexuality, destiny versus self-determination and tolerance versus prejudice, The Wedding Shroud is historical fiction at its best which vividly brings Ancient Rome and Etruria to life while accenting the lives of women in ancient history.


Elisabeth Storrs has long held an interest in the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. She is an Australian author and graduated from the University of Sydney in Arts Law, having studied Classics. She lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney and over the years has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer, governance consultant and business writer. The Wedding Shroud was judged runner-up in the international 2012 Sharp Writ Book Awards for general fiction.



I'm pleased to host a giveaway for one digital copy of The Golden Dice.  Here are the giveaway details:

- To enter, simply leave a comment below with your email address;
- The giveaway is open internationally;
- The giveaway will run until midnight (EST) September 2, 2013;
- The winner will be selected using

Good Luck!