Gregory Aldrete

Position title: Honorary Fellow (2013-2014)

History and Humanistic Studies, UW-Green Bay

Portrait image of Gregory Aldrete outdoors

Hammers, Axes, Bulls, and Blood: Practical Aspects of Roman Animal Sacrifice

Animal sacrifice was a central component of ancient Roman religion, but scholars have tended to focus almost entirely on the symbolic aspects of these rituals, while glossing over the actual moment of death and the practical challenges involved in killing large, potentially unruly creatures, such as bulls. The traditional explanation is that the animal was struck on the head with a hammer or axe in order to stun it, then had its throat cut and bled to death. Precisely how the axes, hammers, and knives were employed, and in what circumstances one was preferred over the other, remains unexplained. I draw upon a range of evidence derived from ancient sculpture, comparative historical sources, and animal physiology in order to argue that the standard interpretation is incomplete, and, in its place, offer a detailed analysis of exactly how the killing and bleeding of large sacrificial animals was accomplished and the distinct purposes of hammers and axes within these rituals.

Gregory S. Aldrete (Princeton B.A, 1988; Univ. of Michigan Ph.D., 1995) is the Frankenthal Professor of History and Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. His books include: Reconstructing Ancient Linen Body Armor: Unraveling the Linothorax Mystery (2013, with S. Bartell and A. Aldrete), The Long Shadow of Antiquity: What Have the Greeks and Romans Have Done For Us? (2012, with A. Aldrete), Gestures and Acclamations in Ancient Rome, Floods of the Tiber in Ancient Rome, Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia, and the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Daily Life I: The Ancient World (editor). Aldrete was named the 2012 Wisconsin Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, has been awarded two NEH Humanities Fellowships (2004/5 and 2012/13), and will be the 2014-15 Joukowsky National Lecturer for the Archaeological Institute of America. He was a Solmsen Fellow at the IRH, a member of two NEH seminars held at the American Academy in Rome, a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome, a Wisconsin System Teaching Fellow, received the national Award for Excellence in Teaching at the College Level from the American Philological Association, and was selected as a recipient of both the Founders Association Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Founders Association Award for Excellence in Scholarship. He also makes video courses with The Teaching Company/The Great Courses.