Dogs in Everyday Religion

Dogsbodies and Dogs’ Bodies: A Social and Cultural History of Roman Britain’s Dogs and People

Professor Robin Fleming

(Professor of Early Medieval History, Boston College)

These lectures explore the social, cultural, and ritual histories of Roman-Britain’s people through an investigation of their entanglements with dogs.  In the highly anthrozootic world of Roman Britain, dogs and humans together shaped mutual ecologies and life-ways.  Dogs also served as metaphorical and ritual agents, and they were central in the production of both social difference and lived religion under Rome.  By following the trail left by dogs, we can recover something of the lifeways and experience of the people with whom they shared the world, and we can identify and characterize some of the mechanisms through which a Roman provincial society was created.

Dogs in Everyday Religion


In this lecture, we investigate how everyday religion happened materially in Roman Britain.  Religion for most people on most days was about doing rather than philosophizing and about deploying materials of religion in ways that protected, cured, cursed, or communicated with otherworldly powers and entities.  Fortunately, some of the period’s materials of religion, including the remains of over 1,500 dogs, survive.  This evidence opens up a window into the less discursive, more experiential religion that was so much a part of everyday life, enacted and experienced not only at temples, shrines, and cemeteries, but in farmyards, kitchens, and alongside property boundaries, where people participating in ritual activities often reached––with knife in hand––for a dog.