This study interrogates the composition of “sacro-idyllic” landscapes, particularly their typical constitutive elements (quadrangular or cylindric pillars, bulbous or pointed columns that are sometimes truncated or at least rounded) which are variously named in archaeological literature as “bethylus”, “Agyieus” or “omphalos”.
The cult of sacred stones (the locus of a divinity in which its tangible form, being represented without zoomorphism or anthropomorphism, is supposed to be compatible with its majesty and divine mystery) is not unique to Semitic religions. Belief in their power is widely and anciently attested to in the Greek and Roman world.
Its perceptions formed predominantly by the ancient authors, modern historiography has long described aniconism as a marginal phenomenon and a sign of archaism. This viewpoint is now widely questioned. Aniconism is a bias far more widely adopted in the ancient world than was previously imagined. It is possible that the religious practices which survived in the countryside can be seen as an afterglow of the ancient times in which men had direct access to the gods and the tangible forms of these rites inspire the paintings in Rome and Campania. Representing, or perceived as representing, the primal form of religious dévotion, anaconic divine images, until now unnoticed, may be far more numerous than immediately apparent in domestic decoration of the end of the Republic during the Flavian period.
This study analyses the arrangement of these images, and makes conspicuous the diverse ways in which painters use the structures erected in their sacro-idyllic landscapes as “animated stones”.