The Curious Roman Cult of the Moray Eel on the Island of Ponza

The Curious Roman Cult of the Moray Eel on the Island of Ponza

A mysterious cult in which moray eels decided the fate of men existed on Ponza island, in the Tyrrhenian sea off the coast of Italy, during the first century AD at the so-called ‘Caves of Pilate’. "They ran the delicate moray eels to eat the delicacies offered to them by the visitors: they were salted fish, fresh crushed fruit, shiny crumbs of fresh bread, favorite morsels and in the manner they approached, or rejected with a blow of the tail the delicacies offered, the relegated believed to interpret the future events of their own fate," writes Monsignor Luigi Maria Dies in his book Ponza, perla di Roma: guida storico-tutristica dell'isola di Ponza nel Tirreno (1950). One must take into consideration that the never completely understood Pontius Pilate had nothing to do with the beautiful island and that his name has been undeservedly linked to the magnificent remains of the Augustan villa.

Ponza and the Pontine Islands (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Ponza and the Pontine Islands (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Historical Background of Ponza Island

Pliny the Elder, the wise author of the Naturalis Historia, written between 23 and 79 AD, in Liber IX expands even more on this curious ‘Cult of Moray Eels’ that was practiced on the island of Ponza. In 313 BC the omnipresent Romans granted the island of Ponza the privilege of becoming a Latin Colony, which just under a century later became one of the 18 colonies that came to the aid of Rome, the Eternal City, during the Second Punic War fought against Hannibal. Rome did not forget the loyalty of the islanders and freed them from all taxes and in 89 BC bestowed upon the island the Civitas Romana optimum iure.


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