A votive deposit or votive offering is an object left in a sacred place for ritual purposes. Such items are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favour with supernatural forces. Votive offerings have been described in historical Roman era and Greek sources, although similar acts continue into the present day, for example the modern day practice of tossing coins into a wishing well or fountain.
In Europe votive deposits date to the Neolithic, with polished axe hoards, reaching a peak in the late Bronze Age. High status artifacts such as swords and spearheads were apparently buried or more commonly cast into bodies of water or peat bogs, whence they could not possibly have been recovered. Often all the objects in a ritual hoard are broken, 'killing' the objects to put them even further beyond utilitarian use before deposition. The purposeful discarding of valuable items such as swords and spearheads is thought to have therefore had ritual overtones. The items have since been found in rivers, lakes and former wet-places (now drained by modern agriculture) by metal-detectorists, members of the public and archaeologists.
According to Sacred Tradition, after Constantine the Great's conversion and subsequent victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, he donated one of the crosses he carried in battle to the Church. This cross is reputed to be preserved on Mount Athos.
One of the most famous Orthodox votive offerings is that by Saint John of Damascus. According to tradition, while he was serving as Vizier to the Caliph, he was falsely accused of treachery and his hand was cut off. Upon praying in front of an icon of the Theotokos his hand was miraculously restored. In thanksgiving, he had a silver replica of his hand fashioned and attached it to the icon (see image at left). This icon is preserved at Hilandar Monastery on Mount Athos.
Orthodox Christians continue to make votive offerings to this day, often in the form of tamata, metal plaques symbolizing the subject of their prayers. Other offerings include, candles, prosphora, wine, oil, or incense. In addition, many will leave something of personal value, such as jewelry, a pectoral cross or military decoration as a sign of devotion.
Ancient examples include: