From the very earliest times the Romans held great veneration for female goddesses as much as they did for the male gods. The earliest Latins, when Rome was but a small city forming part of a Latin league, goddesses such as Vesta, goddess of the hearth and Diana, goddess of chastity were at the core of official cults, both were of Italic/Indo-European origin.
Vesta, Diana and Minerva were the three virgin goddesses who swore never to marry
Juno and Minerva were two components of the Capitoline triad (together with Jupiter)
Bellona was goddess of war, her temple was outside the pomoerium (the sacred boundary between the city of Rome and the world outside)
But there are also other ancient deities which to a degree are less well known and popularised but were greatly influential:
- Juventas – deity of youth to whom an offering was made by Roman children who grew into adulthood. Her temple on the Capitoline Hill was built during the time of the ancient Roman Kings, and preceded that of Jupiter (built by the 7th king – Tarquin the Proud)
- Egeria – a woodland deity who gave council to Roman King Numa Pompilius and became his wife. She is closely associated with the goddess Diana.
Importing Goddesses into Rome
The ancient Romans readily assimilated new deities and religions so long as they didn’t interfere with the established state religion which had the Capitoline triad at its head. There was also a deeper reason for this assimilation of foreign deities (termed “novensiles” as opposed to the home bred ones called “indigetes“): the Romans actually believed that if they won the good will of the enemy’s deity then the Roman army would have a good chance of winning the enemy in war.
As Livy tells us: “When all that belonged to man had been carried away from Veii, they began to remove from the temples the votive gifts that had been made to the gods, and then the gods themselves; but this they did as worshippers rather than as plunderers.”
This practice was called “evocatio” and, according to the historian Livy, a great example of it was to be had in 396BC. The Romans had held a 10 year siege of the neighbouring Etruscan city of Veii but with little success. General (temporary dictator) Camillus who was in charge of the army at the time decided to dig a long tunnel under the city to unexpectedly pop out in the middle of the unsuspecting enemy, rather like the Achaeans had managed to surprise the Trojans. At which point all that was required was the good will of the gods, not only their own but also those of the enemy: Apollo and Juno.
“After the Dictator had taken the auspices and issued orders for the soldiers to arm for battle, he uttered this prayer: ‘Pythian Apollo, guided and inspired by thy will I go forth to destroy the city of Veii, and a tenth part of its spoils I devote to thee. Thee too, Queen Juno, who now dwellest in Veii, I beseech, that thou wouldst follow us, after our victory, to the City which is ours and which will soon shine, where a temple worthy of thy majesty will receive thee.’” (Livy bk5)
After his triumph Camillus built some temples:
“he signed a contract for building the temple of Queen Juno on the Aventine and dedicated one to Matuta the Mother”
The list of ancient Roman goddesses is long, particularly when we take the definition to include all the goddesses worshipped within the empire’s territories or at least imported from distant lands. Some examples include:
|Notes||Comments / Festivity|
|Minerva||19th – 23rd March and 13th July.|
|Juno||Brought from the Etruscan city of Veii by Camillus around 400BC.|
|Vesta||Very ancient. Perhaps Greek or Sabine in origin.|
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