Blog Archives

Cloacina

Etymology: From the Latin cloaca meaning “Sewer” Other meanings are Cleanser and Purifier.

Epitaphs & Other Names: Mistress of the Great Sewer, “The Cleanser,” Venus Cloacina (Venus the Cleanser)

Cloacina is the Roman Goddess of Sewers, Filth, and Purity. Before you laugh, the Romans had a spirit or deity for nearly everything. Naturally, when it comes to taking care of sewage and drainage, the Romans also have a deity for this. Enter Cloacina, the goddess responsible for purifying filth and whatever nasty things are in the sewers that we don’t want to think about.

Attributes

Element: Water

Plant: Myrtle

Sphere of Influence: Cleansing, Purification, Rivers, Sewers

Tool: Incense Burner

Etruscan Origins

It is generally accepted that Cloacina was an Etruscan goddess first before being adopted by the Romans. The Etruscans lived in the northern and central part of Italy called Tuscany where they were called Tusci or Etusci by the Romans.

Not much is known about the Etruscans, a few words have survived into the Latin language. What little we do have and know, shows that many deities were adapted and adopted by the Romans into their belief systems.

Plus, the whole story of the founding of Rome by the brothers Romulus and Remus comes to us from Etruscan stories. It’s also interesting to track history meeting myth and where things get muddled. Titus Tatius for example is credited as being the Sabine King co-ruling with Romulus and erecting a statue honoring Cloacina and the Great Sewer. Traditionally, Romulus is said to have ruled between 753 and 717 B.C.E., and Lucius Tarquinius Priscus’ rule from 616-579 B.C.E. and when the sewer’s construction is done. Which would put Titus Tatius about a century ahead of schedule.

Back to Cloacina, when we look at Rome’s foundation myth, we see that the king of Sabine, Titus Tatius commissions the statue where the Sabines and Romans meet to end the conflict following the rape of the Sabine women. It is Tatius who instituted the lawful marriage between Sabines and Romans to unite them as one people. This new peace between the Sabines and Romans would be noted by a cleansing ritual using myrtle performed near an old Etruscan shrine to Cloacina by a small stream. The same stream that would become part of the Cloaca Maxima.

Side Note: Myrtle is also one of Venus’ symbols, the Romans would later equate Cloacina with Venus in her function as a goddess of peace, union, and reconciliation. In this sense, Cloacina would be known as Venus Cloacina or Venus the Cleanser as she also presided over the purification of sex during marriage.

Goddess Of Water

In her early Etruscan origins, Cloacina began as a goddess of water and in that aspect, her attributes were that of Cleanser and Purifier. The stream that Cloacina was originally associated with was part of a marshy region that would empty out to the Tiber River. This region was also prone to flooding by the Tiber as well.

Goddess Of The Sewers

And thus filth, in this respect Cloacina is responsible for purification and cleansing to keep the streets and City of Rome clean.

Despite this seemingly unsavory position, Cloacina was greatly revered and respected by the Romans as they had statues of Fortuna in their latrines, shrines, art, and even prayers for her.

We’re talking that Roman sewers were well maintained to keep the streets and City of Roman free from flooding, diseases, and vermin such as rats.

Cloaca Maxima

This is the vast sewer system in Rome that kept the city clean and relatively free of excrement. At its peak, Rome had over a million people living in the city and it was very important to keep the place disease-free. Even today, the Cloaca Maxima still functions and works, which speaks a testament to the engineering abilities of the ancient Romans, notably Tarquin as one of the building projects he overtook for Rome. What we know, is that the Etruscan king, Tarquinius Priscus is credited as beginning the work on the Cloaca Maxima which would be completed by Tarquinius Superbus.

The Cloaca Maxima was originally built as an open-air canal that ran through the main Forum, collecting water from streams and emptying it into the Tiber River. Over time, it came to be built over and enclosed with later sections and branches being tunneled out as the city grew. In Ovid’s Fasti, it is mentioned that the Forum had been built on an area with swamp-like conditions.

Sacrum Cloacina

This is the name of the shrine that Romans built in the Forum to petition Cloacina’s aid to keep the streets and City of Rome clean. The Forum is where one could expect to find statues and shrines to all the major Roman gods like Jupiter, Saturn, Juno, and Minerva. From there, there was a manhole access cover to the sewer below. Today, the foundations of this shrine can still be seen. There are a number of layers of stonework that show how ancient this shrine is as the entrance had been raised many times and upkeep by the Romans. There is a set of stairs with a railing that leads down to where a pair of small statues stand that are either both Cloacina or Cloacina and Venus. Each statue holds an incense burner and a flower.

As a side note, Cloacina’s image can be found on the backside of Roman coins, opposite that of Julius Caesar dating from 44 B.C.E. These coins were likely tossed into the water as offerings to Cloacina for her favor and to be free from diseases. Another interesting note to this is that the Hall of Curia, where Julius Caesar was assassinated was turned into a public toilet and the waste from this hall would flow into the Cloaca Maxima.

There are even prayers and poems written to Cloacina as the Mistress of the Great Sewer.

A couple of these poems and prayers are as follows:

“Then Cloacina, goddess of the tide,

Whose sable (black) streams beneath the city glide

Indulged the modish flame, the town she roved,

A mortal scavenger she saw she loved.”

“O Cloacina, Goddess of this place,

Look on thy suppliants with a smiling face.

Soft, yet cohesive let their offerings flow,

Not rashly swift nor insolently slow.”

Venus – Roman

This one is somewhat surprising as Venus is the Roman goddess of Love and Beauty. This does make sense that one of Venus’ functions is that as a purifier and that’s also what Cloacina does too. Though if you ask some historians like Pliny the Elder why Cloacina is identified with Venus, he couldn’t tell you. But it makes sense when you look at one of Venus’ functions as a unifier, peace, and reconciliation, and that where the ancient Sabines and Romans made peace is right on the same location for Cloacina’s shrine. Plus, Rome had this thing for Pax Romana for trying to keep peace and stability within their empire that would extend to trying to appease every god that they had, even if it meant some becoming epitaphs or another name for a deity to try and keep the list down and simplified.

Dea Dia

Etymology: Latin “Bright Goddess,” “the Celestial Goddess” or “Goddess of Daylight”

Pronunciation: d̪e-a ˈd̪i-a

In ancient Rome, Dea Dia is the goddess of fertility and growth. By herself, she is a relatively minor goddess and as such, she is frequently equated with Ceres or her Grecian counterpart Demeter.

Attributes

Element: Earth

Month: May, December

Sphere of Influence: Growth, Crops, Fields, Planting

Ancient Origins

Dea Dia’s worship is very ancient, she was a goddess of the plowed field, concerned with the fertility and growth of crops, particularly grain and the earth.

It’s thought that Dea Dia’s worship extends back to ancient Sabine. The first part of her name, Dea simply means goddess and the second part means “light” or “bright” in reference to the sky. There is thought that Dia may be related to the goddess Diana as there is certainly an etymological root there with “dia.”

Since there’s a lot of getting into the Indo-European root words and languages. There are lines of thought that Dia Dea is an honorific and the actual goddess’ name was so sacred as to be forbidden to be spoken out loud as seen with another goddess known as Bona Dea. Additionally, one of Jupiter’s archaic names as a Sky-God is “Dies Pater” so there is another idea that Dea Dia may be the consort of an early form of Jupiter’s.

Ambarvalia

This is a three-day festival that would be held every May from the 27th to the 29th in honor of Ceres and where Dea Dia would be an epitaph to Ceres. Dea Dia’s priests, the Fratres Arvales presided over this festival. During this time, the priests would bless the fields and make offerings to the Underworld.

May of course, is the time of year when the days are getting longer and ideal for planting and growing crops. There was a minor festival held in December.

Lucus Deae Diae – This is the name of the sacred grove dedicated to Dea Dia where her festival was held. It’s about five miles south of Rome. Archeological evidence shows that this grove and temple have been used since the third century B.C.E.

Syno-Dieties

Acca Larentia – Roman

A mythical woman later turned fertility goddess. It is thought that her twelve sons became the priests associated with the first Arval priests.

Ceres – Roman

Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility, and motherhood and is equated with Dea Dia or attached as an epitaph.

Mana Genita – Roman

An obscure goddess mentioned by Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace. The mother of the Manes or spirits known as Lares would also be associated with the Ambarvalia festival and the Underworld.

Demeter – Greek

A fertility and earth goddess, Dea Dia is often equated with Demeter or attached as an epitaph.

Fortuna – Roman

The Roman goddess of luck and fate, she held a connection to the Lucus Deae Diae grove and thus to Dea Dia. Fortuna sharing a temple here comes about with Augustus’ reforms and has caused several scholars to debate the precise connection between Fortuna and Dea Dia.

Larunda – Roman

A nymph and Underworld goddess, she is the mother of the Lares associated with the Ambarvalia festival. Incidentally, the only myths come from Ovid’s Fasti and are seen as a latecomer to the overall Roman myths and beliefs.

Ops – Roman

Another fertility goddess and goddess of the fields, Dea Dia would also be equated with Ops.

Lupercus

Lupercus - Wolf God

Etymology – “He who wards off the wolf”

The Wolf God, Lupercus is the god of agriculture and shepherds. The name Lupercus is said by some to be an epithet of the Roman god Faunus.

As Faunus, he is a god of the wild, untamed nature and fertility and the giver of oracles. The Romans came to identify Faunus with the Greek Pan due to the similarity of some of their characteristics such as horns and hooves. Faunus’ attributes are the wolfskin, wreath and goblet.

If I stick to just this, there really wouldn’t be much of a blog post. Lupercus comes into his own when looking at and focusing on the ancient Roman holiday known as Lupercalia.

Lupercalia – The Wolf Festival

The festival and holiday of Lupercalia was held every year from February 13th to 15th, often said to be the anniversary of the founding of Lupercus’ (properly Faunus’) temple. The Luperci, who were the priests of Lupercus and wore goat skins, would sacrifice two goats and a dog during a ritual at this time. Goats were sacrificed as Lupercus is the god of shepherds and the dog got sacrificed as they’re the protector of flocks and herds. The blood from these animals would then be wiped on two young men’s foreheads. This festival was held too, to avert evil spirits and purify the city, allowing for good health and fertility with the coming year.

The sacrifice of the goats and dog would take place at the Lupercale, a cave that according to tradition is where the twins Remus and Romulus were raised by the she-wolf Luperca. In 2007, National Geographic posted an article about how Archeologists found this cave beneath the ruins of Emperor Augustus’ palace on Palatine Hill, Rome.

Lupercalia replaced an earlier Spring Cleansing ritual of Februa once held on the same date and from where the month of February gets its name. Just as Lupercalia replaced Februa, it too has largely been replaced by the more modern Valentine’s Day where the Catholic church made efforts to tone down some of the more wilder pagan rituals or to get people to accept Christianity more easily with their converting from pagan religions.

Not too surprising given how riotous and risqué that Lupercalia could be with the use of whips in striking women to try and make them more fertile, men running naked chasing women, the blood sacrifice of goats and a dog. Even the familiar heart shape symbol of love has some controversial origins to what it really depicts and is. Unsubstantiated sources comment too how the use of Lupercalia’s lottery of young men drawing the names women from a box is the more modern tradition of giving Valentine Cards.

Lykaia

Also spelled or called Lycaea, this ancient, archaic Greek festival is said to be where the rituals of Lupercalia originated from. For those who want to link werewolves with the holiday of Lupercalia, Lykaia is the one you’re probably thinking of.

The festival of Lykaia had a secret festival held on Mount Lykaion (Wolf Mountain) in Arcadia. The myths that surround this ritual are believed to relate the story of Lycaon’s feast he held for the gods and involved having served up one of his sons Nyctimus as one of the main courses. Another version of this story given by an Eratosthenes, holds that Lycaon had served up his grandson Arcas at this feast. In either eventuality, an enraged Zeus turns Lycaon into a wolf and proceeds to kill by means of lightning; Lycaon’s other sons before restoring the dead child back to life.

Mmm…. Cannibalism. Not.

The festival of Lykaia were held annually at the beginning of May. It was a primitive ritual festival and rite of passage for young males known as epheboi among the Greeks into adulthood. With the ritual held at night, evidence taken by some with the name of Lycaon’s son Nyctimus, a lot of rumors about cannibalism and werewolf transformations circulated widely among the Greeks as to just what was going on up there. Even Plato wrote about one clan who would gather every nine years and sacrifice to Zeus Lykaios where a piece of human flesh would be mixed in among the pieces of animal meat.

The belief held that whoever ate the piece of human flesh would turn into a wolf and they could only return to human form after nine-years if they hadn’t eaten human flesh. The famous Olympic boxing champion, Damarchus is said to have turned into a wolf during the ritual sacrifice held for Zeus Lykaios. Games were also a big part of the Lykaios festival held every year after the secret ritual held at night.

Archaeological Discoveries

Archaeologists have found by looking at the ash heaps near the altars for Lykaia no human remains and suggest that the rituals and festival of Lykaia are far older than what even the ancient Greeks themselves knew. Excavations have generally shown nothing earlier than about 700 B.C.E. though one trench excavated at Mount Lykaion shows possible ritual evidence dating to the beginning of the third millennium B.C.E., a full thousand years before the worship of Zeus throughout Greece.

Lykaios – Wolf-Zeus

This is an epithet of Zeus in connection to the festival of Lykaia and seems to have been a formality in making him a patron of the rituals held. Zeus’ inclusion is possibly instrumental in ending any human sacrifices going on or trying to put to rest the rumors.

Apollo Lykaios

The Greek god Apollo is also known to have a wolf-form as Apollo Lycaeus. He was worshiped in Athens at the Lykeion or Lyceum. This site is most remembered as the place where the philosopher Aristotle taught.

Lykaian Pan

A sanctuary for the Greek god Pan was also found on Mount Lykaion. The traditional story goes that Euandros, the son of Hermes, led a colony of people from Pallantion, Arkadia to Italy where he built the town of Pallantion on Palatine Hill. Euandros introduced the cult of Pan Lýkaios and the Lykaia festival that later becomes the Roman festival of Lupercalia. Given how much the Romans would identify their gods with those of the Greeks and other cultures, that could make sense.

Modern Lykaia

Apparently there are modern Lykaia games that have been held every four years since 1973, at the beginning of August by the Ano Karyes Association in the same places where the games associated with the ancient festival of Lykaia were held. These are sort of a localized Greek Olympics.