In summary: Juno is the Goddess of women, marriage and motherhood. Suitable offerings to Juno including silver gifts, traditional cakes / pastries (especially in threes), wine and incense. Scroll down for more.
Juno, Queen of the Matriarchs
Juno’s special concern is the protection of women.* In particular, she is the patron Goddess of marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. Hence, she could be described as the spirit of fertility in women.** For most freeborn women in the ancient world marriage, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood defined what it meant to be an adult and so we can say that Juno deifies the adulthood of girls,*** which is perhaps why in the Religio Romana the spirit of a woman is called “juno”, whereas for a man it is called “genius”.
While Venus is the patroness of sexual yearning, pleasure and its climax, it is Juno who is the patroness for what comes next. Venus is mirthful, but Juno is solemn (Tibullus) and austere (Propertius); she is a matron (Horace) and this role is crucial. As Rüpke states, “it is clear that there are important deities who were worshipped across Latium, and who represented core values of the community, and Juno is one. The cult of Juno Sospita in particular seems to have been connected with the defence and reproduction of the citizen body” (Rüpke at 37). Likewise, Juno Regina was prayed to by the married women of Rome on “bended knee” for the safety, victory and health of the Roman people and for goodwill to Roman houses and households (Beard et al at 142).
The Capitoline Triad
Juno was so important to ancient Romans that she was one of the Capitoline triad – the supreme deities of the State, whose triple temple on the Capitoline hill was “the site of the most prestigious of all Roman religious actions” (North at 82). This temple, founded in the 6th century BCE, was a superstructure. Rüpke expands:
“Of the many temples in the city of Rome, the best-known was that of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno and Minerva on the Capitoline hill. This large and ancient edifice served as the stage for grand public rituals before great crowds of citizens assembled to observe their magistrates and priests address the chief gods of the Roman state. On the day that consuls entered office, their first act was to offer sacrifice and prayers at this temple. When a commander set out on a military expedition, he first ascended the Capitoline to make a vow for the successful outcome of his mission. If successful, and the senate decreed a triumph, the triumphal procession wound its way through the city to come to an end at the same temple, and the commander offered prayers and sacrifices of thanksgiving to the same gods to whom he had made his vows. And yet even in this great temple of the Roman state, individuals offered personal prayers. Seneca mocks those who come to the Capitoline to ask the gods to put up their bail and those who present their legal briefs and expound their cases [Rüpke at 238].”
Nor was the Capitoline triad confined to the city of Rome, for the “custom of building a triple temple (Capitolium) to the three Gods of the State triad spread outwards from Rome to the Italian coloniae and then the entire empire as well” (Beard et al at 244).
Epithets of Juno
Juno’s glory was not confined to her membership of the Capitoline triad; for, as a major Goddess of the Roman pantheon, Juno has multiple manifestations, which vary according to the different defining names, regions and functions associated with her. In ancient times she was known by a wide variety of names that acknowledged her numerous domains. Most notably they included:
- Juno Moneta (Juno who warns – so named because Juno’s sacred geese alerted the Romans to a would be stealth attack on the capitol by Gauls in 390 BCE – this temple on the Capitoline hill came to be associated with the State mint where money was coined and stored; it is from “Moneta” that the word “money” derives);
- Juno Lucina (Juno who brings children into the light – patroness of childbirth; she had a temple on the Esquiline hill, founded in 375 BCE);
- Juno Regina (Juno the Queen – who was brought to the Aventine hill, in Rome, in 396 BCE after originally being the patron deity of Veii);
- Juno Sospita (Juno the Saviour – patron deity of Lavinium, she had a militant appearance; being decked out in “goat-skin, spear, shield and shoes turned up at the toe”: Cicero, Nature of the Gods, 1.82);
- Juno Curritis (Juno with a spear; mother of the clans – patron deity of Falerii);
- Juno Caprotina (Juno of the wild fig tree – figs being a euphemism for female genitalia, thus Juno who protects gynaecological health).
Other epithets of Juno include Juno Fortuna (good luck); Juno Pronuba (arranger of marriages); Juno Domiduca (leader of brides); Juno Rumina (breastmilk); Juno Ossipago (strengthen children’s bones) and so on.
Juno was so highly regarded in ancient Rome that the month of June was named in her honour and the first of every month (the kalends – which had originally been associated with the new moon – thus the birth of the new month) was sacred to her (Ovid, Fasti, 1.55; 6.26). She was also associated with several important Roman festivals, most notably the Lupercalia, the Matronalia, the Floralia and the ludi Romani; her role in each of these festivals pertained to her function as a Goddess of fertility and motherhood.
The Lupercalia (15 February) was a particularly important purification and fertility festival during which noble boys armed with strips of goat-skin (the goats having been formally sacrificed earlier):
“run about naked but for a belt around their waist, striking anyone in their path with the thongs. And women of childbearing age do not try to escape the blows, believing that they help towards fertility and easy childbirth [Plutarch, cited by Beard et al at 120]. ”
Juno’s role in the Lupercalia is explained by Ovid as deriving from the time when the founding (Sabine) mothers of Rome were having difficulty conceiving, and thus the future of Rome was at stake:
“Beneath the Esquiline hill there was a grove, uncut in many years, named after mighty Juno. When they had come here, brides and husbands alike went down on bended knee in supplication; then suddenly the tops of the trees trembled and shook, and through her grove the Goddess spoke wondrous words: ‘Let the sacred he-goat enter the Italian matrons.’
The crowd was stunned, terrified at the ambiguous utterance. There was an augur … He slaughters a he-goat. Under orders, the girls offered their backs to be beaten with strips cut from the hide.
The moon in her tenth course was renewing her horns, and suddenly the husband was a father, the wife a mother. Thanks to [Juno] Lucina! The grove gave you this name [the Latin for ‘grove’ is lucus], or it’s because you, Goddess, have the beginning of the light [the Latin for ‘light’ is lux – ie, Juno Lucina delivers children into the light of the world]. Kindly Lucina, be merciful, I pray, to pregnant girls, and when the burden is ready take it gently from the womb [Ovid, Fasti, 2.435-452].”
Relatedly, the Matronalia (1 March) marked the date of the dedication of the temple to Juno Lucina on the Esquiline hill in 375 BCE.
“It was, in fact, a kind of [Roman] mothers’ day when their daughters, and also their husbands, gave them presents (even lovers offered gifts to their mistresses, as if in anticipation …) … Women brought flowers to Juno and wore circlets on their heads to invoke her in her sanctuary on the Esquiline. But sacrifices were also offered in every home for the good fortune of the household, and mothers treated their slaves as their husbands did at the time of Saturnalia. The festival thus sanctified conjugal, parental and domestic cohesiveness, with this simple and Roman concept that family life formed an indivisible whole within the State [Turcan at 34].”
Like the Lupercalia and the Matronalia, the Floralia (28 April-3 May) was essentially a celebration of fertility, in this instance it was in honour of Flora, the nymph-Goddess of flowering crops and plants. It was a time of bawdy festivities. People wore colourful clothing, feasted, drank, danced, went to State sponsored entertainments in the arena, the circus and the theatre (some of which included strip-teases by mime actresses) and, given that Flora was a divine patroness of prostitutes (Flora was said to have donated a large sum of money to Rome after selling her own affections), they probably engaged in sexual excess – which is as it should be if we are taking our commitment to fertility seriously. Ovid ties Juno into this fabulous fertility festival with the following story emphasising the immensity of Juno’s own fertility (and, of course, Flora’s) – who, according to myth borrowed from Greece, was the only Goddess able to conceive without insemination. Flora is the speaker in Ovid’s text:
“When Minerva was born [from Jupiter’s forehead] without a mother, holy Juno felt a pain that Jupiter hadn’t needed her own services. She was on her way to complain to Oceanus about what her husband had done. Weary from the effort she stopped at my door. As soon as I saw her, ‘daughter of Saturn,’ I said, ‘what has brought you here?’ She reveals the place she is seeking. She added the reason as well. I began to consol her with friendly words.
‘My trouble,’ she says, ‘is not to be relieved by words. If Jupiter has become a father neglecting to use his spouse, and holds both names alone, why should I despair of becoming a mother without a spouse and giving birth without the touch of a man, so long as I’m chaste? I shall try all the treatments in the wide world, and search the seas and hollows of Tatarus!’
Her voice was in full flow. I had a hesitant expression. ‘Nymph,’ she says, ‘you seem to have some power.’ Three times I wanted to promise help, three times my tongue was held back. Jupiter’s anger was a reason for great fear. ‘Bring help, I pray,’ she said. ‘The source will be concealed.’ And she calls the power of the water of Styx to witness.
‘What you seek,’ I say, ‘a flower of mine, sent from the fields of Olenus [associated with the healing God Aesculapius], will provide. It is unique to my gardens. He who gave it said ‘touch a heifer, with this, even a barren one – she’ll be a mother.’ I did: no delay, she was a mother.
Straightaway I plucked with my thumb the clinging flower. She is touched, and conceives in the touched womb. And now, pregnant she enters Thrace and the left of Propontis [where Mars’ Hellenic counterpart, Ares, was traditionally born]. She is granted her wish, and Mars was born [Ovid, Fasti, 5.231-258].”
The ludi Romani (originally 13 September, but by the reign of Augustus extended to over half the month of September) celebrated the anniversary of the foundation of the Capitoline temple and were thus dedicated to the official triple-deities of the State – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. These ludi (literally “games”) were so significant that they were also called the ludi magni (literally “great games”) and were particularly well known for their horse and chariot racing in the Circus Maximus, as well as State sponsored gymnastic competitions and theatrical shows. Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes the preliminaries of the ludi Romani thus:
“Before beginning the games, the chief magistrates organised a procession in honour of the Gods, starting from the Capitoline, leading through the Forum to the Circus Maximus. At the front of the procession came first the Romans’ sons who were on the verge of manhood … on horseback if their fathers had the financial qualification to become knights, on foot if they were destined to serve in the infantry … The purpose of this was for strangers to see the flower of the city’s youth that was approaching manhood, and to realise how numerous and fine they were [cited by Beard et al at 138].”
One can only imagine how proud the mothers of Rome must have been to see their free-born sons take part in this procession.
Getting married, making a home, having children – these things are not so fashionable but they are the bedrock of family and ultimately the bedrock of society. They are also the things that have traditionally defined womanhood and, whether it is fashionable or not, continue to be core to the lives of so many women. The pull to reproduce is strong, so too the desire to share a home, and ultimately a life, with one’s beloved. It is these things that are Juno’s domain. I think the following poem by Tibullus, “Riches are Useless”, timelessly celebrates both marriage and Juno. I conclude with it, because, oftentimes, it is the ancient poets who bring us closer to understanding the Roman perception of the divine than contemporary scholars:
‘Tis vain to plague the skies with eager prayer,
And offer incense with thy votive song,
If only thou dost ask for marbles fair,
To deck thy palace for the gazing throng.
Not wider fields my oxen to employ,
Nor flowing harvests and abundant land,
I ask of heaven; but for a long life’s joy
With thee, and in old age to clasp thy hand.
Wealth has no power to lift life’s load of care,
Or free man’s lot from Fortune’s fatal chain;
With thee, Neaera, poverty looks fair,
And lacking thee, a kingdom were in vain.
O golden day that shall at last restore
My lost love to my arms! O blest indeed,
And worthy to be hallowed evermore.
May some kind God my long petition heed!
No! Not dominion, nor Pactolian stream,
Nor all the riches the wide world can give!
These other men may ask. My fondest dream
Is, poor but free, with my true wife to live.
Saturnian Juno, to all nuptials kind,
Receive with grace my ever-anxious vow!
Come, Venus, wafted by the Cyprian wind,
And from thy car of shell smile on me now!
But if the mournful sisters, by whose hands
Our threads of life are spun, refuse me all—
May Pluto bid me to his dreary lands,
Where those wide rivers through the darkness fall.
* Shelton, As the Romans Did at 366
** Ferguson, The Religions of the Roman Empire at 211
*** Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome at 72
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- Cicero, The Nature of the Gods (Oxford University Press)
- Ferguson, The Religions of the Roman Empire (Cornell University Press)
- Horace, The Works of Horace (@ gutenberg.org)
- Kamm, The Romans: An Introduction (Routledge)
- Littleton, Gods, Goddesses and Mythology (Marshall Cavendish)
- North, Roman Religion (Oxford University Press)
- Ovid, Fasti (Oxford University Press)
- Ovid, Fasti (Penguin Books)
- Propertius, The Love Elegies (@ yorku.ca)
- Rüpke (Ed), A Companion to Roman Religion (Wiley-Blackwell)
- Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History (Oxford University Press)
- Takacs, Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons: Women in Roman Religion (University of Texas Press)
- Tibullus, The Elegies of Tibullus (@ gutenberg.org)
- Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome (Routledge)