For Juno Sospita

The First of February is, so I have just heard, the anniversary of the dedication of the Palatine Temple of Juno Sospita [‘The Savioress’] in Rome.

We find this prominently mentioned in Ovid’s Fasti (II 55-66):

“At the start of the month [of February] they say that Juno the Saviour (Sospita),
Neighbouring the Phrygian Mother, was honoured with new shrines.
If you ask where those temples, dedicated to the goddess
On the Kalends, are now, they are fallen with the lapse of time.
All the rest would have similarly fallen in ruins,
But for the far-sighted concern of our sacred Leader [Augustus Caesar],
Under whose rule the shrines are untouched by age:
Not satisfied with mere men, he also serves the gods.
Pious one, you who build and repair the temples,
May there be mutual care between you and the gods!
May the gods grant you the length of years you grant them,
And may they stand on guard before your house!”
(Kline translation)

Now, I would suspect that it is entirely uncoincidental that Juno the Savioress should find Her place of worship to be so proximate the ‘Phrygian Mother’ – that is to say, Cybele, or Magna Mater [‘Great Mother’].

Why so?

Consider the circumstances via which Cybele was brought to Rome. During the darkest days of the Second Punic War against hated Carthage under Hannibal et co, the Sibylline Oracle stated that only by bringing the Cybelian figure and attendant worship to Rome could Rome triumph over Her direst adversary.

This was done in 204 BC – over the heads of muttered objections concerning “foreign deities” – and She was enshrined in the Temple of Victoria (Victory) … which was exactly what thence ensued.

A dedicated Temple for Her upon the hallowed Palatine Hill was completed in 191 BC, and it is to this structure which Ovid refers. Or, rather, a successor thereto – as the Temple burned down on three occasions over the ensuing near two centuries, being restored by Augustus as hailed above.

There is intriguing suggestion that the site in question may have played host to an original Temple of Juno Sospita prior to the emplacement of Magna Mater, given the finding of what appear to be terracotta representations of Her upon the site and one reading of the aforementioned passage of Ovid as to Juno Sospita and Cybele / Magna Mater’s purportedly ‘neighbourly’ situation … however it is not our purpose to get into that here.

Instead, we shall simply note that there are a clear suite of strong ‘resonancies’ between Juno and the ‘Phrygian Goddess’ – one of which being the perhaps surprising (semi-)’foreigner’ or ‘migrant’ status that seems to have partially characterized the older Roman perspective upon Juno (and Juno Sospita in specia).

We can tell this via the attestations in Roman military history for Juno in these regards. In 396 BC, for instance, the Juno (Juno Regina – assumedly Uni) of the Etruscan city of Veii is wooed over to the Roman side via what appears likely to have been the rite of Evocatio, employed by the Roman dictator Marcus Furius Camillus as part of his (thoroughly successful) siege efforts there. The Goddess is stated by Livy (V 22) to have nodded and potentially even spoken to indicate Her assent to going back with the soon-to-be victorious Romans; perhaps even seemingly bending the laws of physics so as to enable an easy transfer of Her physical representation therefrom.

A similar occurrence of an ‘Evocatio’ of Juno (Juno Caelestis), with notably similar invocatory formula (at least, presuming the Roman accounts penned some time post-facto for both events are reasonably accurate) was undertaken at Carthage itself by Scipio during the course of the city’s final undoing at Roman hands at the climax of the Third Punic War in 146 BC. And there are several other potential exemplars of which one might inquire further, as well.

The most prominent of which, for our purposes, should have to be Juno Sospita Herself. Although with it being perhaps important to observe that in this case, what appears to have occurred is not an ‘Evocatio’ in the conventional sense – but rather, a potentially more intriguing form of the Goddess-form being brought to Rome.

We shall let Cicero take over the narration:

“Precisely as much as you believe the Saviour Juno of your native place to be a goddess. You never see her even in your dreams unless equipped with goat-skin, spear, buckler and slippers turned up at the toe. Yet that is not the aspect of the Argive Juno, nor of the Roman. It follows that Juno has one form for the Argives, another for the people of Lanuvium, and another for us.”
(De Natura Deorum, XIX, 82, Rackham translation)

As we can see – the rather distinctive panoply of Juno Sospita, comprising animal-skins with spear, shield, and some seemingly rather exotic footwear is held by Cicero to be something effectively unknown to the ‘endogenous’ Roman perception of Juno, nor to the Greek (Argive) perspective upon Hera. But is instead, quite specifically, that presentation prominent for the “people of Lanuvium”.

As for how that pertains to that which has been stated above … well, back to Ovid and his Fasti (VI – which pertains to the aptly eponymous ‘June’):

“I shivered, and betrayed myself by speechless pallor:
Then the goddess herself dispelled the fear she’d caused,
Saying: ‘O poet, singer of the Roman year,
Who dares to tell great things in slender measures,
You’ve won the right to view a celestial power,
By choosing to celebrate the festivals in your verse.
But so you’re not ignorant or led astray by error,
June in fact takes its name from mine.


Then I would repent of having loyally shed my anger
Against the race of Electra and the house of Dardanus.
I had twin cause for anger: I grieved at Ganymede’s abduction,
And my beauty was scorned by that judge, on Ida.
I would repent of not favouring Carthage’s walls,
Since my chariot and my weapons are there:
I would repent of having granted Rome rule of Sparta,
And of Argos, Mycenae, and ancient Samos:
And of old Tatius, and the Faliscans who worship me,
Whom I allowed to fall prey to the Romans.

But let me not repent, no race is dearer to me: here
I’m worshipped: here I occupy a shrine with my dear Jove.
Mavors himself said to me: ‘I entrust these walls
To you. You’ll have power in your grandson’s city.’
His words are fulfilled: I’m worshipped at a hundred altars,
And my month is the not the least of my honours.

Nevertheless not merely Rome does me that honour,
But the neighbouring townsmen treat me the same.
Look at the calendar of wooded Aricia,
Of the Laurentines, and my own Lanuvium:
They’ve a month of June. Look at Tiber,
And the sacred walls of the goddess at Praeneste:
You’ll read of Juno’s month. Romulus didn’t found them:
But Rome, it’s true, is the city of my grandson.’”
(Fasti, VI , 19 – 64 ; Kline translation)

As we can see, this notion of Juno having effectively facilitated the Roman triumph over (and annexation in various cases) various other nations or cities is directly stated. The book opens with quite pointed mention of the Anatolian situation of Troy – indeed, introducing Juno as one [‘Una’, indeed] of the Goddesses judged by Paris at Ida in the competition which eventually brought about Troy’s doom.

However, our key point of interest is where She declares Lanuvium to be Her “Own”.

This, too, had been a somewhat ‘enemy’ city to Rome – at least, for a time. Perhaps fated to be so via the inherent resonancies of foundational mythology – one account having the city being incepted by the famed Diomedes who had dueled Aeneas with the divine assistance of Devi Athena to the Trojan’s wounding. An encounter which surely should have proven fatal for Rome’s chosen forefather had not Aphrodite (followed by Ares and even Apollo) taken to the field to check the Argive’s superhuman onslaught.

In 338 BC, at the close of the Latin War, the Romans took Lanuvium … yet in contrast to the fates meted out to various of the other cities party to the rebellious Latin League, Rome’s treatment of Lanuvium was decidedly gracious. The Lanuvians were granted Roman citizenship and suffrage (‘civitas cum suffragio’, indeed) along with “the restitution of her sacred things” (Livy, History of Rome, VIII 14 2, Rev. Roberts translation).

This magnanimity did not come entirely without some cost, however – as Livy notes, it was granted “with the proviso that the temple and grove of Juno Sospita should belong in common to the Roman people and the citizens living at Lanuvium.” (History of Rome, VIII 14 2, Rev. Roberts translation)

Or, phrased another way, perhaps, and via way of comparanda – whereas the Juno of Veii had been brought back to Rome and installed within a sumptuous temple upon the Aventine Hill … in this case, the Juno (Sospita) of Lanuvium was not so much ‘brought to Rome’, as Rome was brought to Her. That situation of Her “temple and grove” becoming jointly held by both Roman and Lanuvian peoples being quite the potent ‘seal’ upon the incorporation of the Lanuvians into the Roman fold.

Indeed, subsequent developments should seem to show that Rome came to the Juno Sospita of Lanuvium in quite the big way. In addition to the significant physical enlargements of the temple (and its precinct) itself that seem to have commenced concurrent with the Roman involvement there from the late 300s onwards, the actual cult itself becomes very much ‘Romanized’.

How Romanized? Well, the cult comes up rather pointedly in two of Cicero’s famed legal defences.

In his ‘Pro Milo’ [‘For Milo’], Cicero asserts that the defendant, his friend Titus Annius Milo, was not guilty of the murder of Publius Clodius Pulcher on grounds that the former had clearly been ambushed by the latter and his cohorts.

Part of the argument hinges around the following – and I shall let Cicero take over:

“In the meantime, as Clodius knew—and it was not hard to know it—that Milo was forced to take a yearly, legitimate, necessary journey on the twentieth of January to Lanuvium to appoint a priest [of Juno Sospita],because Milo was dictator of Lanuvium, on a sudden he himself left Rome the day before, in order (as was seen by the event) to lay an ambush for Milo in front of his farm; and he departed, so that he was not present at a turbulent assembly in which his madness was greatly missed, and which was held that very day, and from which he never would have been absent if he had not desired to avail himself of the place and opportunity for a crime.
There was no great difficulty in knowing the regular days of sacrifice for the dictator of Lanuvium. He saw that it was necessary for Milo to go to Lanuvium on the very day in which he did go,—therefore, he anticipated him.
Milo had no possibility of stopping at home, and he had not only a reason, but a positive necessity for going on a journey.
For even if he had not asked any one beyond his own intimate friend, Titus Patina, he could have ascertained from him that on that particular day a priest must absolutely be appointed at Lanuvium by Milo as the dictator there.”
(Pro Milo, 27, 45, 46, Yonge translation).

Or, phrased more succinctly and highlighted to our specific purposes – we have a Roman politician who is an officeholder for the city (‘Dictator’, indeed – a rather archaic styling by this point … albeit a term soon to be on more lips back in Rome due to a certain other figure often cited in connexion with Cicero … ) being a vital component to the operation of the Lanuvian cult of Juno Sospita.

Nor is this a phenomenon localized to one Roman (or even, for that matter, only one of Cicero’s legal clients).

in the course of his ‘Pro Murena’ [‘For Lucius Murena’], in which he seeks to secure the latter’s assumption of the Consulship.

His defence of Murena (as it happens, of a Lanuvian origination himself) concludes with the following:

“If these are cruel, wretched or lamentable fates, if they are repellent to your mercy and compassion, gentlemen, then preserve a distinction conferred by the Roman people, restore a consul to the Republic, grant this for the sake of his honour, for his dead father, for his home and family, grant it too for the distinguished town of Lanuvium which you have seen represented throughout this case by its sorrowing crowds. Do not tear from the hereditary worship of Juno Sospita, to whom all consuls must sacrifice, the consul who is her fellow townsman and her own above all others !”
(Pro Murena, 90, MacDonald translation)

That detail Cicero incorporates – of all Consuls being required to sacrifice to Juno Sospita – is an integral one. There is some suggestion that I have seen that the sacrifices in question were specifically to the Juno Sospita of Lanuvium, in Lanuvium, as part of the aforementioned Roman engagement there. Although without having (yet) set eyes upon potential subsidiary materials that should substantiate such supposition further, I can see how the passage can instead be read quite logically as the Consuls of Rome sacrificing to Juno Sospita in Rome – and for quite understandable ‘endogenous’ reasoning.

That said, the notion of ‘endogeneity’ is an interesting essence to speak to as applies the Palatine precinct of the Savioress Juno. After all – we have an ostensibly ‘non-Roman’ (albeit still ‘Latin’) Aspect, of a most definitely Roman (with Etruscan resonancies and underpinnings viz. Uni – subject to my longstanding observation that the Etruscan mythos is fundamentally Indo-European) Goddess, held and recognized to be the same figure as the prominent Hellenic Goddess Who had harboured quite the ill-will toward the Romans’ identified foundational forebear (i.e. Aeneas) … and worshipped either adjacent to, or actually within the place held for the ‘Phrygian’ Mountain Queen.

It is that figure – of Magna Mater – that is perhaps the best illustration of that which I believe to be the truth to the situation.

And it is a truth which, as with many a ‘Mythic’ one, is not literally accurate – at least, not in the way that its promulgators could have intended for it at the time.

You see, the Romans were not all that keen on having a ‘foreign’ deific in such a placement … and so they effectively came to the reasoning that She wasn’t one.

Holding that as Cybele was of Anatolian origination, amidst the Phrygians – and that Anatolia was where Troy was, which they believed themselves to have been descended of … they reached a perhaps logical (if ‘stretched’) conclusion that this Magna Mater was no ‘foreign’ Goddess at all. But rather, was an ‘Ancestral’ Goddess for the Romans Who was only now being re-welcomed back amidst their still-living mytho-religious sphere.

It’s a charming narrative. And effectively sets the tone and tenor for the Romans’ approach to the Goddess – of being quite significantly more enthused about the Goddess than about the specific forms of piety, rites, and priesthood etc. that effectively ‘came with’ [various of whom and which they sought to either modify or outright suppress as entirely ‘un-Roman’].

It is, however, entirely incorrect on any number of fronts.

The Romans, we now are pretty sure, did not actually come from Troy (nor did the Etruscans). The Phrygians are not Trojans, either – having migrated to Anatolia (if memory serves) rather after the Trojan War’s likely historical (inspiration’s) occurrence in any case. Which doesn’t vitiate the prospect for the core of the Cybele cultus having preceded the Phrygians and indeed being part of the Bronze Age (IE) Anatolian religious milieu, of course … but that’s not exactly the point.

I do, however, say that their ‘narrative’ – whilst literally untrue in many of the senses that could possibly have mattered – was nevertheless foundationally true in the most important one of all.

My perspective is that what was represented via Magna Mater was the archaic and yes indeed ancestral (Proto-)Indo-European Goddess figure that we should traditionally and customarily ascribe such an epithet. ‘Great Mother’, indeed (one wonders – in deference to Ovid’s sentiments viz. Juno in the ancestral tree of the Romans – whether “Grand Mother” might prove an apt translational rendering). One Who was already known amidst the Romans, albeit under different naming, presumably – which would, in its own way, explicate just how and why Juno Sospita had arrived in such close confederation with Magna Mater there upon the Palatine, etc.

Magna Mater therefore both ‘was’ and ‘wasn’t’ ‘foreign’. She ‘was’, in the sense of the immediate tangible ‘expression’, and geographic origination for the stone which had formed the ‘locus’ for Her transmission and ensuing arrival amidst the city of Rome. She wasn’t, in the sense that the essence which lay at the core of that (and many other) ‘expressions’ … was not ‘unfamiliar’ to them, but rather part of the core and ancestral Indo-European religion. Likely, indeed, ‘carried forward’ amongst them in more immediately recognizable (to them, at least) facings as well.

And so, perhaps, with Juno Sospita – wherein, as I say, we have what is quite clearly a Roman theonym (i.e. ‘Juno’), and understood at least somewhat as being a Roman figure … but in ‘unfamiliar’ clothing (even if subsequently ‘incorporated’ and most definitely ‘Romanized’ for several hundred years). A ‘local’ Aspect that was not to remain only ‘local’ – but ‘reintroduced’, ‘reincorporated’ into the greater, grander whole. Both of Roman religion, and of the deific complex that was Juno, kin.

In some regards, I suspect, this forms an explorable ‘model’ for the broader Indo-European theo-religious revival – not least as applies particular spheres, such as the Germanic, wherein there are noticeable differences (of ‘degree’ rather than ‘kind’, for the most part) between individual groupings within same (such as the Nordic – in the sense of Scandinavian – versus ‘Continental Germanic’, Anglo-Saxon, etc.).

Appropriate, as ever, that this Mother Goddess guides our hand in these regards.

Jai Mata Di.

4 thoughts on “For Juno Sospita

  1. Pingback: For Juno Sospita – Glyn Hnutu-healh: History, Alchemy, and Me

  2. The iconography of this goddess is remarkably Indo-European (spear, buckler, goat-skin/aegis) though among the Greeks these features are of course more often associated with Athena. The pointed upturned footwear reminds me a lot of known Etruscan shoes, which is interesting since we now know that they had significant Steppe ancestry, naturally explaining the Indo-European (some have even suggested Germanic) form of their religion. I also seem to remember that remains of similar shoes (with golden decorations) have been found in a princely Celtic burial perhaps also due to Etruscan influence.


  3. I forgot to mention that Juno Sospita is often depicted in the company of a serpent. There may be another connection here to February 1 as in the Scottish Highlands this was the day of St. Bride (clearly also of the older goddess Brigid) when the first serpent was supposed to come from it’s hole even if winter was still going strong.


  4. Pingback: For Juno Sospita — arya-akasha | Vermont Folk Troth

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