Great Goddesses of Rome


VenusVenus was the Roman version of the pan-IE love- and fertility- goddess associated with spring, nature, vegetation, and the rising Venus. She was originally associated with gardens and crops in the fields. In Republican times under Greek influence she was fully synchronized with the love- and fertility- goddess Aphrodite. She then became more associated with animal fertility and human sexuality. She also assumed the equivalency of Aphrodite in the Roman pantheon, being the daughter of Jupiter and Dione, wife of Vulcan, lover of Mars (and other gods and mortals), and mother of Cupid (by Mercury), Hymen, Priapus, and Aeneas.

She seems to have been adopted relatively late into the Roman pantheon, as no records record her festival or mention her flamen (chief priest). Thus she may have been promoted just so the Romans had their own version of Aphrodite. Venus was, however, very familiar elsewhere in Latium. Two ancient temples of her were at Lavinium and Ardea, where Latin festivals were held.

In Rome her festival were on April 1, the beginning of spring and Aphrodite's month, and August 18, the day before Jupiter's festival and the Vinalia Rustica hence their close association.

Among her various aspects she was Venus Vericordia, the protectress of chaste women. About 216 and 181 BC temples to Venus Erycina were built on the Capitol and outside the Colline Gate, respectively. This version was imported from Eryx in Sicily, which in turn was a version of the an eastern 'great mother goddess' such as Cybele in Anatolia or Astarte in Syria (also identified with the planet Venus) complete with temple prostitutes. Her temple was founded on April 23, which became the dies meretricum ('prostitutes' day'). This pretty much must have finished trashing the reputation and character of the old Latin spring fertility goddess venerated since time immemorial.

Venus' prominence was increased by the gens Iulia, the clan of Julius Caesar, as they claimed descent from her son Aeneas. Caesar himself dedicated a temple to Venus Genetrix ('Venus the Progenitor'), which was her most popular identity until the extinction of the Julian line, although she remained popular in Rome.

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