Roman Republic

Latin Cults

Cult of Juno Sospita at Lanuvium

Etruscan amphora (530-520 BC), attributed to the so-called Paris Painter

Probably from Cerveteri, now in the British Museum

According to Erika Simon (referenced below, at p. 51), the lower register depicts a stand-off between

Hercle (restrained by Menerva) and Uni (restrained by Tinia)

Uni wears a goatskin over her head and soft shoes turned up at the toes, and is  armed with a spear and a shield

Ovid had Juno rejoice in the fact that that she had 100 altars at Rome, where:

  1. “.... not the least of my honours is that of the month [of June] is named after me.  Nevertheless, it is not Rome alone that does me that honour: the inhabitants of neighbouring towns pay me the same compliment: look at the calendars of:

  2. -woodland Aricia;

  3. -the Laurentes [people of Lavinium]; and

  4. -my own Lanuvium.

  5. [In all of these], there is a month of June.  You will also read of Juno’s season:

  6. -at Tibur; and

  7. -at the sacred walls of the Praenestine goddess.

  8. Romulus, my grandson, did not found these towns; but he did found the city of Rome”, (‘Fasti’, 6: 55-64).

Thus, Ovid believed that the cult of Juno had long been an important civic cult in Latium and, in particular, at her own Lanuvium.

We learn more about the cult of Juno at Lanuvium from a slightly earlier work by Cicero, in which he described an imaginary exchange on the nature of the gods between a Roman priest, Caius Aurelius Cotta, and an Epicurean philosopher from Lanuvium called Caius Velleius.  During this exchange, Cotta argued that:

  1. “By Hercules, [Velleius], your Sospita is just the same for you [as Apis is for the Egyptians]! Indeed, you never see her, even in your dreams, without her goat-skin, spear, shield and calceolis repandis

  2. (slippers turned up at the toe).  Yet, that is not the case for either the Argive [Hera] or the Roman Juno.  It follows that Juno has one form for the Argives [who call her Hera], another for the people of Lanuvium, and another for [the Romans]”, (‘On the Nature of the Gods’, 82)

From this, we know that:

  1. by 45-4 BC, when Cicero’s work was written, the cult of Juno Sospita was specifically associated with Lanuvium (even though, as we shall see, it had been present at Rome for at least 150 years); and

  2. the goddess in this form had a specific and very distinctive iconography.

Etruscan Beginnings ?

Rianne Hermans (referenced below, at p. 113) pointed out that:

  1. “The first objects identified by modern observers as representing Juno Sospita [on the basis of the above iconography] date from the 6th and 5th century BC.  They were mostly found in an Etruscan context and show the goddess in a characteristic military pose.”

In fact, it is not just the find spots of these early images that suggest an Etruscan origin for this particular manifestation of Juno: Larissa Bonfante (referenced below, at p. 60) pointed out that:

  1. “... the laced, pointed shoe with upturned toe [that replaced sandals as the standard Etruscan footwear in ca 550 BC] represents a purely local style.  It is never mentioned outside Italy, [and]for us, as for the Romans before us, it is the most characteristic Etruscan style.”

She noted (at p. 61) that:

  1. “After the first decades of the 5th century BC, [shoes of this kind[ were no longer universally worn: [instead, they] appear only on female figures and denote a certain status.  Goddesses, in particular, were still represented wearing laced, pointed shoes ... [Such shoes] seem to have become more and more ... specialised ... [and] were eventually identified with a specific type of iconographic figure of Juno, which remained unchanged from archaic time.  No wonder that Cicero saw the image of Juno Sospita wearing this characteristic [archaic footwear] ... ; by Roman times, it was preserved for her alone.”

  2. To begin with, there are a number of interesting images in which [this putative] Juno Sospita is accompanied by Hercules, wearing her goatskin just as Hercules wears his lion skin.” 

She referenced:

  1. the image (530-520 BC) on the amphora from Cerveteri that is illustrated above;

  2. reliefs from two sides of the base of a tripod (520-500 BC, her p. 262) from Castel San Mariano (near Perugia), now in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen, Munich, one depicting Uni facing right and the other Hercle facing left;

  3. a bronze relief  (5th century, illustrated at her p. 263) from an unknown location that is now in the Musee Louvre, Paris.

She noted that the motif of this iconographical representation of Uni opposing Heracle:

  1. “... seems to be a local phenomenon from Etruria, and none of the images [of this kind] can be connected to Lanuvium or, for that matter, Latium.”

Rianne Hermans (referenced below, at p. 83)  pointed out that the cult of Juno Sospita was deeply rooted in the Latin city of Lanuvium, some 30 km south of Rome: 

  1. “From the 7th century BC onwards, [the religious life of this city] revolved around [its] acropolis.  Eventually,... [it was mostly covered by the sanctuary of Juno Sospita, which] dominated the landscape, especially after its monumentalisation in the middle of the 2nd century BC.”

Furthermore, this sanctuary seems to have been an important element of the religious life of Latium as a whole, at least by the 4th century BC: thus, Livy recorded that, after the Romans’ definitive victory over the Latins in 338 BC:

  1. “The people of Lanuvium were given civitas [citizenship, probably with voting rights] and their cults were restored to them, with the stipulation that the temple and grove of Juno Sospita should be held in common by the citizens of Lanuvium and the Roman people”, (‘History of Rome’, 8: 14: 2-3).

Nevertheless, the centre of the cult of Juno Sospita remained very firmly at Lanuvium (unlike that of Juno Regina, which had been transferred to Rome after the fall of Veii in 396 BC, as discussed in my page on the  Temple of Juno Regina on the Aventine). 

The shrine at Lanuvium played a central role in Roman religion from 338 BC.  For example, Eric Orlin (referenced below, 2010, at p. 123) pointed out that, in the dreadful year of 218 BC, when Hannibal invaded peninsular Italy, accompanied by widespread portents of disaster:

  1. “... numerous expiations [were] ordered at that time.  Many [of these] rituals were performed at Rome ... [but the] decemviri [also] decreed that the Romans should make an offering to of 40 pounds of gold to Juno Sospita in Lanuvium ... Bringing an expiatory offering, especially such a costly one, from Rome to the sanctuary at Lanuvium moves the relationship with [the goddess] well beyond recognition of her importance; it makes her a goddess of the Romans, to be propitiated in exactly the same way as a divinity whose home lay in [Rome itself].”

This situation continued even after the dedication of of the temple in the Forum Holitorium in 194 BC; thus, in 63 BC, in a speech defending the consul Lucius Licinius Murena, Cicero urged the jury:

  1. “Do not tear from the hereditary worship of Juno Sospita, to whom all consuls must sacrifice, the consul [Murena] who is her fellow-townsman [at Lanuvium] and her own above all others”, (‘pro Murena)” (based on the translation be C. Macdonald, referenced below)..

Most scholars assume that these annual consular sacrifices took place in the sanctuary at Lanuvium.

To sum up: the Latin cult of Juno Sospita was incorporated into Roman religion in 338 BC.  Ovid’s testimony suggests that she also had an ancient temple at Rome, but this was probably incorrect: the likelihood is that the temple that Caius Cornelius Cethegus vowed while consul during the war in Cisalpine Gaul in 197 BC and dedicated in the Forum Holitorium as censor in 194 BC, was the first temple of  the goddess to be built at Rome.  Despite this, her cult site at Lanuvium remained pre-eminent throughout the Republic. 

Read more: 

Hermans A. M. (Rianne), “Latin Cults through Roman Eyes: Myth, Memory and Cult Practice in the Alban Hills: Chapter  III: Juno Sospita: Guardian of Lanuvium and Rome”, (2017), thesis from the University of Amsterdam

Simon E., “Gods in Harmony: the Etruscan Pantheon”, in:

  1. Thomson de Grummond N. and Simon E. (editors), “The Religion of the Etruscans”, (2006) Austin TX, at pp. 45-65

Bonfante L., “Etruscan Dress”, (1975) Baltimore

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