Roman Republic

Rome in the Early Republic (509 - 241 BC)

Temple of Juno Sospita in the Forum Holitorium


Livy recorded the vowing and dedication of this temple in two related but internally inconsistent passages:

  1. In 197 BC, at the beginning of a battle in Cisalpine Gaul, the consul Caius Cornelius Cethegus:

  2. “... vowed a temple to Juno Sospita, provided that the enemy should be routed and driven from the field on that day”, (History of  Rome, 32: 30: 10). 

  3. Livy’s list of four temples that were dedicated in 194 BC included:

  4. “... one to Juno Matuta in the Forum Holitorium, which had been vowed and contracted for in the Gallic war four years before by the consul Caius Cornelius, who also dedicated it while censor”, (‘History of  Rome, 34: 53: 3).

Clearly, once again, these passages relate to the same temple.  John Briscoe (referenced below, 1973, at p. 227) argued that Livy’s ‘Juno Matuta’ in the second passage:

  1. “... must be wrong, since ‘Matuta’ is not known as an epithet for Juno, while Sospita (Saviour) is known and is indeed extremely suitable for [a temple dedicated in war].” 

Rianne (A. M.) Hermans (referenced below, at p. 94) agreed, and argued that:

  1. “ ... the temple of Juno Sospita was [therefore] almost certainly located in the Forum Holitorium, where it was squeezed in between the temples of Janus and Spes, which were both older. ... Remains of the [three] temple have been identified under the church of San Nicola in Carcere, and [they were depicted] on the Forma Urbis [Roma of the 3rd century AD].  The temples were repeatedly restored, and most of the visible remains date from the 1st century AD.”

Thus, it seems that Caius Cornelius Cethegus:

  1. vowed a temple to Juno Sospita in  197 BC;

  2. arranged for it to be built in the Forum Holitorium; and

  3. dedicated it in 194 BC.

Dies Natalis of Cethegus’ Temple

According to Ovid:

  1. “The worship of Juno claims Ausonia’s Kalends”, (‘Fasti’ 2: 55-59, based on the translation of James Frazer, 1931, referenced below).

In other words, throughout Ausonia (a poetic reference to Italy), the first day of every month was dedicated to Juno.   Two surviving records suggest that the 1st February was dedicated specifically to Juno Sospita:

  1. An entry in the fasti Antiates Maiores reads:

  2. “[1st] of February: .... to Juno Sospita Mater Regina [Juno: Saviour; Mother; Queen]; and

  3. according to Ovid, on 1st February:

  4. “... [Juno] Sospita, the neighbour of the Phrygian Mother Goddess, is said to have been enriched with new delubra (shrines)”, (‘Fasti’ 2: 55, based on the translation of James Frazer, 1931, at p. 61). 

It is tempting to assume from this that Cethegus dedicated his temple to Juno Sospita in the Forum Holitorium on 1st February 194 BC.  However, as discussed in the next section, this second testimony (by Ovid) does not relate, at least directly, to a temple of Juno Sospita in this location.

Digression: Ovid’s ‘New Shrines’ of Sospita

In the passage quoted above, Ovid’s new shrines (delubra) to Juno Sospita stood next to the temple of Magna Mater (above): thus, it related to delubra on the Palatine that had been dedicated to Juno Sospita on 1st February of an unknown year.  His use of the relatively unusual word delubra is interesting.  Ferdinando Castagnoli (referenced below, at p. 4) observed that:

  1. “‘Delubrum’ is a term that is often used as a synonym of ‘aedes’ (temple), but it also had a precise technical significance.  In fact, we find consensus in the [surviving] ancient sources” (my translation). 

He cited a number of sources, including two that referenced the work of Varro in the 40s BC:

  1. Macrobius:

  2. “According to Varro, in the 8th book of his ‘Divine Antiquities’:

  3. some people judge that a ‘delubrum’ includes, besides the temple building, the open space taken over for the gods’ use, as in the case of Jupiter Stator in the Circus Flaminius; while

  4. others take it to be the place where a god’s image has been dedicated.  [Thus], just as the place where a candle is inserted is called a ‘candelabrum’, so the places where a god (deus) is located is called a ‘delubrum’.

  5. We can take it that, in his customary fashion, Varro particularly endorsed the second alternative: namely that the term ‘delubrum’ is derived from the dedication of a god’s image”, (‘Saturnalia’, 3: 4: 2-3, from the translation by Benjamin Goldlust, referenced below, at p. 177).

  6. Nonius Marcllus:

  7. haec aedis, quae nunc est, multis annis post facta sit.  quia omnia regis temporibus delubra parva facta”, (Lindsay p. 792)

  8. “According to Varro, in the 1st book of his ‘Biography of the Roman People’, what we call ‘aedes’ (temples) replaced all the smaller ‘delubra’ (shrines) of the regal period”, (my translation).

Castagnoli (as above) concluded that:

  1. “Despite some misleading indications offered by the etymologists, it seems certain that the original meaning of [delubrum was] an uncovered area associated with a temple”, (my translation).

Quintus Caecilius Metellus had built two temples near the Circus Flaminius, dedicated to Jupiter Stator and to Juno Regina respectively, after his triumph over the Macedonians in 146 BC and enclosed them both with a portico known as the Porticus Metelli: it seems that Macrobius (above), following Varro, thought that the paved area within this portico, or perhaps just the part of it around the first of these temples, was known as the delubrum of Jupiter Stator.  This was similar to the meaning of the word fanum, which Livy used in connection with another temple of Jupiter Stator, this time on the slopes of the Palatine (see my page Temples of Jupiter Victor and Jupiter Stator): Livy (‘History of Rome’, 10:36) recorded that Atilius Regulus, the consul of 294 BC, vowed a temple to Jupiter Stator during a battle against the Samnites towards the end of the Third Samnite War, and explained that:

  1. “The same vow had been made formerly by Romulus, but only the fanum - that is, the area appropriated for the temple - had yet been consecrated.  However, in [294 BC, now that] the State [had] been twice bound by the same vow, it became a matter of religious obligation that the Senate should order the temple [itself] to be erected”, (‘History of Rome’, 10:37).

It seems to me that, judging from these somewhat sketchy records of a usage that was already archaic, Ovid probably conceived of the original delubra on the Palatine as one or more shrines standing within an area that had been delineated and dedicated to Juno Sospita on 1st of February in an unknown year, possibly during the Regal or the early Republican period.

Ovid then observed that:

  1. “If you ask, where the templa (temples) that were dedicated to the goddess on [the] Kalends are now, the answer is that they have tumbled down because of the long lapse of time.  All the [other ancient temples] would similarly have gone to wrack and ruin, had it not been for the far-seeing care of [Augustus], ... builder and rebuilder of  temples ...”, (‘Fasti’ 2: 55-59, based on the translation of James Frazer, referenced below, 1931, at p. 61).

As Geraldine Herbert-Brown (referenced below, at p. 34) pointed out, in this passage:

  1. “... Ovid focuses on the fate of all of the temples [that had been] dedicated to [Juno] on the kalends, which he says had been razed by the ravages of time ... He [goes on to assert] that a like fate would have been shared by all other [ancient ?] temples, had it not been for the ... [attention of] Augustus.”

She noted (at p. 43) that it is unclear precisely which temples Ovid is writing about here, but that this was beside the point:

  1. “... the [poetic] potential of the word ‘Sospita’... [allowed Ovid] to select ... 1st February to eulogise Augustus as [‘positor’ (builder) and ‘repositor’ (restorer] of temples.”

In other words, although Ovid had started his chapter on February with the dedication of an ancient religious complex that Augustus had not restored (probably because it was then known only from surviving records and/or traditions], the fact that this complex had been dedicated to Juno Sospita had allowed him to:

  1. “ ... cleverly [transform] the subject of the encomium from the goddess to Augustus.”

Dies Natalis of Cethegus’ Temple (Continued)

Geraldine Herbert-Brown (referenced below, at pp. 35-6) analysed a hypothesis that has often been put forward by scholars: that Ovid’s claimed proximity to the temple of the  Phrygian Mother Goddess was a red herring, and that his record for 1st February referred directly to the temple in the Forum Holitorium that was dedicated in 194 BC.  However, this temple almost certainly still existed in  Ovid’s time:

  1. Rianne Hermans (referenced below, at p. 95) pointed out that it appears on the Forma Urbis Roma of the 3rd century AD ; and

  2. Herbert-Brown observed (at p. 35) that considerable remains of it were incorporated into the church of San Nicola in Carcere.  She agreed with James Frazer (referenced below, 1929, at p. 298) that:

  3. “... we must reckon with the possibility that Ovid had access to a tradition, [now] lost to us, of a temple of [Juno Sospita] on the Palatine, [next to that of  the Phrygian Mother Goddess.”

She put forward (at p. 41) a hypothesis that neatly captures the material discussed so far without the need to assume that Ovid’s record is either mistaken or misleading:

  1. Juno Sospita originally had a sanctuary on the Palatine, next to the site chosen of the Temple of Magna Mater (commissioned in 204 BC and dedicated in 191 BC).

  2. Since this new ‘victory temple’ would have overshadowed Juno’s sanctuary:

  3. “... it was decided to ... [relocate it] to the Holitorium, and preserve 1st February as the new dedication day.”

  4. Cethegus’ victory in  197 BC provided a perfect opportunity, and he presumably dedicated the new temple on 1st February 194 BC.

  5. The site of her original sanctuary was used for the small shrine of Victoria Virgo (above), which Cato the Elder built beside it in 194 BC and dedicated by in the following year. 

Rianne Hermans (referenced below, at pp. 95-6) noted that some scholars have proposed that:

  1. the fasti Antiates Maiores and Ovid’s fasti both referred to an ancient temple on the Palatine that had indeed  ‘tumbled down’ by Ovid’s time; while

  2. Livy’s temple in the Forum Holitorium was the second temple to be dedicated to the goddess in Rome. 

However, she concluded that the case that can be made for this hypothesis:

  1. “... is hardly conclusive. ... [All that] we can conclude [with certainty] is that Juno Sospita was firmly based in Rome from at least [194] BC ...”

Howard Scullard (referenced below, at p. 71) reached broadly the same conclusion:

  1. “In the Forum Holitorium, remains of three temples survive under the church of San Nicola in Carcere, and the most southerly is often identified with that of Juno Sospita; ... it cannot be the temple mentioned by Ovid, since this had disappeared before the poet's day: however, it could be the temple vowed by Cethegus (if that really was in the Forum Holitorium).”

In other words, it seems that Ovid was either mistaken or referring to an otherwise unknown earlier temple, which had also been dedicated on 1st February and which had disappeared by the Augustan period.

Cult of Juno Sospita

As I discuss in my page on the Cult of Juno Sospita

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.

Read more: 

Miano D., “Fortuna: Deity and Concept in Archaic and Republican Italy “, (2018) Oxford

Hermans A (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

Goldlust B, “Towards an Edition of Fragments: Citing Authorities and the Case of Aulus Gellius and Varro”, in:

  1. Arena V. and Piras G. (editors)), “Reconstructing the Republic: Varro and Imperial Authors”, Res Publica Litterarum, 39 (2016) 89-221, at pp. 167-78

Orlin E, “Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire”, (2010) Oxford

Herbert-Brown G.,”Ovid and the Fasti: An Historical Study”, (1994) Oxford

Eric Castagnoli F. , “I Tempio Romano: Questioni di Terminologia e di Tipologia”, Papers of the British School at Rome, 52 (1984), 3-20

Scullard H. , “Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, (1981) London

Briscoe J., “A Commentary On Livy: Books 31-33”, (1973) Oxford

Frazer J. (translator, revised by G. P. Goold), “Ovid: ‘Fasti’”, (1931), Cambridge MA

Frazer J., “Fastorium Libri Sex’”, (1929), London

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