THE WORLD OF RELIGION
Isis or her priestess, ivory, 1st century CE
Religious participation of Roman women
was divided between sacra publica, state worship, and sacra
privata, rituals held for the family or gens. Women's religious
roles in the home included rites focused on Vesta, the
goddess of the hearth fire, the
lar familiaris, the guardian
of the household, the
di Penates, the gods of the
pantry, and the
genius or guardian spirit
of the paterfamilias. Women had responsibilities for prayer to heal
family members and to ensure their own fertility and safe pregnancy; they
participated in rites at the birth of a child and at
funerals. On the state level,
however, religious power was a male prerogative; while women were present at
civic religious rituals, communal feasts, and festivals and played important
roles in religious cults that were central to the state religion, they had no
voice in activities where religion touched on public policy. The most prominent
priesthood held by women was that of the Vestal Virgins, a sacerdotium of six
priestesses (the eldest of whom was the
Vestalis Maxima), legendarily created by the second King of Rome, Numa Pompilius (715-673 BCE), to
tend the flame of the state hearth in the circular marble
coin of Vespasian) of the
goddess Vesta beside their residence
(reconstruction drawing) in the heart of the Roman Forum, under the brow of the Palatine hill, the earliest home of the Romans. These aristocratic servants of the goddess Vesta whose chastity safeguarded the state and was critical to the maintenance of Rome's pax deorum were a powerful presence in the city. Other
pre-imperial priestesses were the flaminica Dialis and the Regina
Sacrorum; almost nothing is known of their roles and duties, together with
those of the wives of the flamines, the college of priests in charge of
the major state divinities, who were given the title flaminicae. Some
cults, such as that of Pudicitia, Juno
Caprotina, Venus Verticordia, and Bona Dea were open only to
women. During the Republic, in times of dire threat from war or plague, the
Senate turned to the matronae or the virgines to make special
offerings to the gods on behalf of the state. In the Imperial period, women's
participation in religious life increased, following the example set by Livia,
head of the cult of the deified
Augustus, and by later empresses who often chose to have themselves represented
in marble variously as priestesses or goddesses. Inscriptions bear witness that
women all over the empire held office as priestesses in local cults of the
emperor, in the cult of
Magna Mater, and in other imported
religions, most notably the cult of Isis. For further information see
Hemelrijk (2005, 2007), Staples (1998), Schultz (2006) in the Bibliography; see also
Images of Religion below.
|| Additional Readings
|Cornelius Tacitus, Annales II. 86.1-2: Occia
||See the Latin reader
The Worlds of Roman
Women for the following texts:
|Officia sacra feminea: testimony for women's role
in family worship
||Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae 1.12: choosing a Vestal
|Titus Livius, Ab Urbe Condita I.39: Hispala
||T. Livius, Ab Urbe Condita 4.44: a Vestal regrets
|Q. Horatius Flaccus, Sermo I. 8: Canidia the witch
||P. Ovidius Naso, Fasti 4.293-328, 343-344:
|P. Vergilius Maro, Aeneis 4.630-662: Dido's sacrifice
|Silius Italicus, Punica 17.1-47: Claudia Quinta's vindication
|Dedicatory, for Eumachia
|Dedicatory & Funerary: Sacerdotes Extra Romam
|Funerary, for Metilia Acte
|Defixiones: Three Curses
|Defixio: Curse against Rhodine
IMAGES of RELIGION
- Goddess of the Dawn driving her chariot, on a sardonyx cameo. Hellenistic Greek or early imperial Roman, first century BCE-CE. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Ceres (Demeter)
- Demeter of Knidos:
draped marble statue, seated on a throne (head). c. 350 BCE. London, British Museum.
- Marble statue of the goddess crowned
and holding a cornucopia and rudder.
- Sestertius of Nero in celebration of
the grain dole (Annona). The seated goddess holds a torch and stalks of grain
in her left hand; she hands a cornucopia to the standing Annona. A modius
(instrument for measuring grain) sits on the table between them, with a ship's
prow visible behind. Rome, 62-8 CE. Inscribed: ANNONA AVGVSTI CERES. Vienna,
- Eleusinian triad, a relief in marble of Demeter handing a stalk of grain to Triptolemus while Persephone places a garland (lost) on his head. Fragments of an Augustan copy set in a plaster cast of the original Greek stele, ca. 450-425 BCE. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Sestertius of Galba (reverse), showing the seated goddess holding an olive branch and a scepter, inscribed CONCORD(ia) AVG(usta). Rome, 68 CE. Berlin: Altes Museum.
- Diana (Artemis): Sanctuary at Nemi
- Selene, Diana as the moon goddess,
wearing a crescent-moon diadem. Capitoline Museums: Palazzo Nuovo, Rome.
- Marble statue of the goddess as Selene, dressed in a long garment with a crescent moon hair ornament, and as the huntress, carrying a quiver, wielding her bow & arrow (modern reconstruction) and accompanied by her hunting dog. Rome, Vatican museum (Chiaramonte).
- Marble Statue of the goddess
running, dressed as a huntress. Paris, Louvre Museum.
- Diana Gabii, probably a marble copy of
Praxiteles' Artemis Brauronia, 346 BCE. Paris, Louvre Museum.
- Huntress, a marble statue of the goddess Artemis with her dog, dressed for the hunt, from a Greek original of the 4th century BCE. From Tivoli, Villa D'Este. Rome, Capitoline Museums.
- Huntress, a marble statue of the goddess with her dog.
- Fortuna (Tyche)
statuette of the goddess crowned, with gilt traces; she holds a
cornucopia in her left hand, her right arm is lost. Roman, 200-225 CE. London,
- Marble statue of the goddess clothed in Greek dress,
posed like the caryatids on the porch of the Erectheion on the Acropolis. She
wears a murual crown with a veil. Greek 150-100 BCE. Malibu, Getty Villa.
- Tyche of Antioch, personification of
good luck. She wears a mural crown, representing the walls of the Syrian city,
and holds a sheaf of grain, representing fertility. Her foot rests on a male
figure, the river Orontes, rising from the waves. Roman. Rome, Vatican Museum,
Gallery of the Candelabrum.
- Marble altar relief of the goddess seated on a throne,
holding a rudder in one hand and a cornucopia in the other (detail). From the Horti Lamiani, Rome (no date). Rome: Palazzo dei Conservatori (Capitoline Museums).
- Marble statue of the goddess standing, holding her traditional attributes, a cornucopia and a rudder, which here rests on a globe. Roman, c. 150-200 CE. London, British Museum.
- Graces: Aglaia, Euphrosyne, Thalia
sculpture of the three goddesses, lifesize, with their arms linked and
flanked by draped vases (reverse).
Roman, 2nd century CE (copy of a Greek original of 2nd century BCE). New York,
Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Gilt bronze
medallion of the three goddesses with their arms intertwined; at their
feet, a loutrophoros on the left, a hydria on the right. New York, Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
- Marble plaque of the Graces dancing before a matrona; originally funerary, it seems to have been later reused, perhaps as a shop sign (inscription: AD SORORES IIII "At the Four Sisters"). Roman, 70-100 CE. Berlin: Altes Museum.
- Marble statue
of the Egyptian goddess holding a sistrum. Found in Tivoli, 117-138 CE.
Detail. Rome, Palazzo Nuovo.
- Marble statue of the goddess holding a
bucket in her left hand ( the situla was used to hold sacred Nile water
for the rituals). On the wall is a reconstruction drawing of the
Temple of Isis in Pompeii, showing
rituals in progress. Roman, 120-150 CE. London, British Museum.
statuette of the goddess, Roman, 50-100 CE. London, British
statuette of the goddess with syncretic symbolism: the attributes of
Isis (uraeus--cobra--headdress, small bucket on arm) and Fortuna (ship's
rudder). Roman, 1st century CE. Naples, National Archaeological Museum.
- Painted terracotta votive figure of
Isis-Aphrodite, crowned and nude; syncretic icon of Egyptian- Greco-Roman
worship, 2nd century CE. NY, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Juno (Hera)
Juno, a Roman copy of a Greek cult statue; the goddess holds a scepter
and a patera for pouring libations. Rome, Vatican Museum.
- Juno Scasato, a painted terracotta
head of the goddess from a temple pediment near Falerii. Early Italic
(Faliscan), c. 380 BCE. Rome, Villa Giulia Museum.
- Bronze bust of the goddess.
Etruscan, 300-100 BCE. London, British Museum.
- Bronze statuette of the goddess
wearing peplos, diadem, and veil. Roman 1st-3rd century CE. Vienna,
- Denarius of Juno Moneta (c. 46 BCE).
In 390 BCE, the goddess's sacred geese warned (monere) the Romans of an
attack by Gauls, thus her temple on the Capitoline was dedicated to Juno Moneta
and the coin mint established nearby. London, British Museum.
- Copper As of Galba (reverse), showing the goddess standing, holding a scepter and the pileus (cap of liberty), inscribed LIBERTAS PVBLICA. Rome, 68 CE. Berlin: Altes Museum.
- Magna Mater (Cybele)
- Marble relief of the goddess with her consort Attis; a female worshipper and her daughter approach on the right. From Asia Minor, 2nd Century BCE. Venice: Archaeological Museum.
- Bronze fountain
sculpture of the goddess enthroned in a chariot drawn by lions.
Roman, 2nd half 2nd century BCE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Marble statuette of the goddess enthroned.
Roman, 1st-2nd century CE. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Statue of the goddess presiding over a sacrifice on a terracotta relief by a garlanded
priest. 3rd century CE. From the Isola Sacra Cemetery, Ostia Museum.
- Minerva (Athena)
- Athena in colored marble, seated,
wearing the aegis. 1st century BCE-CE. Rome, Museo Massimo.
- Relief sculpture of the goddess with
Prometheus, creating man. Roman, 3rd century CE. Rome, Capitoline Museums
- Athena Pacifique, a marble adaptation
of the bronze Piraeus Athena of 350-340 BCE. Paris, Louvre Museum.
- Contest between the Muses (wearing feathered headdresses), who bring delight to humankind, and the Sirens (half woman-half bird), who bring destruction to humans through music and song. It is being judged by the Capitoline triad (Minerva, Juppiter, Juno) on the front of a marble sarcophagus. Roman, 3rd century CE. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Parcae/Fatae (Moirae)
- Drawing of the three sisters, the
Fates who spun, twisted, and cut human life. Harper's Dictionary of
Classical Literature and Antiquities.
- Relief of the Fates from a
sarcophagus for a woman, with a kneeling man on either side beseeching mercy.
Detail: Clotho, on the left, holds
a distaff and spindle with which she spins the thread of life; Lachesis, in the
center, holds a scale for weighing the thread of life and the cornucopia of
Fortuna/Tyche; Atropos, on the right, holds an open scroll, probably
symbolizing "the book of fate." Mid-2nd century CE. Rome, Palazzo Nuovo
- Proserpina (Persephone, Kore)
Detail of the Underworld couple from the Alcestis relief on the sarcophagus of C. Junius Euhodus and his wife Metilia Acte, priestess of the Magna Mater in Ostia. Here Proserpina and Hades look on as Herakles brings from the Underworld a veiled woman to Admetus. 2nd century CE. Vatican Museum.
- Votive relief , a terracotta
fragment showing Hades capturing the goddess. South Italian, Locrian, 470-60
BCE. NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Relief panel from the lid of a
sarcophagus of a deceased woman, showing the enthroned royal couple of the
Underworld. Mid 2nd century CE. Rome, Palazzo Nuovo (Capitoline Museums).
- Vase painting on a red-figure Attic
bell krater; detail of the goddess ascending from the Underworld toward
Demeter, Hekate, and Hermes, by the Persephone painter. Greek, 440 BCE. New
York, Metropolitan Museum.
- Statuette in terracotta of the goddess holding
patera; made from original
stone mold. From Tarentum, end 5th
century BCE. Berlin, Pergamon Museum.
- Seated statue in marble of the
goddess with a footstool
3/4 view). Found in Tarentum,
480-60 BCE. Berlin, Pergamon Museum.
- Relief of the goddess's abduction
on the front of a marble sarcophagus. 1st half 3rd century CE. Capitoline
Museums: Palazzo Nuovo, Rome.
Relief of the rape of Persephone by Hades (Pluto), the god of the underworld, on the front of an opulent marble ossuary cippus (detail). 4th century CE. Rome, Museum of the Baths of Diocletian.
of the personified female quality of modesty, seated with a scepter in her left
hand and her right hand covering her breast. 207-209 CE. Berlin, Pergamon
- Roma — Italia — Tellus (Gaia)
- Italia/Tellus with
the twins Romulus and Remus (?) on
a marble relief from the Ara Pacis, showing symbols of human, animal and
vegetal fertility in a divinely favored environment. Rear panel of the altar.
Campus Martius, Rome, dedicated by the Senate in honor of Augustus' safe return
from campaign on 30 January 9 BCE.
- Roma/Minerva, a relief of the seated goddess on the
Altar of Peace, dedicated in 9 BCE. Rome, Campus Martius.
- Roma/Virtus, a bronze statuette whose identity is
unclear because her attributes are lost. If she is the Goddess Roma, she would
hold Victory in her outstretched right hand; if Virtus, she would hold a sword.
Roman, 50-75 CE. Malibu, Getty Villa.
- Seated Roma (formerly Minerva) in porphyry. Rome:
- Salus (Hygeia)
figurine of Hygeia, the goddess of health. Sacrificing, she wears a
headdress with fillets; she holds a snake on her right arm and in her left hand
a libation dish. Roman, 1st century CE. London. British Museum.
- Marble statue of the allegorical goddess Hope,
part of the large statue of Dionysus. She frequently appears on the reverse of imperial coins. Roman, Augustan or Julio-Claudian, c. 27-68 CE. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Venus (Aphrodite)
Pudica, a life size marble statue signed by the sculptor Menophantos.
Roman, 1st century BCE. Rome, Palazzo Massimo.
showing the goddess Aphrodite at her toilette, assisted by her son Eros and an
elegantly dressed young
girl (Psyche?). In gilded silver relief, it is incised around the rim
with symbols associated with love and beauty: a fan, a flower, a butterfly, a
grasshopper, and lyre. Taranto, 300-200 BCE London, British Museum.
- Marble statue of the nude goddess crouching at her
bath with an overturned vase at her feet. 1-2 CE Roman copy of a 2nd century
BCE Greek original. London, British Museum.
- Silver figurine of the nude goddess
fixing her sandal, leaning on a decorative candalabra topped by erotes
holding a fan and patera. Roman, 200 CE. London, British Museum.
- Life-size marble statue of the
partially nude goddess. 1-2nd century CE Roman copy of a 4th century BCE Greek
original. London, British Museum.
- Fresco of the goddess fully clothed and seated on a throne, crowned with a wreath, holding a flower; behind her one of the Graces places a sheer veil over her head; Eros stands in front of her, holding his mother's staff. From Cubicle B of the Villa Farnesina. Late Republic-Early Empire (2nd-3rd Pompeian Style). Rome, Museo Nazionale Romano.
- Vesta (Hestia)
aureus with the veiled head of Vesta
die), minted by Caesar; inscription: C CAESAR COS TER (consul for the
third time). Rome, 46 BCE. NY: Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Caesar with the head of Vesta, same inscription, moneyer A. Hirtius. Rome, 46
BCE. Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum.
- As issued by Caligula, showing the veiled goddess seated, holding a patera and a spear, with her name inscribed above. On either side of her throne are the letters S[enatus] C[onsulto] (voted by decree of the Senate). Minted in Rome, 37-38 CE;
another, minted 40-41 CE. Museum of Cultural History,
University of Oslo
showing the goddess of the hearth beside an altar with a burning flame, holding
in her right hand a simpulum (ladle for pouring wine at sacrifices); on
her left shoulder is the Palladium Aeneas brought from Troy to Rome and
deposited in the Temple of Vesta. Rome mint, 164-166 CE. Berlin, Pergamon
- Marble Relief of the goddess, wearing a peplos tunic and a chiton pulled over the diadem on her head, is seated on a throne feeding the sacred snake from a patera. The inscription states that the votive monument was dedicated by citizen Gaius Pupius Firminus, quaestor of the baker's guild under Antoninus Pius, and Mudasena Trophime, probably his wife. Roman, from Rome, 140-150 CE. Berlin, Altes Museum.
- Victoria (Nike)
- Bronze statuette of the goddess offering a victory
wreath. Roman, 1st century CE. London, British Museum.
- Marble statue of the goddess in
Piazzale della Vittoria, just inside the Porta Romana. End 1st century CE.
- Gold earrings depicting the goddess in
flight; another pair shows her holding her
attributes, the sword and the
wreath. Bolsena (made in Taranto), 4th-3rd century BCE. London, British Museum.
- Aureus of Octavian showing Victoria
on a globe, holding a wreath in her right hand and a vexillum on her
shoulder (perhaps an image of the now lost statue crowning the pediment of the
Curia Julia). Rome, 29-27 BCE. Berlin, Pergamon Museum.
- Gold medallion of Nike offering a
figured shield (relief of warrior with sword raised and pulling the hair of an
Amazon) and helmet to a crowned regal male (Alexander? Achilles?) seated
beneath a Greek inscription: BASILEUS ALEXANDROS. Macedonia, 218-46 CE. Berlin,
- Gold medallion of Nike (on
reverse), one foot on a helmet, holding a figured shield supported by a winged
boy, standing before a tropaeus (trophy) beneath which sit two
prisoners; Greek inscription: BASILWS ALEXANDROS; (obverse: helmeted male
bust). Macedonia, 218-46 CE Berlin, Pergamon Museum.
- Feronia, whose name appears on a votive bronze plaque dedicated by Hedone, a Greek
maid of Marcus Crassus. She was a goddess worshipped particularly by freedpersons. Inscribed: HEDONE/ M. CRASSI ANCILLA/ FERONIAE V[otum]S[olvit] L[ibens] M[erito]. Roman, 2nd century CE. London, British
- Romano-Celtic Mother Goddesses on a marble
relief showing three matronae wearing large headresses and holding baskets of fruit and bread. The family of the dedicator,
Q. Vettius Severus, is in the background. Bonn, mid-2-3rd Century CE.
- Syncretic goddess: a statuette in bronze showing the attributes of Isis, Minerva,
and Fortuna. From Cyprus (?). Roman, 2nd century CE. London, British
- Tanit, a half-lifesize terracotta
figure of the Punic goddess of the moon, patron
of Carthage, wearing a crown, a necklace of glass paste beads graduated in
size, and earrings of gold. Her arms are articulated and she is dressed in Greek
style. 5th-4th century BCE. Through the rite of evocatio, Aemilianus Scipio Africanus brought Tanit from Carthage to Rome as Juno Caeleste. From the necropolis Puig des Molins (Ibiza, Spain),
settled by the Phoenecians in 650 BCE. Barcelona, Archaeological Museum.
- of Vesta:
- Marble reliefs showing the characteristic Vestal headdress. Roman, Hadrianic era (117-138 CE). Rome, Palatine Museum.
- Funerary statue of an adult priestess, full-size in marble, from the courtyard of the House of the Vestals. Close-up with details of characteristic veiled headdress (wrapped infula & vittae), stola straps, holes for a necklace. Side view; detail of head. 2-3rd century CE. Roman, Forum.
- Funerary statue of an adult priestess, full-size in marble, from the courtyard of the House of the Vestals. Angle view. 2-3rd century CE. Roman, Forum.
- Torso of a marble funerary statue of an adult priestess, from the courtyard of the House of the Vestals. Visible are details of the looped vittae of her headdress and her Hercules knot belt. Angle view. 2-3rd century CE. Roman, Forum.
- Vestalis Maxima, marble statue a Chief Priestess of the Vestals, from the House of the Vestals. She wears a high banded headdress with infulae (looped woolen bands hanging down on teither side of the neck) and a short cape fastened with a round brooch (detail). 2nd century CE. Roman, Terme Diocleziano.
- Young priestess, a marble portrait, wearing a headdress of six folds of infula with a band and two vittae behind the ears (side view). Rome, 100-120 CE. London: British Museum.
- Marble portrait
head of a mature female; together with a stern expression, she wears a
headband under her veil and a band around her throat
possibly signaling her as a priestess. Roman, 49 BCE. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches
Procession, a plaster reproduction of the marble interior
altar relief from the Ara Pacis showing the six Vestal
Virgins walking to the altar. Rome/EUR, 9 BCE.
- Banqueting, a marble fragment perhaps from the interior altar relief of
the Ara Pacis; the male may be the Pontifex Maximus. Late 1st century BCE.
Rome, Museo Montemartini (Capitoline Museums).
- State ceremony attended by a young Vestal, accompanied by her lictor curiatus, standing before the Goddess Roma. She appears on this fragmentary marble relief panel (Cancelleria B), welcoming Vespasian into Rome as Emperor in 69 CE. She wears the distinctive Vestal headdress, composed of a band of wool wrapped several times around her head (infula) with looped side pieces (vittae). 93-95 CE. Rome: Gregoriano Profano, Vatican Museums.
- Aureus portraying two veiled Vestals and a child (possibly a young Vestal) confirming Postumus, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Gallic Empire, over a burning altar in front of the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. Minted in Germany, 263-264 CE.
- of the Imperial Cult:
- Livia, priestess of
the cult of the deified Augustus, shown on an onyx cameo, holding his bust. She has the attributes of
several goddesses: her mural crown suggests Fortuna/Tyche, the poppies and
wheat in her hand suggest Ceres, the shield/ tympanum decorated with a lion and
her seated pose suggest the Great Mother Cybele, the gown slipping off her
shoulder suggests Venus Genetrix. Roman, after 14 CE. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches
- Julian (?) priestess: a voluminous palla cloaks the youthful priestess's body and covers her hair which still retains its original color. A vegetal corona rests on her head, tied with hanging beaded infulae that frame her face. The straps of her matronal stola, modestly covering her sleeved tunica, are visible on her shoulders. In the act of performing the sacra publica, she extends a libation patera in one hand and a box [acerra] of incense beads in the other. Found in a shrine dedicated to the imperial cult at the back of the Macellum, off the Forum in Pompeii. Early-1st century CE. Naples, Archaeological Museum.
- Plancia Magna was priestess of the chief deity of Perge, Artemis Pergaia, and priestess of the imperial cult. She was a descendent of a wealthy senatorial family, the Plancii, who left Rome in the late Republic. Her full-length marble statue, donated by one of her freedmen, stood outside the city gate she renovated at Perge, along with other civic structures she donated. The Greek inscription on the statue base lists her many titles, including "daughter of the city." 1st half 2nd century CE. Antalya, Turkey, Antalya Museum.
- Aurelia Paulina held the offices of priestess of Artemis Pergaia and priestess of the imperial cult, a title she shared with her husband, Aquilus. Born in Syria, she received a grant of Roman citizenship from the emperor Commodus (180-192 CE), thus adding Aurelia to her name. Very wealthy, she constructed a large monumental nymphaeum in the trapezoidal courtyard outside Perge's southern city gate and dedicated it to Artemis Pergaia and the Severan imperial family (193-211 CE). Perge, Turkey.
- of Cybele, Magna Mater:
Acte, priestess of the Magna Mater in Ostia, is portrayed on this relief of the myth of Alcestis and Admetis with her husband, C. Junius Euhodus, from their marble sarcophagus. 2nd century CE. Rome, Vatican Museum.
statue honoring a mature woman, seated on a throne, probably a priestess of Cybele in the guise of the goddess. 50 CE. Getty Villa.
altar relief, dedicated by the priestess Claudia Syntyche, depicting
Claudia Quinta (see Ovid, Fasti 4.247-348), using an infula
(sacred band) tied to the ship's prow to pull the ship Salvia carrying
the statue of the Magna Mater (Cybele) which was brought to Rome from
Phrygia in Asia Minor. Detail
of the inscription. 1st century CE. Rome, Montemartini Museum.
- of Isis:
- Cantinea Procla, priestess of Isis; her marble funerary altar was erected by her husband, C. Iulius Hermes: relief portrait of Isis/priestess holding the situla and sistrum; inscription; left side with image of closed cista mystica enveloped by a cobra; angle view; right side with image of open cista mystica guarded by a serpent. Flavian period (69-96 CE). CIL 6.34776. Rome, Via Ostia. Museo Terme Diocleziano.
depicted on a grave stele as a devotee or priestess of Isis, holding a sistrum
and bucket; Greek inscription: “Sosibia [daughter of] Euboios of Kephissia.”
Roman, from Attica, 160-170 CE. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.
- Babullia Varilla is depicted on her marble stele as a priestess of Isis, fully draped and holding the sistrum and situla (the side contains a representation of the cista mystica. The memorial is inscribed by her husband M. Statilius Augustalis and contains a small basket at the bottom, of wifely wool (?). Roman, 2nd century CE. CIL VI.13454.
Naples, National Archaeological Museum.
- Usia Prima, priestess of Isis, is portrayed wearing a floral garland and flanked by the symbols of her office, the sistrum and the patera. She shares the marble tomb with her older relatives who commissioned it, Hermodorus and Demaris, originally slaves from Egypt and freed by the Rabirius family. 40 BCE. Via Appia and Baths of Diocletian Museum.
- Terracotta fragment of a female devotee of Isis shaking the sistrum, the sacred
rattle. Roman, made in Egypt, c. 50 BCE - 50 CE. London, British Museum.
plaque engraved with the goddess or a priestess of the cult of Isis (a
decoration from a casket or piece of furniture). 1st century CE. London,
- Marble statue of a young priestess of Isis. In her left hand she carries a ritual bucket (situla); she probably held the sacred rattle of Isis (sistrum) in her upraised right hand. Her garment is tied in front with the knot of Isis, and she wears a fringed mantle on her shoulders; her hair is braided and coiled into a chignon at the nape of her neck. Roman, second century CE. Found in Taormina. Palermo, National Archaeological Museum.
- Head priestess, dressed in a purple overgarment and wearing a gold ureus crown and breastplate, performs a bloodless rite on a fresco with three priests and another priestess. From Stabiae, mid-1st century CE. Naples, National Archaeological Museum.
- Priestess of Demeter
in relief on a marble stele; she is accompanied by two tiny assistants, a woman
holding a tall flaming torch and a young girl holding a ritual object. Found in
Smyrna, 2nd half 2nd century BCE. Berlin, Pergamon Museum.
- Appia Annia Regilla Atilia Caucidia Tertulla was priestess of Demeter Chamyne at Olympia. Born of a wealthy aristocratic Roman family, she moved to Greece after her marriage to Herodes Atticus. She was the dedicator of the monumental fountain (nymphaeum) there. 153 CE. Olympia, Archaeological Museum.
- Kantharos panel of a priestess standing in an ivy bower draped with scarves, holding a staff against her left shoulder while pouring a libation from a dish in her right hand. Painted Gnathian ware from Apulia, 290-80 BCE. London: British Museum.
- Bronze votive
statuette of a priestess wearing a headdress and pouring a libation
from a phiale (another view). Found near Sanctuary of Diana Nemi. Etrusco-Latin, 200-100 BCE.
London. British Museum.
statue of a woman holding a round container with draped hands, found in
the Villa Adriana, Tivoli. From a 2nd century BCE original. Rome, Palazzo
Head of a young girl, wearing a rolled ribbon in her hair, a sign that
she was a priestess, despite her young age. Roman, from Greece (probably
Corinth), 100-140 CE. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.
- Elderly Priestess, a full-length marble statue, wearing
a headdress and veil, performing a bloodless sacrifice. c. 135-140 CE. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.
relief showing a priestess touching the head of a suckling infant; the
temple pediment in the background suggests a religious rite. Rome, Vatican
- Priestess wearing a veil presides over a live sacrifice on a
marble altar relief. She probably held a patera in her left hand, intending to ritually purify a sacrificial bull with a libation (see another altar relief). The altar contains images of stags on the back and one side relating to the goddess Diana; the 4th side contains a ritual pitcher (urceus). Roman, from near the Diana Sanctuary at Nemi, 200 CE. Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
- Eumachia, public priestess, was given this full-length marble statue of herself by the fullers guild, placed in the building she erected in the Forum at Pompeii. The base contains the dedicatory inscription: “The fullers [dedicated this statue] to Eumachia, daughter of Lucius, public priestess.” Pompeii, 1st century CE.
- Portrait statue in marble of a priestess heavily draped in a stola and
palla, wearing a laurel wreath, based on images of Livia, wife of
Augustus and mother of Tiberius, c. 20-50 CE. London, British Museum.
- Maenad holding a young animal. Rome, Altemps Museum.
- Invocation scene on a bronze
coin: Domitian stands before a temple dictating to the Roman
matrons a prayer to the goddess Juno. Rome, issue celebrating the Secular
Games, 88 CE. London, British Museum.
- Funeral procession toward the tomb of medicus on a fresco found
at the Porta Capena, Rome. Right, priestesses carry funerary implements; left
are the wife, daughter, and other family members. Last half of 1st century BCE.
Paris, Louvre Museum.
- Dionysiac mysteries on a wall fresco; detail of
an older woman holding a rolled scroll and looking down at a child reading a
ritual text. Roman, 1st century CE. Pompeii, House of the Mysteries.
on the day of the consecration of the Ara Pacis (4 July 13 BCE; dedicated by the Senate on 30 January 9
BCE); the marble relief on the southern side of the altar depicts a veiled female member of the imperial family behind Agrippa. Campus Martius, Rome.
- Sacrificial procession before the Temple of Magna Mater on a marble relief.
Image Source: Petersen, 1902, Ara Pacis Augustae.
- Sacrifice on a
marble altar relief by a veiled priestess who probably held a patera in her left hand in preparation for ritually purifying a sacrificial bull with a libation (see a similar altar relief). A young attendant holding a knife leads the bull to the garlanded altar while another youth stands behind the altar holding ritual objects for the ceremony. Roman, from near the Diana Sanctuary at Nemi, c. 200 CE. Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
- Isiac ritual: the marble relief shows on the upper register Egyptian deities in small shrines, including Isis, Apis, and Bes; below three women in transparent dresses dance ecstatically, accompanied by pygmies marking rhythm with sticks, while viewers on a platform keep time by clapping. Perhaps connected with the feast of the Navigium Isidis (the boat of Isis), celebrated on March 5. Roman, from Ariccia, first century CE. Rome, Palazzo Altemps.
- Ritual of Isis: fresco of priests and priestesses (detail), dressed alike in long garments with elbow-length sleeves and gold chest-coverings. Crowned with gold cobra circlets (uraeus), the priests carry a ritual bucket (situla) and one or two sprinklers (aspergillum), the priestesses carry a pillow and a pitcher (urnula) with a long spout (see beak of the sacred ibis). Stabiae. 1st century CE. Naples, National Archaeological Museum.
- Apotheosis of Sabina, wife of the emperor Hadrian who assists at the funeral
pyre as his wife ascends to heaven on the shoulders of a winged goddess holding
a torch. Marble relief from Arco di Portogallo. 2nd century CE. Rome, Palazzo dei
- Votive altar in terracotta; miniature.
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
mask of bronze, possibly a furniture decoration. Roman, 1st CE. London.
- Ritual garland, relief sculpture from the Ara Pacis inner enclosure. In imitation of an outdoor scene, the sacred garland of fruit and branches, tied with flowing vittae (sacred ribbons), hangs between columns with acanthus leaf capitals, from the horns of the Augustan boucrania; a patera (ritual libation bowl) is on the wall above and in the middle of the swag. Rome, Campus Martius, 13 BCE.
- Cap (Apex) of the Flamen Dialis, crossed goblets, the priest's aspergillum with an animal hoof handle, the lituus of the augur: these appear among flowing vittae, above a festal garland of leaves and fruit hanging between elaborate candelabra on marble relief panels decorating the portico of the Pantheon. 27 BCE.
- Ritual implements on a marble fieze from the cornice of the Temple of Vespasian, dedicated by Domitian. The sacrificial instruments of dedication are the patera, ritual axe, knife, jug, aspersory, and priestly helmet, arranged between garlanded boucrania. 80-87 CE. Rome, Capitoline Museums: Tabularium.
- Sistrum in bronze, with the head of Hathor (19th century copy of an ancient
sistrum in the Hague); a rattle used in the worshop of Egyptian goddesses,
especially Isis and Hathor. Amsterdam, Allard Pierson Museum.
- Sistrum in bronze of Isis. Egyptian.
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum.
- Ara Pacis, monumental marble altar
dedicated by Augustus to Peace, showing the procession of the men and women of
his family, senators, and priests on
the day of its consecration in 13 BCE. Rome.
- Marble altar (“Altar of the
Lares”): Augustus in the center, sacrificing to the Lares Compitales
with his daughter Julia/his wife Livia on the right and his grandson Gaius
Caesar on the left. End 1st century BCE. Florence, Uffizi Museum.
- Altar in Luni marble
to Diana Victrix, the goddess of the Latin League and comrade of emperors, dedicated by Aebutia Amerina (inscribed DIANAE VICTRICI/ S[acru]M D[ono] D/ AEBV[tia] M[arci] F[ilia] AMERINA) for a shrine to the goddess near Rome. Side 1: a boar stands beneath a palm tree; Side 2: a stag waits beside an acanthus (?) tree. Late 1st-early 2nd century CE. Rome (Via Ardeatina), Museum of the Baths of Diocletian.
altar, perhaps from the sanctuary of Diana at Nemi, containing a frontal
of a veiled priestess standing beside a garlanded altar with
attendants, participating in the purification of a sacrificial bull. c. 200 CE.
Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.
- Temple of Vesta, round marble, once contained the hearth of Vesta (reconstruction drawing). Aureus of Vespasian shows a statue of Vesta within. View from the Sacred Way. View from Palatine; Side view. Late 2nd century CE version.
- Relief and
dedicatory inscription on a
altar: MATRI DEVM ET NAVI SALVIAE/ SALVIAE VOTO SVSCEPTO/ CLAVDIA
SYNTHYCHE/ D[onum] D[edicavit], given by Claudia Syntyche to the mother goddess
Cybele (CIL 6.492). Claudia Quinta, an elite Roman matron (see
WRW, pp 118-121 for a selection from Ovid's story in Fasti
4.247-348), is shown drawing, with a sacred woolen band (infula) the
ship Salvia (stuck in the mud at Ostia) up the Tiber River to Rome; it
carried the icon of the Magna Mater from Phrygia to Rome on April 12, 204 BCE,
at the command of the Sibylline Books. 1st century CE. Rome, Museo Montemartini
(Capitoline Museums). See the 15th century Siennese painting by Neroccio de' Landi in the National Gallery, Washington, DC.
All images are courtesy of the
VRoma Project's Image Archive.