Thursday 8 June 2023

Evocatio - how to entice a goddess by Elisabeth Storrs

The third novel in my A Tale of Ancient Rome saga is entitled Call to Juno. It is set in the final year of a ten year siege between the Etruscan city of Veii and the nascent Republican Rome in 396 BC. These cities were situated only 12 miles apart across the Tiber River but the differences in their societies were marked. The Etruscans were sophisticated and cosmopolitan with trading links extending across the Mediterranean whereas Roman society was insular, warlike and agrarian. Accordingly, by crossing a strip of water, it was like moving from somewhere akin to the Dark Ages into the Renaissance. 

There were many contrasts between these enemy societies but interestingly the pantheons they worshipped contained the same gods with different names. One such Etruscan deity was Uni, called Juno by the Romans. Her counterpart in Greece was Hera. Most modern readers know this goddess as the consort of the king of the gods, namely, Jupiter (Roman), Tinia (Etruscan) or Zeus (Greek.) And the divine spouses were included in a holy triad with Minerva in all three cultures. 

Wedding of Juno - Pompeii 

In Rome, Juno held many roles and was worshipped in many guises. She must have been extremely busy given all her functions! As the goddess of marriage, she protected a bride in her role as Juno Pronuba or Cinxia ‘she who loosens the girdle.’ She was also a mother goddess and protector of children. As Juno Lucina, she looked over women in childbirth, bringing light to the newborn. As she was associated with new beginnings, her sacred day was the Kalends or first day of the month. Juno Lucina was celebrated in the Matronalia festival on 1 March, the first day of spring in the old Roman calendar. On that day matrons and their husbands visited the temple, laid flower wreaths, and prayed for the protection of their marriages by sacrificing lambs and cattle. The wives would undo their belts and loosen their hair to encourage Juno to also loosen their wombs and bless them with children. Husbands would give them presents, and female slaves were provided with special meals and excused from work. 

This gentler aspect of Juno’s nature was contrasted with her role as a warrioress. Juno Sospita or ‘the Saviour’ was a special guardian of Rome in times of war. She wore a horned goatskin helmet and carried a shield and spear. As Juno Moneta, she was the protector of ‘funds.’ Coins were minted in her temple on the citadel on the Capitoline Hill. 

Etruscan Uni

The historian, Livy, states that in 396 BCE, the dictator, Marcus Furius Camillus called to Veii’s guardian, the Etruscan Uni, to forsake her city with the promise of building a new temple especially for her in Rome. This was the first example of the practice known as an ‘evocatio’ or calling forth by which a Roman general lured the tutelary deity of a foreign city to Rome through the promise of games and honours. The fear was the guardian spirit would take revenge if they didn’t continue to receive due respect. There was also fear sacrilege would be committed by taking a god prisoner. And so, in return for betraying their home city, the divinity was granted a new seat in Rome so they would consider bestowing grace upon the hospitable city of their victors. Romans were similarly concerned the tables might be turned on them by their foes. Great care was taken to ensure the name of their own tutelary god was not revealed lest an evocatio was performed. 

The Etruscan Uni was borne by Camillus to Rome as ‘Juno Regina’ - the Queen - and housed her in a temple on the Aventine Hill. There is dispute, however, as to whether she was an ancient Latin goddess already known to the Romans or was only introduced to the pantheon after the dictator wooed her. Confusion arises because Juno Regina is spoken of as one of the Capitoline Triad in the times of the Etruscan kings who ruled Rome prior to 575 BCE. As such Jupiter, Juno and Minerva were each reputed to have cells within the Great Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill long before the siege of Veii. 

This conjecture fuelled my interest in how divinities have their own origins and histories. Yet the fact Camillus built Juno Regina’s temple on the Aventine Hill may be proof that she was indeed introduced to Rome rather being an already established manifestation of the deity. My research revealed that, although Rome adopted foreign cults, alien gods were not allowed within the city’s holy boundary ie pomerium. The pomerium, however, did not always fall within the footprint of Rome’s city wall. This is the case with the Aventine Hill. Presumably Camillus built the temple for Juno Regina there rather than on the Capitoline because Uni was a foreign deity. Hence the traitorous Veientane goddess was unable to truly place a footstep in Rome’s sacred territory. 

Tanit from Spain

Another cruel evocatio recorded by the historian, Macrobius, was the call to Juno Caelestis of Carthage in 146 BCE. She was a manifestation of the Carthiginian goddess, Tanit, the tutelary deity of the city. The razing of the city and slaughter of those people is a bloody history. There is no reference, however, as to whether a temple was dedicated in Rome to the Carthaginian goddess after her treachery. 

By the time of the Empire, the custom of evocatio was not as prevalent presumably because the number of conquests would result in a plethora of temples needing to be built in Rome. Nevertheless, the Romans assimilation into its own culture of the religions and cults of its conquered peoples continued. There was no longer any need to ask deities to make the journey to Rome! 

Elisabeth Storrs is the author of the A Tale of Ancient Rome saga, and the founder of the Historical Novel Society Australasia. More information can be found at her website 

Images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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