by Rohase Piercy
Every woman has her ‘juno’. Guiding spirit, higher self, female genius, call her what you will, according to Roman belief we all have one, just as every man has his ‘genius’. Whatever the social, political and domestic restrictions imposed by patriarchal Rome upon its women, here was something no husband, father or master could deny: a little piece of the Celestial Goddess, the Saviour, Mother and Queen of Rome, resided in every woman, slave and free, as a guide and companion through life. The concept of female Deity would soon be all but obliterated by the new religion of Christianity with its masculine threefold God, but women of the Classical era still took it for granted that they, like their Bronze Age ancestresses, reflected the Divine image equally with men. Juno’s Greek counterpart, Hera, offered a role-model to women throughout every stage of life, from Pais (child) to Khera (widow); but Juno goes a step further, and personifies the female principle itself.
The etymology of Juno’s name is thought to be linked to the Latin iuven, ‘youthful’, shortened to iun as a prefix (as in iunior, younger). Emile Benveniste identifies the original meaning of this root as ‘vital force’, connecting it with the Vedic word ayuh, ‘genius of the vital force’. Contemporary Roman commentators also saw a link to iuvare, ‘to aid’ or ‘to benefit’, re-enforcing Juno’s identification with her Etruscan counterpart Uni, whose name is thought to mean ‘She Who Gives’. Following the conquest of the Etruscan city of Veii in 396 BCE an evocatio was performed, issuing a solemn invitation to the Etruscan Goddess to transfer her allegiance to Rome. The invitation appears to have been accepted: Uni was worshipped in Rome as Iuno Regina, and her Temple on the Aventine Hill housed the ancient wooden cult statue transported from Veii.
Juno was worshipped in Italy well before the unification of the Latin states under Rome’s leadership. Her epithets Regina, Mater, Curitis, Sispes and Lucina are all pre-Roman, as is her identification with the month we still call ‘June’, when the sun’s vital force is seen to reach its zenith at the Summer Solstice, the longest day. In the Latin city of Lanuvium the Temple of Iuno Sispes Mater Regina – Juno Saviour, Mother and Queen - housed a sacred snake, a creature associated with healing and regeneration; the discovery of terracotta body-parts, traditionally offered as an accompaniment to prayers for healing, in the vicinity of the Temple would suggest that this was indeed an ancient function of the Goddess.
Juno’s brother and consort, Jupiter, is also attested throughout ancient Italy; at Praeneste in Latium the sibling Deities are presented as the children of ‘Fortuna Primigenia’, primordial Goddess of Fate and Destiny. It was under Greek influence that they came to be seen as a married couple, mirroring Hera and Zeus, and this was further endorsed by the merging of Juno with Uni, whose consort Tinia, a weather-and-thunder Deity, was naturally equated with Jupiter by the Romans. Together with Menrfa, Etruscan Goddess of Wisdom, Uni and Tinia formed a powerful triad of Deities thought to bestow special protection upon the State; they were later Romanised to form the ‘Capitoline Triad’ - Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.
Juno was also identified with the Chief Goddess of Carthage, Tanit, whom the Romans dubbed the Dea Caelestis or Virgo Caelestis - ie Queen of Heaven. When Rome finally conquered Carthage in 146 BCE, an evocatio was performed inviting Tanit to transfer her patronage to Rome. The dual cult of Tanit and her consort Baal-Hammon was continued in Roman Carthage as that of ‘Juno Caelestis’ and Saturn – an interesting pairing, given that most Gods bearing the Semitic title ‘Baal’ were automatically equated with Zeus/Jupiter. It’s possible that a coupling with ‘Old Father Time’ seemed more appropriate given Tanit’s role as a ’Mistress of Destiny and Fortune’ and measurer of time cycles; or maybe her pre-eminent status within the dual cult made the Romans reluctant to allocate a subordinate position to ‘Jupiter, Best and Greatest’.
Juno quickly absorbed the mythology of her Greek counterpart, Hera, Queen of the Immortals and personification of the atmosphere. She shares Hera’s function as Goddess of Marriage, the stories of her jealousy over her husband’s numerous infidelities, and her vengeful attitude toward her rivals. Feminist commentators have speculated that the divine couple’s marital strife may symbolise the difficulties encountered by a formerly independent Goddess within a patriarchal pantheon; certainly the early Italic manifestations of Juno and Jupiter present no such power struggle. Whilst retaining a more warlike aspect than her Greek equivalent and often represented with spear and shield, Juno is also depicted sitting upon Hera’s golden throne, flanked by her sacred Peacock and her attendant Iris, the Rainbow. But as I hope I have already demonstrated, Juno is so much more than ‘the Roman Hera‘. She is one of the most complex and multi-faceted Deities of the ancient world. Her abundance of offices and titles reflects this complexity, and a discussion of at least some of them is necessary to any assessment of her role. They can be loosely grouped around three primary functions: sovereignty (incorporating protection of the State and of individuals); fertility and motherhood (incorporating marriage); and the measuring of time cycles (incorporating fortune and destiny).
Juno Caelestis (of the Heavens): Bestowed upon Juno as the Roman manifestation of Carthaginian Tanit, the epithet ‘Caelestis’ identifies her as Queen of Heaven and links her with a number of other Goddesses bearing this title. Carthage was originally established as a Phoenician colony, and Tanit was identified with the Phoenician Queen of Heaven, Astarte – as was Etruscan Uni, worshipped as ‘Uni-Astarte’ in the port of Pyrgi. Astarte is linked theologically and linguistically to Canaanite Asherah and Mesopotamian Ishtar – the latter sharing her mythology with the ancient Sumerian Queen of Heaven, Inanna. Like her Bronze Age predecessors, Juno has authority over the lunar month and the solar year, and combines a warlike aspect with a fertility function, protecting the fortunes of the city-state as well as watching over pregnant women and mothers.
Juno Regina (Queen): It’s interesting that this title has no masculine equivalent in Rome; Optimus Maximus he may be, but Jupiter is never Rex. Of course ever since the overthrow of Tarquinius Superbus the Romans were reluctant to bestow the title of ‘King’ upon anyone; but in religious matters a Rex Sacrorum, ‘King of Sacred Rites’was appointed from amongst the Senate, together with a Regina Sacrorum, his wife. This dual priesthood was reserved for patricians only, and one might expect to find the titles Rex and Regina reflected in the chief Deities of the pantheon; but Juno Regina’s cult stands alone, bearing witness to the Goddess’ independent queenly status and harking back to her Ancient Near Eastern counterparts Asherah, Ishtar and Astarte. The Temple of Juno Regina stood upon the Aventine Hill and housed the wooden image of Uni taken from the Temple at Veii; it was dedicated on the Kalends (1st) of September 392 BCE by Marcus Furius Camillus. In 207 BCE it was struck by lightning, and the matrons of Rome repaired it from their own personal funds as an act of propitiation.A second Temple to Juno Regina was dedicated by Marcus Aemilius Lepidus in 179 BCE; it stood near the Circus Flaminius and was connected by a porch to the Temple of Fortuna. As a member of the Capitoline Triad, ‘Juno Regina Capitolina’ was feted along with Jupiter and Minerva on the Ides of September.
Juno Curitis/Quiritis (of the Spear): In this role Juno is an armed protectress; her Temple, appropriately enough, stood in the Campus Martius (Field of Mars). The epithet curitis is of Sabine origin, from curis, ‘spear’; the Sabine name for Mars, Juno’s son, is Quirinius. The Sabines occupied a territory to the North-East of Rome, and following their conquest in 290 BCE became a major ethnic component of Roman society, receiving full citizenship in 268. The curiae, religious, political or familial divisions which were a feature of Roman life, evolved from this integration; and each curia had its altar to Juno Curitis at which first fruits, wine and barley cakes were offered. Juno Curitis also had a cult in the Etruscan city of Falerii, which fell to the Romans in 241 BCE, and where according to Ovid, a goat was killed with spears at her annual festival.
Juno Sospita/Sispita/Sispes (Saviour): Depictions of Juno the Saviour show her armed, with spear and shield, ready to defend Rome against its enemies; she also traditionally wears a horned goatskin, and shoes turned up at the toe. Her feast day was the Kalends (1st) February, when she was hailed by her ancient title Sospita Mater Regina – Saviour, Mother and Queen. February was the final month of the Roman year, traditionally associated with purification (februa) and thought to be fraught with peril. The secondary epithet Juno Februata or Februtis emphasises how important was the Goddess’ protection through this delicate passage of time. Iuno Sispes Mater Regina was chief Deity of the ancient Latin city of Lanuvium, where she had a Temple and a sacred grove. It was here that the Goddess’ sacred snake was housed, and an annual offering of barley cakes presented to it by young blindfold girls. According to the Treaty drawn up at the end of the Latin War in 338 BCE, Lanuvium agreed to share the Temple and its sanctuary with Rome. A Temple to Juno Sospita was dedicated in Rome itself on Kalends of February 194 BCE by the Consul Gaius Cornelius Cethegus, in fulfilment of a vow made to the Goddess on the battlefield. It stood in the Forum Holitorium, and by 90 BCE had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the Goddess appeared in a vision to a Senator’s daughter named Caecilia Metella, threatening to withdraw her presence from its precincts. This vision was taken seriously by the Senate, and the Consul Lucius Julius Caesar (a relative of the famous dictator) ordered the Temple’s immediate repair. There is also a reference in Ovid’s Fasti to a Temple of Juno Sospita on the Palatine Hill, though this is not backed up by other sources.
Juno Lucina (Bringer of Light): As well as being an apt title for a Heavenly Goddess, this epithet is particularly associated with Juno’s protection of women through pregnancy and childbirth, ensuring the safe arrival of the newborn ‘into the light’. It is an aspect that Romans and Carthaginians alike recognised as connecting Juno and Tanit. The Temple of Juno Lucina stood on the Esquiline Hill; Pliny dates its dedication to in 375 BCE, and Verrius Flaccus records that it was financed by the matrons of Rome, honouring a vow of thanksgiving made by one of their number following the safe delivery of a child. Like Juno Sospita, Lucina presides over passage between the old year and the new, linked with fertility and childbirth in Roman tradition. On the Ides of February the Lupercalia, the Birthday of Rome, was celebrated on the Palatine Hill where Romulus and Remus were famously suckled by the she-wolf; this was also a dies februata or day of purification in preparation for the New Year. Two goats and a dog were sacrificed, and the goats’ skin cut into strips with which young men would strike people for luck and purification; barren and pregnant women alike would offer themselves to be struck, as this would ensure fertility and ease the pains of childbirth. Then on the Kalends of March, New Year’s Day, Juno Lucina was celebrated with the Matronalia or Matronales Feriae. This festival continued to be celebrated in March when the New Year was re-aligned, in 153 BCE, to coincide with the beginning of the civil year on 1st January. Pregnant women attended the festivities on the Esquiline with hair unbound and clothing unknotted, symbolising their hope for an easy delivery; lambs and cattle were sacrificed, and wreaths of fresh flowers dedicated by couples eager to ensure the Goddess’ blessing on their marriage. Husbands offered up prayers for their wives, presented then with gifts and publicly praised them; and free women prepared a meal for their slaves, as their husbands did at the Saturnalia.
Juno Moneta (Warner/Mistress of Fortune): The origins of the epithet ‘Moneta’ are obscure, and continue to excite discussion and controversy. Juno Moneta’s Temple on the Arx or Citadel of the Capitoline Hill was dedicated in 344 on the Kalends of June – the Goddess’ sacred month - honouring a vow made in battle by the dictator Lucius Furius Camillus, whose father had dedicated the Temple of Juno Regina. Depictions of Moneta present the Goddess in warlike mode, with spear and shield. For over four centuries Roman money was coined in the temple, often stamped with Juno Moneta’s image along with a pair of scales or a cornucopia; this connection has given us our English words ‘monetary’, ‘mint’ and ‘money’, but does not explain the origins of Moneta. One theory links the title to the temple’s elevated position, via the Latin mons, hill or mountain; another connects it to monere, to warn or advise, relating to the warning given by Juno’s sacred geese of an imminent attack by the Gauls in 390 BCE (Cicero relates another ‘warning’ story in his De Divinatione, with a voice issuing from the Temple during an earthquake requesting a propitiatory sacrifice of a pregnant sow to appease the chthonic forces). The eminent linguist Professor Theo Vennemann posits an etymology which would connect Juno’s association with time cycles to the housing of the Roman Mint in her temple. He suggests that the epithet Moneta has its origins in the Phoenician ‘m-n-y’ root and the Semitic word manah, signifying ‘to count, reckon or assign’, to which the words ‘moon’ and ‘month’ (Latin mensis) are also linked. This would give Moneta a very ancient lineage, connecting her with the Ancient Near Eastern Goddesses Ishtar Menutum, Manat and Meni, all ‘Mistresses of Fortune’ whose function includes the reckoning of lifespans and the assigning of both wealth and luck. Vennemann also posits a linguistic connection between Juno Moneta and Carthaginian Tanit via the same Phoenician root.
Juno Kalendris/Juno Covella: As well as overseeing the demise of the old year and the beginning of the new, Juno presides over the Kalends of each month, upon which day a sow or a female lamb was sacrificed to her by the Regina Sacrorum. It is a function she shares with the God Janus, he of the two faces, whose month eventually came to be celebrated as the first of the year and who includes amongst his epithets the interesting title Iunonius. In the original lunar calendar, the Kalends would have corresponded with the New Moon. The month would either be ‘full’ – 30 days long – or ‘hollow’ – 29 days, and the other two main reference dates, the Nones (half moon) and the Ides (full moon) would therefore vary. The priests would ‘call’ the dates of each month on the Capitoline Hill, beginning with an invocation to ‘Juno Covella’: Kalo Iuno Covella! (Hollow Juno, I call you!) The significance of this phrase remains obscure, but it could refer to the ‘hollow’ New Moon which would gradually become filled with light as the month proceeded to the Ides. Whilst the Queen of Heaven is never a Moon Deity per se, the Moon and its phases are important to her cult as the iconographies of Tanit, Astarte and Asherah bear witness; and it’s interesting that Juno’s epithet ‘Lucina’ was shared by the Roman Moon Goddess, Diana, who also protected women in childbirth. The provision of protection through a perilous time – dark of the moon to full moon, pregnancy to successful delivery, old year into new year – is a thus connecting function for Juno’s epithets Sospita, Februata, Lucina, Kalendris and Covella.
Juno Caprotina (of the Wild Fig): The festival of Juno Caprotina took place on the Nones of July, and brought slave and free women together in a raucous celebration involving games, obscene jokes and a picnic, all carried on in the vicinity of a wild fig tree (caprofigus). Of course the fig’s shape and texture have made it a popular female sexual symbol, and the milky sap of the fig tree can be seen to symbolise both sex and motherhood; so this all-female festival celebrated Juno in her fertility aspect, reinforcing her accessibility to all women regardless of social status and her abstract manifestation as the ‘vital force’ which ensures the continuity of life through procreation. There is also a possible historical connection: the story goes that during the Gallic siege in the 4th century BCE, a slave woman named Tutela and her companions seduced the Gauls’ Latin allies, who had been demanding Roman women in marriage, by dressing up in their mistresses’ clothes and plying the soldiers with drink until they were incapable; they then signalled to the Roman troops by raising a lighted torch from a wild fig tree. The women were awarded their freedom in gratitude, and given dowries from the public purse. The Nones Capritonae also involved the sacrifice of a male goat to Juno – an animal associated with the Goddess under several manifestations, and thought to be possessed of great sexual energy.
Juno Sororia/Pronuba/Matrona: Like her Greek counterpart Hera, Juno accompanied a woman through every rite of passage; and none was more important to a Roman woman than marriage, the institution through which political and tribal alliances were cemented and Roman values passed down to the next generation of citizens. Having steered a girl through the hazards of puberty as Sororia (sister), Juno would oversee her marriage as Pronuba. As Juno Domiduca (or Iterduca) she accompanied the bride to her husband’s home; as Juno Nuxia she perfumed the threshold in welcome; and as Juno Cinxia she loosened the newly married woman’s girdle, presumably in preparation for sexual intercourse and the conception of a child. As a fully-fledged Roman matron, the woman could enjoy Juno’s especial protection as she strove to uphold the qualities of virtue, courage and dignity which she was expected to present to the world; records of matronal involvement in the upkeep of the Goddess’ Temples demonstrate how highly the patronage of Juno Matrona was valued.
Juno Mater (Mother): The epither ‘Mater’ is one of ancient dignity, harking back to the universal Mother Goddess (Magna Mater) worshipped since prehistoric times. Juno Mater was worshipped as Mother of Rome, and of its people (Juno Populona). She was also of course the protectress of individual mothers, and as Juno Rumina ensured a healthy flow of vital milk for a new mother to feed her baby. In her own mythology Juno is mother to Mars, Vulcan and Juventas, Goddess of Youth. But more extensively than all of these, Juno Mater is the ‘vital force’ which mothers all life, animal and vegetable as well as human; like Hera, personification of the atmosphere, she ‘gives birth to all’.
The Goat, the Goose and the Serpent have already been mentioned as animals sacred to Juno; to these we may add the Cow, a motherly creature with a long-standing association to the Bronze Age ‘Queens of Heaven’. Present in Juno’s mythology as her priestess Io, transformed into a white heifer by Jupiter, the Cow is also attested by her epithet ‘Ox-Eyed’ (from the Greek ‘(Hera) Boopis’, originally Cow-Eyed, possibly harking back to a cow-headed manifestation similar to Egyptian Hathor). Inheriting Hera’s Peacock as her constant companion, Juno is often depicted riding in a chariot pulled by two of these magnificent birds. As for plant life, in addition to the Fig Tree the Lily was sacred to Juno, having sprung from droplets the Goddess’ milk when she pulled the infant Hercules from her breast; in fact the Lily, associated with fertility by the Romans, was dubbed the Rosa Iunonis, ‘Juno’s Rose’.
Juno has so often been summarised dismissively, as ‘the jealous spouse of Jupiter’ or ‘the Roman Hera’; I do hope I have been able to demonstrate in this article how inadequate such descriptions are, and how much more depth, independence and complexity this ‘Saviour, Mother and Queen’ possesses. The patriarchal structure of the Roman Pantheon cannot tame or diminish her, and comparisons with neighbouring equivalents and predecessors serve only to re-enforce her credentials as Queen of Heaven in her own right: Mistress of the Cycles of Time, Measurer of Fortunes and Ordainer of Destinies, Vital Force of Life, Warrior and Saviour, Mother of the State, Protectress of the Unborn, Champion of Women, Patroness of Marriage - and every individual woman’s companion, inspiration and guide.
‘All natures share thy temperament divine,
And universal sway alone is thine...
…Come, Blessed Goddess, famed almighty Queen,
With aspect kind, rejoicing and serene.
(Orphic Hymn XV, trans. Thomas Taylor: ‘To Juno’).
- Gary Forsythe, A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War, University of California Press, 2005.
- Paul B Harvey and Celia E Schultz (eds), Religion in Republican Italy, Cambridge University Press 2006.
- Celia E Schulz, Women’s Religious Activity in the Roman Republic’, University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
- Theo Vennemann, Munze, Mint and Money – An Etymology for Latin ‘Moneta’, published in Evidence and Counter-Evidence – Essays in honour of Frederik Kortlandt, Vol 1, 2006.
- I am also indebted to all contributors to the excellent Wikipedia article on Juno: http://wikipedia.org/wiki/Juno_(mythology) and to Thalia Took’s Obscure Online Goddess Directory: http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/ogod.html.
Rohase is an eclectic Pagan with a special interest in the Deities of the Ancient Near East and the Classical era. She still lives in Brighton with her husband Leslie, and she has two grown-up daughters, Morgana and Pip.