In the year 396 BCE, the military of the Roman Republic conquered the city of Veii—Rome’s greatest rival on the Tiber. After the Romans broke into the city, the Veientine people were enslaved and their city was pillaged. Although the conquered people and their personal property were treated with contempt, the religious images and statues within the city were reportedly honored with great respect whenever such an artwork was encountered by a marauding Roman warrior. In particular, the Romans had a special interest in a great statue or carving of Juno Regina, the patron goddess of Veii. During the sack of the city, the Romans decided to bring this statue of Juno back to Rome. As the story goes, the goddess assented to the plan, and helped the looters with the transportation of the idol.
In their efforts to keep the goddess happy after destroying her city, the Roman spared no expense. The troops participating in the relocation of the statue reportedly made sure to follow all the religious guidelines involved in such a project. Each mover was said to have taken part in a ritual of cleansing, after which they donned special white outfits. Finally, one of the Romans made a show of asking the goddess permission to move the statue. It was at this point, so the stories go, that bizarre occurrences began to happen around the idol of Juno. The Roman historian Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), using the records, oral history and folklore at his disposal, commented on statue’s strange journey:
“Suddenly one of them said: ‘Juno, do you want to go to Rome?’ Whether the question was divinely inspired or merely a young man’s joke, who knows? But his companions all declared that the statue nodded its head in reply. We are told, too, that words were uttered, signifying assent. In any case—fables apart—she was moved from her place with only the slightest application of mechanical power, and was light and easy to transport—almost as if she came of her own free will—and was taken undamaged to her eternal dwelling-place on the Aventine…And there Camillus afterwards dedicated to her the temple he had vowed” (The History of Rome, 5.22).
Such is the folkloric tale of how the Veientine statue of Juno Regina was transported to Rome. Once in the Roman city, however, the idol was forced to wait several years for the construction of the temple promised by Marcus Furius Camillus. The Temple of Juno Regina on the Aventine was finally completed and consecrated around 392 BCE, allowing the goddess’ image to finally be placed in her new home.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Dido sacrificing to Juno, painted by Jean Bernard Restout (French, Paris 1732–1797 Paris), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.
- The Beginnings of Rome by T. J. Cornell. New York: Routledge, 1995.