Lua Mater, or Mother Lua, was a mysterious ancient Italian goddess who provided a paradoxical spiritual service for the ancient Romans. On the one hand, Lua offered the Romans a way to atone for the bloodshed and cruelty of war through ceremonies that were carried out in her honor. Yet, on the other hand, Lua also had a reputation of being a potentially destructive and dangerous war goddess who needed to be kept happy. Thankfully for the Romans, a single ritual could be performed that fulfilled both of these required actions of appeasement and atonement. This ceremony entailed the sacrificial burning of loot that had been plundered from enemies of Rome.
Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), a historian from ancient Rome, recorded two descriptions of how the ancient Romans might have performed their burnt offering rituals for Lua. The first that he described was an impromptu ceremony organized after the Romans defeated an army from Antium around 341 BCE. As told by Livy, “A great quantity of arms was found, not only amongst the enemy’s dead but also in their camp. The consul announced that he was dedicating these to Mother Lua, and proceeded to lay waste to the enemy’s territory as far as the sea coast” (Livy, Roman History, Book 8, section 1). Shifting tens of books ahead, and therefore skipping centuries into the future in Livy’s narrative, another offering to Lua was described that took place around 167 BCE. This time, it was a much more formal ceremony, and other war-associated deities were included in the festivities. Livy wrote, “After the festival had been held and the bronze shields loaded into ships, the rest of the arms of all kinds were piled up into a great heap, and the general, after prayer to Mars, Minerva, Mother Lua, and the other gods to whom it is right and lawful to dedicate the spoils of the enemy, with his own hands put the torch to the pile; then each of the military tribunes as they stood round about tossed in [more] fire” (Livy, Roman History, 45.33). Through ceremonies such as these, the Romans could both placate the goddess and expiate themselves from the spiritual and psychological burdens of bloodshed.
Unfortunately, any further details about the goddess, herself, are few and far between. These quotes from Livy, describing the war-themed offerings burned in her honor, are the bulk of what is known about her personalized responsibilities as a goddess. Besides her individualized connection to destruction, war and atonement, Mother Lua is best known for being the consort of the Roman god, Saturn.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Minerva in a Chariot, by Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Smithsonian Institute).
- The History of Rome (Rome and Italy) by Livy, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1982.