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Cybele – saving of Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Statuette depicting Cybele
Statuette depicting Cybele

The appearance in Roman mythology of Cybele is associated with defeats during the Second Punic War. In 205 BCE The Senate called on a college of priests to consult the Books of Sibyl about the results of the ongoing war. The priests have issued a verdict that the only thing that can save Italy in this tragic hour is to bring a new goddess to Rome.

Titus Livius in his “Ab urbe condita” conveyed this resolution to us in these words: “Whensoever a foreign enemy should bring war into the land of Italy, he may be driven out of Italy and conquered, if the Idaean Mother should be brought from Pessinus to Rome”1. Pessinus at this time was politically under the jurisdiction of King Attalos I Soter of Pergamon. The Roman delegation also directed its steps to him. The ruler turned out to be ready to cooperate. He had been an ally of Rome for some time, they were bound by common interests and common enemies. The statue of the goddess was loaded onto the ship and with it a group of priestesses and priests who were to serve the goddess and look after her new temple, as only they knew the liturgy and all the rites associated with her worship.

On April 6, 204 BCE, the ship reached Ostia, a delegation of senators, distinguished and virtuous citizens and a cheering crowd curious about the arrival of the one that was to save Italy from Hannibal waited for her in the port. Roman matrons arrived in great numbers and Claudia Quinta personally welcomed the procession of the Goddess, pulling the ship on a rope with her own hands and displaying superhuman strength. The episode was considered miraculous and a sign of favour with the gods. It was decided to build the temple on the Palatine – this location was to symbolize the connection of the Great Goddess with the oldest Roman roots. As we know, the Romans won the Second Punic War, so the cult of Cybele spread throughout the Empire.

Admitted to the pantheon of Roman gods, Cybele was originally a Phrygian goddess of fertility, fertility, spring and fortified cities, and the guardian of the dead. From time to time, Cybele’s priests have staged a rite of cleansing and rebirth. The person who underwent such a ritual stood in the pit covered with a grate. A bull was put on the trellis, and then killed directly over the head of a given person, flooded with the animal’s blood. It was the so-called Taurobolium ritual.

  1. Titus Livy, Ab urbe condita, XXIX.10
  • Kempiński Andrzej, Encyklopedia mitologii ludów indoeuropejskich, Warszawa 2001
  • Schmidt Joël, Słownik mitologii greckiej i rzymskiej, Katowice 1996

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