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Dispute over golden statue of goddess Victoria in Senate

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Nike of Samothrace, Greece
Nike of Samothrace, Greece

With the announcement of the Edict of Milan in 313 CE, the voice and opinion of Christians on many issues became louder and louder in Rome’s socio-political life. A great example of rivalry between the Romans about the traditional Roman religion and Christians is the dispute over the statue of the winged goddess Victoria in the Senate.

The sculpture of the goddess Victoria was located in the Roman Curia – the place of debates and sessions of the Senate. The facility occupied a place of honour and was highly respected by the Romans. It was here that for centuries sacrifices were made and the goddess was worshipped, who carried Roman legionaries to victory on wings and guaranteed prosperity.

The conflict began in 357 CE, when the son of Constantine I, a Christian, Constantius II, ordered the statue to be removed from the Curia. This was met with protests from senators, most of whom were still followers of the old gods. The dowry, however, was restored by the heir – Julian I (361-363 CE), who tried to revive society’s interest in old values ​​and religion.

In 382 CE another emperor – a zealous follower of the Christian faith – ordered the statue to be removed from the Curia again. On the news of Gratian’s death in 383 CE, the prefectus of Rome – Symmachus – petitioned the emperor Valentinian II (in 384 CE) asking for the restoration of the patron saint of the Romans. However, his letter was ignored and the winner of this rivalry turned out to be Saint Ambrose – the bishop of Milan – an opponent of the pagans and a person who had a great influence on the young emperor.

In 392 CE the usurper Eugene again restored the statue of the goddess Victoria in the Curia building, but after two years of rule he was defeated1 by Theodosius I – a follower of Christianity, and the object has been removed; forever. Senator Symmachus, who represented a large group of the “pagan” Senate on the delegation to Milan, tried to intervene in the matter of the removal of the monument; however, to no avail. The figure of the victorious goddess never returned to its place of honour in the Curia, and this event was evidence of the decline of ancient Roman values.

Finally, it is worth noting that in the 20th century, excavations were carried out on the Roman hill of Celius. What’s amazing, archaeologists managed to dig up the aforementioned statue of the goddess Victoria, which as it turned out, hid Symmachus in his home.

  1. Many Romans (about 30,000) died in the battle on the Frigidus River. Eugene's soldiers made up a large part of this number. Certainly, the defeat strengthened the position of Christianity.
  • Bożena Fabiani, Rzym. Wędrówki z historią w tle, Warszawa 2018

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