Bellona (old-Roman Duellona) was a goddess of war, presumably of Sabine origin (the prototype was either Nerio or Vacum), wife or sister of Mars. It was supposed to provoke soldiers to fight and start wars. Her name comes from the word bellum meaning “war”.
In her temple (Templum Bellonae) in the Field of Mars (apart from pomerium – the sacred borders of the city), the envoys of countries unfriendly to Rome and leaders applying for triumph. In front of the temple, next to the column known as the “war” column, war was declared against countries that did not border with Rome. There, too, the Senate received leaders returning from war expeditions.
Bellona was mainly identified with the Greek goddess Enyo, and also (in the middle of the 1st century BCE) with the Cappadocian Ma. Its priests – bellonarii or fanatici – brought the Asian forms of goddess worship to Rome, which involved drinking the blood of sacrificial animals and smearing it all over the body. At first, the priests in honour of the goddess wounded themselves. In later years, this behaviour became symbolic, and March 24 was established as “blood day” (dies sanguinis) for cultivating Bellona. Her actual celebration took place on June 3.
She was depicted wearing a helmet with a plume and armour, armed with a spear or sword, carrying a shield, and sometimes with a torch in her hand, which glowed with a blood-red flame. She drove Mars in a chariot. Bellona’s priests were characterized by dark clothes and black fleece on their heads, while their goddess was depicted as a figure with disgusting features, similar to the traditional image of fury.