Bona Dea

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Ancient Latin goddess of women,healing and guardian of the community. In Rome, the state cult of Bona Dea excluded men. The traditional dies natalis (foundation day) of her temple on the Aventine was celebrated on the Kalends of May. [1]

The temple had an herbarium dispensary, where the priestesses dipensed herbs, [2]

Her temples were unique in being enclosed by a wall and snakes were kept inside the temple precincts. Her cult statue represented a sitting woman holding a cornucopia in her left hand and an offering bowl in her right with a snake twined about her arm. From epigraphy we know that the ministrae were usually freed slaves, liberae, and that the worshippers were freedmen and freedwomen.

The other celebration, the nocturnal mysteries whose date was recalculated each year, was entirely aristocratic in character. It was always early in the month of December.[3]

These mysteries were celebrated pro populo and by matrons of the highest class along with the Vestal Virgins. The mysteries were held and presided over in the home of the wife or on ocassion mother of the highest official of state.

Wine called milk for the occasion and incense were offered.

Boels-Janssen drawing on the research of G. Piccalunga and O. de Cazenove sees two cults - a native Latin one orgiastic in character . May 1 and December were significant dates for viniculture,[4] and wine has a significant importance in the December festivities. Wine normally forbidden to Roman matrones was part of the celbration, there was also singing, dancing. Juvenal in his 6th satire is close to the truth, the festivity of Bona Dea is close to that of the Bacchantes: both required wine, let women temporarily free from their daily constraints and involved female chastity (men were forbidden).

The temple one, of the healer Bona Dea, is assimilated from the Greek healer goddess Damia. Festus says the goddess was called Damia and her priestesses damiatrix, while in Tarentum there is a Bona Dea temple built upon that of Greek Damia.


H.H.J. Brouwer "Bona Dea: The Sources and a Description of The Cult"

Nicole Boels-Janssen "La Vie Religieuse Des Matrones Dans La Rome Archaique"
Ariadne Staples "From Good Goddess to Vestal Virgins"
Sarolta A. Takacks "Vestal Virgins, Sibyls And Matrons"


  1. Ovid Fasti
  2. Macrobius l.c
  3. Brouwer p.359
  4. Boels-Janssen p. 446

External Links

Two Sanctuaries of Bona Dea at Ostia; temple plans, wonderful wall paintings, inscriptions, and photos of the temple ruins.

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