Well-preserved Roman Temples with female deities found in Gelderland

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TWH – On June 20, 2022, the Dutch Cultural Ministry reported the discovery of a “relatively intact Roman sanctuary.” This well-preserved sanctuary has elements of a ceremonial complex and consists of several different temples as well as complete votive altars.

Many of the votive altars were dedicated to the cult of the Junones. The Junones is defined by some scholars as a type of plural female divinity. Excavators also found sacrificial fire pits. The site is located near the Dutch village of Herwen-Hemeling.

The site

The ceremonial complex stood near the fork of the rivers Rhine and Waal. A person could walk from the complex to the border forts.

This ceremonial complex was located in the Roman province of Germania Inferior. The borders of the province included modern Luxembourg and the southern Netherlands. It also included parts of Belgium and of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The Rhine formed its eastern border. Before the Roman invasion, the Rhine separated the Gauls from the Germans. After that invasion, it separated the Roman Empire from the Germanic tribes.

The natives of that province were “frontier” Celts, Gauls to be more precise. Those frontier Gauls must have had great of contact with Germanic tribes across the Rhine. Under the Empire, the original Celto-Germanic natives became Romanized. Other Germanic tribes migrated into this province. Of these, the Franks became the most important. Over time, this frontier proved highly unstable. It had a heavy military presence.

The Romans built this ceremonial complex sometime between 1 and 100 C.E. It lasted up to the late 200s C.E. After that point, the border started to become unstable. Roman control had begun to slip. Christianity had begun to dominate the Empire.

The temples

The builders of the site chose a hill near where the rivers joined. First, they added to the height of the hill. They built a stone staircase from the top of the hill to the river. The site had a large well. Surrounding the temples, the builders had placed hearth pits for large sacrificial fires. Archaeologists have found the remains of sacrificed chickens, pigs, sheep, and oxen.

One temple was Gallo-Roman. It had frescos and a tiled roof. Nearby, a smaller temple stood.

Archaeologist Eric Norde told LiveScience that the site contained hundreds of artifacts, which included coins, jewelry, spear tips, lances, armor, and harnesses for horses. The finds reflected the militaristic culture of the area. Norde described it as “the best-preserved Roman sanctuary in the Netherlands, and perhaps in a much larger area.”

Votive Altars

Outside of the main temple, votive altars stood. They were dedicated to different gods of the Roman pantheon. Archaeologists believe that high-ranking soldiers built those altars to fulfill sacred vows. The soldiers would have come from the nearby border forts.

[In modern Pagan terms, building these altars would be part of the ritual structure.]

The ancients had dedicated these altars to Mercury, Jupiter-Serapis, Hercules-Magnusanus, and the Junones.

The cult of Serapis evolved during Egypt’s Hellenistic period. Overtime, Serapis’ dominion overlapped with Zeus, ruling healing and fertility

Hercules-Magnusanus combined Hercules with an unknown Germanic god or hero.

The Junones merged the Roman goddess, Juno, with the Celto-Germanic Matres or Matronae.

[These gods tend to be syncretic, combing gods from different pantheons. It makes sense in a frontier zone. Among the settlers, new Germanic arrivals lived alongside Romanized Celto-Germans. Rome sent soldiers from across the Empire to its border forts along the Rhine. Cultural adaptation, exchange, and loss would have been the norm in these borderlands.]

Inscriptions

Artisans would have inscribed on the altar, the name of the deity of the altar. They would also have inscribed the name of whoever made the vow, their rank, and their military unit.

Norde thought that these soldiers paid for the altar as part of an exchange. These soldiers asked the god for something. In return, they promised to build an altar for the god. Each inscription had the same ending. Translated, it reads “He pays the vow, willingly and with good reason.”

The Junones

In 2017, the journal Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae -published “Ivnones: An Approach to Their Personality and Geography of Cult.” In that article, Francisco Marco analyzed evidence about these mysterious figures, the “Junones.” Marco uses the term “Ivnones“ for the term, “Junones.”

Marco considers the Junones to be a type of plural female divinity. In 2017, academics knew of about 70 inscriptions referring to the Junones. As this article predates recent discoveries, the number of inscriptions has increased. Marco considers them to be a Romano-Celtic phenomenon. He argues that they evolved within the context of a universalizing Roman Empire. Within the Empire, other plural female deities include the Matres and the Matronae.

Junones, the Matres, and the Matronae

Archaeologists have found more than half of these inscriptions in northeastern Italy. The Romans called this area Cisalpine Gaul. Its name is derived from the Gauls living there.

Statue of the Matres – Image credit: Tony Grist – Public Domain

Germania Inferior has the second largest number of inscriptions to the Junones. Archaeologists have found other inscriptions in ancient Celtic areas. Those other Celtic areas include modern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria.

Marco argues that Romanization occurred on a religious level. [Hard polytheists would think the gods would have had some agency in this process.] The goddess, Juno, co-evolved and merged with a pre-existing, unnamed Gaulish plural goddess. The Junones, and the Gaulish plural goddess, had power over health and fertility.

The cults of the Junones and the Matronae have about the same number of shrines around the town of Brescia in northern Italy. Around Brescia, inscriptions about female deities outnumber those to male deities. Marco argues that the Junones evolved from the Matronae.

In the Empire, the areas north of the Alps formed the center of the cult of the Matres. In contrast, western Cisalpine Gaul formed the center of the cult of the Matronae. Eastern Cisalpine Gaul formed the center of the cult of the Junones.

The recent finds at Herwen-Hemeling may change that geographic center. Germania Inferior may be another center for the cult of the Junones.

The Junones and the Genius

Some scholars have argued that in Roman paganism, each individual household had its own Genius, a spiritual force. Some shrines have identified Juno as the female aspect of the household Genius.

Marco discusses Ihm’s hypothesis among other theories about the origins of Junones. Ihm argued that the household Genius became, “the protector of human communities in a broad sense (cities, colonies or even provinces), Roman Juno’s protecting role could well have been transferred onto social communities, bringing her closer to the features of Celtic-Germanic Matres-Matronae.”

The Junones could represent a “Romanized form of a pre-existing cult in [the] Cisalpine.”

[If the Junones represent the Genius of a collectivity, like an army unit, or even the Empire itself, they may have had a strong appeal to soldiers.]

The material remains at Herwen-Hemeling, including the inscriptions, along with continued research to provide context, can illuminate non-elite Roman religious practices.


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