While it is well known that the Romans simply borrowed and renamed the Greek gods for their own religious purposes, it is often forgotten that the Romans tended to get creative with these divinities, and created various ‘epithets’ for them – versions of the gods based on certain aspects or characteristics.
So, naturally, the gods would have epithets concerning important buildings or aspects of Roman society that they were supposed to look after – and if there was something that the Romans were very proud of, it was their sewage system that helped to keep the city clean. Thus, why not appoint a goddess to take care of it?
Venus Cloacina, which translates as “Venus of the Sewer”, or more subtly “Venus the Purifier”, was the Roman answer to such an important issue. A fusion of the Roman Venus with the Etruscan water goddess Cloacina, the choice probably came from the placement of a well-known Venus statue near the entrance to the Cloaca Maxima, Rome’s major sewage system.
Since she was originally an Etruscan goddess combined with Venus, she kept some of the characteristics ascribed to these two, in combination with her role as the protector and controller of sewers. She was a protector of the marriage-bed – namely, sexual intercourse in marriage, and she was worshipped in her own small Shrine of Venus Cloacina in the Forum. The shrine was conveniently situated right above the Cloaca Maxima, and it was only a matter of time before the Romans began to mint coins with her image and images of her shrine on one side. Some evidence has also been found for a small poem or prayer that devotees could recite when making an offering at her shrine.
As odd as it may seem, one might consider that in a city the size of Rome, the last thing anyone would ever want was for the sewage system to break down, leak, or overflow. Having a goddess making sure the sewers stayed in proper working order was probably somewhat of a comfort, really…
Want to read more?
Tomorrow: More ancienty goodness!