Bellona (goddess)


Bellona () was an
ancient Roman In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who studi ...
goddess of war. Her main attribute is the military
helmet A helmet is a form of protective gear Personal protective equipment (PPE) is protective clothing, helmets, goggles, or other garments or equipment designed to protect the wearer's body from injury or infection. The hazards addressed by p ...

worn on her head; she often holds a sword, spear, or shield, and brandishes a torch or whip as she rides into battle in a
four-horse chariot
four-horse chariot
. She had a temple near the
Theatre of Marcellus The Theatre of Marcellus ( la, Theatrum Marcelli, it, Teatro di Marcello) is an ancient open-air theatre in Rome, Italy, built in the closing years of the Roman Republic. At the theatre, locals and visitors alike were able to watch performances of ...
. Her iconography was extended by painters and sculptors following the
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media * Period (music), a concept in m ...



The name of the goddess of war ''Bellōna'' stems from an earlier ''Duellona'', itself a derivative of
Old Latin Old Latin, also known as Early Latin or Archaic Latin ( la, prīsca Latīnitās, lit=the Latinity of the ancients) was the in the period before 75 BC, i.e. before the age of . According to most current theories, it is descended from a common ; ...
''duellum'' ('war, warfare'), which likewise turned into ''bellum'' in
Classical Latin Classical Latin is the form of Latin, Latin language recognized as a Literary language, literary standard language, standard by writers of the late Roman Republic and early Roman Empire. It was used from 75 BC to the 3rd century AD, when it deve ...
. The etymology of ''duellum'' itself remains obscure. Linguist
Georges-Jean Pinault Georges-Jean Pinault (born 4 July 1955) is professor of linguistics at the École pratique des hautes études.UMR 7528 - Mondes iranien et indienPinault, Georges-Jean/ref> He is one of the leading experts on Tocharian languages and has published ...
has proposed a derivation from ''*duenelo-'' ('quite good, quite brave'), a
reconstructed Reconstruction may refer to: Politics, history, and sociology *Reconstruction (law), the transfer of a company's (or several companies') business to a new company *''Perestroika'' (Russian for "reconstruction"), a late 20th century Soviet Union ...
diminutive A diminutive is a root word A root (or root word) is the core of a word that is irreducible into more meaningful elements. In morphology, a root is a morphologically simple unit which can be left bare or to which a prefix A prefix is an affi ...
of the word ''duenos'' ('good'), attested on an
eponymous inscription
eponymous inscription
as an early Old Latin antecedent of the word ''bonus''. According to linguist
Michiel de Vaan Michiel Arnoud Cor de Vaan (; born 1973) is a Dutch linguist and Indo-Europeanist. He taught comparative Indo-European linguistics, historical linguistics Historical linguistics, also termed diachronic linguistics, is the scientific study o ...
, the use of ''*duenelo-'' "in the context of war (''bella acta, bella gesta'') could be understood as a euphemism, ultimately yielding a meaning 'action of valour, war' for the noun ''bellum''."

Cult and temples

Bellona was originally an ancient
Sabine The Sabines (; lat, Sabini; it, Sabini, all s) were an that lived in the central of the ancient , also inhabiting north of the before the . The Sabines divided into two populations just after the founding of Rome, which is described by Ro ...
goddess of war identified with
NerioIn ancient Roman religion Religion in ancient Rome includes the ancestral ethnic religion In religious studies, an ethnic religion is a religion or Belief#Religion, belief associated with a particular ethnic group. Ethnic religions are often ...
, the consort of the war god
Mars Mars is the fourth planet A planet is an astronomical body orbiting a star or Stellar evolution#Stellar remnants, stellar remnant that is massive enough to be Hydrostatic equilibrium, rounded by its own gravity, is not massive enough to ...
, and later with the Greek war goddess
Enyo Enyo (; grc, Ἐνυώ Enyo (; Ancient Greek: wikt:Ἐνυώ, Ἐνυώ ''Enȳō'') is a goddess of war in Greek mythology. She frequently is associated with the war god Ares. Description She is called the "sister of War" by Quintus Smyrnaeu ...
. Her
temple A temple (from the Latin ) is a building reserved for spiritual rituals and activities such as prayer and sacrifice. Religions which erect temples include Christianity (whose temples are typically called church (building), churches), Hinduism (w ...
in Rome was dedicated in 296 BCE near the
Circus Flaminius The Circus Flaminius was a large, circular area in ancient Rome, located in the southern end of the Campus Martius near the Tiber River. It contained a small race-track used for obscure games, and various other buildings and monuments. It was "buil ...
Appius Claudius Caecus by his sons. 19th century painting by Cesare Maccari Cesare Maccari (; 9 May 1840 – 7 August 1919) was an Italian painter and sculptor, most famous for his 1888 painting ''Cicerone denuncia Catalina'' (usually translated as ''Cicero Accuses ...
, during the war with the Etruscans and Samnites. Her festival was celebrated on 3 June, and her priests were known as Bellonarii and used to wound their own arms or legs as a blood sacrifice to her. These rites took place on 24 March, called the day of blood (''dies sanguinis''), after the ceremony. In consequence of this practice, which approximated to the rites dedicated to
Cybele Cybele ( ; Phrygian: ''Matar Kubileya/Kubeleya'' "Kubileya/Kubeleya Mother", perhaps "Mountain Mother"; Lydian Lydian may refer to: * Lydians, an ancient people of Anatolia * Lydian language, an ancient Anatolian language * Lydian alphabet ** ...
Asia Minor Anatolia,, tr, Anadolu Yarımadası), and the Anatolian plateau. also known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula A peninsula ( la, paeninsula from ' "almost" and ' "island") is a landform surrounded by water on most of its border while b ...

Asia Minor
, both Enyo and Bellona became identified with her
Cappadocia Cappadocia (; also ''Capadocia''; tr, Kapadokya, grc, label=Ancient Ancient history is the aggregate of past events
n aspect, Ma. The Roman
Campus Martius 300px, The Pantheon, a landmark of the Campus Martius since ancient Rome. The Campus Martius (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally ...

Campus Martius
area, in which Bellona’s temple was situated, had extraterritorial status. Ambassadors from foreign states, who were not allowed to enter the city proper, stayed in this complex. Since the area of the temple was outside the pomerium, the Senate met there with ambassadors and received victorious generals prior to their triumphs. Beside the temple was the war column (''columna bellica''), which represented non-Roman territory. To declare war on a distant state, a javelin was thrown over the column by one of the priests concerned with diplomacy (''
fetial A fetial (plural fetiales) was a type of priest in ancient Rome. They formed a ''Collegium (ancient Rome), collegium'' devoted to Jupiter (mythology), Jupiter as the patron of good faith. The duties of the fetials included advising the Roman senat ...
es'') in a modification of the archaic practice, from Roman territory toward the direction of the enemy land and this symbolical attack was considered the opening of war. In the military cult of Bellona, she was associated with
Virtus ''Virtus'' () was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth, perceived as masculine strengths (from Latin ''vir'', "man"). It was thus a frequently stated virtue of ...
, the personification of valour. She then travelled outside Rome with the imperial legions and her temples have been recorded in France, Germany, Britain, and North Africa.

Representation in the arts


Often in poetry the name Bellona is used simply as a synonym for war, although in the ''Thebaid'' of
Statius Publius Papinius Statius (; ) was a Roman poet A poet is a person who creates poetry. Poets may describe themselves as such or be described as such by others. A poet may simply be a writer of poetry, or may perform their art to an audience. ...
the goddess appears as a character, representing the destructive and belligerent aspect of war. There she is described as carrying a spear and a flaming torch or riding in a chariot and waving a blood-stained sword. Classical allusions to Bellona later appear in
Shakespeare William Shakespeare (bapt. 26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national po ...

's plays in the appropriate context of warrior characters: Hotspur describes the goddess as "the fire-eyed maid of smoky war", for example, and
Macbeth ''Macbeth'' (, full title ''The Tragedie of Macbeth'') is a by . It is thought to have been first performed in . It dramatises the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake. ...

is referred to as "Bellona's bridegroom", that is to say, the equivalent of Mars. In more modern times,
Adam Lindsay Gordon Adam Lindsay Gordon (19 October 1833 – 24 June 1870) was a British-Australian poet, horseman, police officer and politician. He was the first Australian poet to gain considerable recognition overseas, and according to his contemporary, writer ...
dedicated an energetic Algernon Charles Swinburne, Swinburnean evocation of the "false goddess" who leads men astray in his poem "Bellona", published in Australia in 1867. She also figures in Edgell Rickword's World War I poem "The Traveller". There the poet describes himself as marching toward the front line in the company of Art, the god Pan (god), Pan, and the works of Walter Pater. Meeting Bellona as they approach the fighting, one by one the pleasurable companions are forced to flee before the violence of war, until the goddess rejoices in having him to herself.

Cantata and opera

Bellona appears in the prologue of Rameau's opera, ''Les Indes Galantes'' (1735), in which the call of love ultimately triumphs over that of war. In a Bach ''dramma per musica'' performed two years before, Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten! BWV 214, ''Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!'' BWV 214, the goddess even quitted her usual ferocity in order to congratulate Maria Josepha of Austria, Princess Elector of Saxony and Queen of Poland, on her birthday on 8 December 1733. She retains her harsh aspect in "Prometheus Absolved" by Giovanni Ambrogio Migliavacca (1718–1795), however. In this cantata celebrating the birth of the Archduchess Isabella in 1762, the deities sit in judgement on Prometheus, some arguing for clemency, while Bellona and others demand rigour. She also plays her proper part in the 'heroic cantata' created by the composer Francesco Bianchi (composer), Francesco Bianchi and the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, entitled "The Wedding of the Thames and Bellona" (''Le nozze del Tamigi e Bellona''). This was performed in London to mark the British naval victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Cape St. Vincent (1797).

Painting and sculpture

Bellona is commonly portrayed wearing a plumed helmet and dressed in armour, or at least a breastplate with a skirt beneath. In her hand she carries a spear, shield, or other weapons, and occasionally, she sounds a trumpet for the attack. Anciently she was associated with the winged Victory (mythology), Victory holding a laurel crown in her hand, a statue of whom she sometimes carries; when she appears on war memorials she may hold that attribute. Examples of such an armoured figure appear in the 1633 painting attributed to Rembrandt in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and statues by Johann Baptist Straub (1770) and Johann Wilhelm Beyer (1773–80). In the latter she appears with the god Janus, since both were associated with the Roman ceremonies of declaring war. In the case of Janus, the doors to his temple were left open during the whole period of hostilities. Straub's statue (below) has a gorgon head on her shield to instil terror in her enemies, as does the Rembrandt painting, although this was added later, probably as a response to other examples of this new iconographical departure. In the bust by Bertram Mackennal she wears a gorgon mounted on her helmet, while in other depictions it is on the breastplate. Jean-Léon Gérôme takes the representation of the horror of war even further in his glazed bust of the goddess (1892). Not only is she wearing a head about her neck, but the fierce demeanour of the screaming face, surmounted by an angular winged helmet, makes her resemble a gorgon herself. Another common innovation was Bellona’s association with cannons, as in the drawing by Hans Krieg (1590–1645) and the 1700 ceiling fresco at Hammerschloss Schmidmühlen by Hans Georg Asam (1649–1711). An early Dutch engraving in a series of prints depicting ''Personifications of Industrial and Professional Life'' suggests that it is this goddess who inspires the invention of war materiels, showing her seated in a factory workshop with all manner of arms at her feet (plate 6, see the Gallery below). In the fresco by Constantino Brumidi in the Brumidi Corridors, U.S. Capitol (1855–60), her image is updated. There she is shown standing next to an artillery piece and has the stars and stripes on her shield. Not all representations of Bellona wear armour. The statues by Alvise Tagliapietra at St. Petersburg (c.1710) and that at the J. Paul Getty Museum by Augustin Pajou (1775/85) are largely naked, although otherwise wearing or carrying some of the other attributes of the goddess. There are Classical references that sanction this, however. In Gaius Valerius Flaccus' ''Argonautica'', for example, appears the description "Bellona with bare flank, her brazen weapons clanging as she moved" (3. 60). A further poetic reference taken up by a painter occurs in Louis Jean François Lagrenée's "Bellona Presenting the Reins of his Horses to Mars" (1766). This illustrates a speech from Claudian's ''In Ruffinum'' where Mars requests "Let Bellona bring my helmet and Terror guide the reins" (''Fer galleam Bellona mihi, nexusque rotarum tende Pavor''). Jan van Mieris’ allegorical painting of "Wisdom restraining Bellona" (1685) is also poetic. There the seated figure of Wisdom clasps the right hand of the helmeted goddess, who is turning to leave, her cloak fluttering behind her and her shield held high in her outstretched left hand.

Public statements

As well as having a decorative function, representations of the goddess had a public function too. Batholomaeus Spranger's "Bellona Leading the Imperial Armies against the Turks" (see above) played its part in Austria's anti-Turkish propaganda during the Long Turkish War. A later phase of the continuing conflict, culminating in victory at the battle of Zenta in 1697, is marked by Jean Cosyn's celebratory doorway in Brussels in what now is known as the Maison de Bellone, at the centre of which presides the helmeted bust of the goddess surrounded by military standards and cannons. A dynastic political statement is made in Marie de Medici Cycle, "Marie de Medici as Bellona" (1622/5), designed by Peter Paul Rubens for her public rooms in the Luxembourg Palace. He represents her there as a wielder of political power at a time when it, in fact, had waned. She is standing with armour, cannons, and muskets at her feet, and her triumphs are underlined by emblems of victory. She carries a small statue of the winged goddess in her right hand, a smaller winged figure is mounted below the plumes of her helmet, while cupids hover above her, holding a laurel crown. Her portrayal contrasts with Rembrandt's depiction of Bellona with the homely features of an ordinary Dutchwoman. This makes an anti-imperial statement, with the assurance that the new Dutch Republic is ready to defend itself, particularly against Spain, during the Thirty Years' War. Auguste Rodin's sculpture of a head of Bellona (1879) originally was created for a monument to the French Third Republic and shows even more belligerence. Modelled on his mistress Rose Beuret while in a bad mood, the head is drawn back in proud anger, turning in dynamic movement to look along the line of her right shoulder. Defence in war is the message of Georg Kolbe's Bellona fountain in Wuppertal. Originally commissioned in 1915, it depicted the helmeted goddess carrying a sword in her left hand and inspiring a kneeling young man. The statue was not erected until 1922, by which time it functioned as a war memorial. The use of Bellona in such structures was well established before this, dating back to her prominent use in Jean Cosyn's doorway. The Temple of Bellona, designed by William Chambers (architect), William Chambers for Kew Gardens in 1760, was projected as a celebration of the Anglo-Hanoverian war effort during the Seven Years' War and eventually housed plaques honouring the regiments that served in it. These, however, related primarily to remembrance of victory rather than of the fallen. It was not until a century afterward that the French-Canadian victims of the Seven Years War were commemorated by a monument at Quebec. Atop a tall column on the site of the battlefield, Bellona looks down, carrying a shield and laurel crown in her right hand. The statue was presented by Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II, Jérôme-Napoléon in 1862 as a gesture of reconciliation. The Australian dead from the Gallipoli Campaign were commemorated by a bronze bust of Bellona by Bertram Mackennal, a former student of Rodin. This he presented to the Australian government in Canberra as a memorial in 1916. As in Rodin's bust, the helmeted head is turned to the right, but the breasts are more in evidence. The fallen generally make their appearance later in such structures where Bellona is present. They accompany the sword-wielding goddess in Douglas Tilden's monument to the California Volunteers during the Spanish–American War of 1898; in the Bialystok memorial to the dead in the Polish–Soviet War in 1920, she stands behind a soldier and holds aloft a laurel crown. The Bellona on the First World War victory archway at London Waterloo railway station, Waterloo station is particularly memorable, however. Beneath the demonic sword-brandishing wraith with her gorgon necklace, cower and mourn, not the dead, but the overlooked living victims of war.


File:Bellona, by Rembrandt van Rijn.jpg, Bellona in armour, attributed to Rembrandt, 1633 File:Peter Paul Rubens - Marie de Medicis as Bellona2.jpg, "Marie de Medici as Bellona" by Peter Paul Rubens, 1621–25 File:Bellona hands Mars his reins Lagrenée.jpg, ''Bellona Presenting the Reins of his Horses to Mars'', Louis Jean François Lagrenée, 1766 File:Bellona-Summer Garden-Saint Petersburg.jpg, Alvise Tagliapietra's unclothed goddess, c. 1710, Saint Petersburg File:N29Janus-u-Bellona.jpg, Janus and Bellona by Johann Wilhelm Beyer, 1773–80, Schönbrunn File:Mackennal - War.jpg, Bertram Mackennal 1916 Gallipoli war memorial, Canberra File:Bellona Georg Kolbe.jpg, Georg Kolbe's Wuppertal fountain, 1915/22 File:Galle Bellona artificer.jpg, "Bellona inspires the invention of arms", Philip Galle, 1574 File:Flickr - USCapitol - Bellona, Roman Goddess of War.jpg, Constantino Brumidi's fresco in the U.S. Capitol, 1855–60 File:VolunteerTrainingCorps Proficiency.jpg, Bellona on the badge of the Volunteer Training Corps (World War I), Volunteer Training Corps in World War I




External links

* Images of Bellona in th
Warburg Institute Iconographic Database
{{DEFAULTSORT:Bellona (Goddess) Roman goddesses War goddesses