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The Roman goddess Diana was one of the three Virgin goddesses together with Minerva and Vesta. Closely associated with nature, the moon (a crescent moon is often shown as a diadem) as symbol of her close association to the seasons and fertility, hares (as animals which tend to be present by night under the moonlight and highly fertile), and with bow and arrow (as goddess of hunting). She was hence regarded as protector of virgins and women in general. As one of the three virgin goddesses (together with Minerva and Vesta) she swore never to marry. Whilst she had a Greek equivalent she was in fact an Italic deity present well before the founding of Rome.
The writer Ovid tells us that in the earliest days of Rome (and before) the goddess Diana was heavily associated with woodlands and her cult, hand in hand with that of the nymph Egeria, was particularly strong at Aricia in the Alban hills to the south of Rome (Diana Nemorensis). She was regarded as the official protecting divinity of the Latin league.
The goddess Diana makes more than one appearance during the early stages of the Roman kingdom, firstly in close relationship with king Numa Pompilius (as the nymph Egeria) and then with Servius Tullus.
Modern interpretation suggests that the goddess Diana took physical incarnate form in the nymph Egeria – who acted as special advisor, lover and wife to the early Roman king Numa Pompilius (a reformer, presumably he was astute enough to suggest his reforms were divinely inspired). In essence this is rather like suggesting a pact between civilisation and nature.
The Goddess Diana played a fundamental role in one of Rome’s earliest successes: Servius Tullus frequently linked the political and religious spheres; and so the creation of the Roman public cult of Diana is directly associated with a highly successful political monoeuver to gain a ruling hand for Rome over the Latin league. King Servius Tullus convinced the other members of the league to build a temple to Diana at Rome to substitute those at nearby Nemi and Aricia. In so doing Rome was effectively promoted to capital city of Latium (the region within which Rome is situated).
The temple was built on the Aventine hill, and whilst within the city walls it was essentially outside the urbanised region and more importantly it was outside the "pomoerium" the sacred line which enclosed the city from the outside world. Similar to the temple at Aricia, it was situated in a wooded area, in keeping with Diana’s nature. Also in keeping with its being "outside" the city, the temple was on the Aventine: a region of the city which was populated by plebeians, foreigners and slaves and as such it was the sanctuary often used by runaways, those with no homeland and slaves. Even the high priest, the "Rex Nemorensis" was a slave elected into the role for life until such a time as he might be beaten and killed in duel by his successor. It is curious and ironic that king Servus Tullus was himself killed by his own daughter in her bid for power.
There is a third interesting, though tenuous, link between Diana and the early Roman kings. Her statue on the Aventine showed her holding a stag in one hand and an arrow in the other. The statue had strong stylistic and symbolic links with other similar statues of approximately the same period found at Marseilles (Artemis) and the Artemis of Ephesus. The Artemis of Ephesus was likely the prototype for the two statues in Rome and Marseille. The interesting coincidence is that the statues are approximately contemporary with a treaty of collaboration that the Phoceans signed with King Tarquinius Priscus on their way to found the city of Marseille.
See list of Roman Gods
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"Goddess Diana" was written by Giovanni Milani-Santarpia for www.mariamilani.com - Rome apartments