A Faustinian item, and a day to honour Mars Loucetius and Victoria Nemetona

One of Diva Faustina Augusta’s most important cultic aspects is that of ‘New Ceres’ (Noua Ceres in Latin, Νέα Δημήτηρ in Greek). Faustina the Elder was certainly not the only imperial lady likened to Ceres, but Cererean imagery is unusually pervasive with Faustina; we also learn from the Fasti Ostienses that Antoninus Pius, Faustina, and their household observed the Fast of Ceres on 20 October. Finally, Herodes Atticus is known to have dedicated a small private shrine to Diva Faustina as Νέα Δημήτηρ on the outskirts of Rome (the building still stands; it has been converted into the church of Sant’Urbano alla Caffarella).

The image below is not from that shrine, but from another structure of Herodes Atticus’ household, namely the nymphæum at Olympia, which depicted members of Herodes’ own family as well as those of Antoninus Pius. Herodes’ piety towards Diva Faustina and the imperial family is ironic (or perhaps fitting), given that he once got into a roadside scuffle with Pius before the latter became emperor. Although not the most flattering portrait of Faustina, this statue shows her solemn and charismatic: she is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

Diva Faustina (Olympia)

Faustina the Elder from the nymphæum of Herodes Atticus at Olympia. I’ve depicted her clad in white, the colour of Ceres. (This is my modification of a photo by Carole Raddato, CC-BY-SA)

I’m putting up this colorized version of Herodes Atticus’ statue of Diva Faustina now since this is the season when the Ludi Cereales were observed in antiquity. Ceres herself keeps a low profile in Gaul, and it seems appropriate to also call to mind Faustina—wife of the emperor from Nîmes, Antoninus Pius.


Speaking of Gaul, it’s not too soon to mark our calendars for the dedication of an altar at Eisenberg, in honour of the divine house, to Mars Loucetius and Victoria Nemetona on 22 April 221 CE (AÉ 2007:1044). Nemetona is one of the Gaulish deities who are widely worshipped by people who are not particularly specialists in Gaulish religion (along with Epona, Cernunnos, and a few others). As ‘goddess of the grove’, she is widely invoked to sanctify sacred spaces; however, it’s perhaps less widely known that in Gaul, she frequently operated in close association with a Middle Rhine hypostasis of Mars, viz. Loucetius, and that she was syncretized with Victoria. Mars Loucetius is closely analogous with Lenus Mars of the Treveri, and as such is more of a protector of civic institutions than a war-god (although obviously these roles are by no means mutually exclusive). Furthermore, various evidence links Mars Loucetius and Nemetona with healing—a natural association given the way one often thinks of ‘battling’ and ‘overcoming’ disease—(including therapeutic waters). The divine couple will have had a divinatory role as well: the inscription at Eisenberg (as restored) mentions the dedication of lots as well as a vessel to cast them in. There are therefore numerous grounds, and numerous connections, by which to honour Mars Loucetius and Victoria Nemetona on 22 April.

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About DeoMercurio

I’m a Gaulish polytheist, now back living in lands ceded by the Council of Three Fires after several years’ sojourn in Anatolia and in the land of the Senecas, with frequent travels to Gaul along the way. My grandfather’s family came from the area around Trier, and I identify closely with the Treveri in my religious practice.
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7 Responses to A Faustinian item, and a day to honour Mars Loucetius and Victoria Nemetona

  1. Interesting! But, a few questions…

    I thought that the Nymphaeum was mostly Regilla’s initiative, even though it was often credited to Herodes.

    Also, I know that Herodes and Antoninus Pius crossed swords, but not Faustina (especially as she died rather early in his principate, and Herodes didn’t really become as important until a bit later).

    In any case, I don’t know everything about them by any means, but wondered what info you might have that has yet evaded me. 😉

    • DeoMercurio says:

      I didn’t realize the nymphæum was Regilla’s initiative! That would make a great deal of sense.

      You’re right Herodes and Faustina wouldn’t have had long to spar while she was empress. There were two incidents in my mind when I wrote that: Herodes’ fight with Antoninus as you mentioned (which it has been speculated Faustina may have resented), and some business involving a petition where Herodes, as I remember the story, lost his case and blamed Faustina. I may have the facts entirely wrong, however, since I can’t find my source for that tidbit: I thought it was Levick’s Faustina I and II, but I’m not finding it. Could this have been while Antoninus was governor of Asia?… I’m going to need to do some more hunting.

      • Could be…Herodes was Prefect of the cities of Asia from c. 125 until sometime after, so that crossed over with Antoninus’ time as Proconsul of Asia in 134-135, most likely. Who knows? In any case, let me know what you find out if you do find more; I need to read that Levick book at some point, in any case. (Add it to the stack, which is a good portion of my library now!)

    • DeoMercurio says:

      Okay, I need to print a retraction! It’s finally taken me this long to revisit my various Faustinian resources (tempus fugit, for which I apologize!). Basically I was mis-remembering the later episode where Faustina the Younger took the side of Sex. Quintilius Maximus and Cordianus, whom Herodes Atticus was prosecuting for conspiracy against him. That Faustina brought out her little daughter Vibia Aurelia Sabina to speak on behalf of the Quintilii as well. The reason I guess this stuck with me is that Levick speculated (pp. 74-75) that Faustina might still have felt resentment against Herodes Atticus on account of the latter’s scuffle with her father Antoninus Pius all those years ago. I’ll rephrase the post more prudently!

  2. Fascinating! Do we know whether or not altars were usually dedicated on a day that was already sacred to the deity in some way?

    • DeoMercurio says:

      In many cases, yes. Also, the day on which an altar or temple was dedicated would often be annually commemorated at that site. In Gaul, the pity of it is that so few religious monuments are dated before the Severan period, so it would for example be a stretch to infer that pre-Roman Gauls held April 22 sacred to Loucetios and Nemetona (possible, but unlikely and unverifiable). Going forward, however, I see no reason for modern people not to keep such dates in our devotions. 🙂

  3. Pingback: In honorem Veneris Cloacinae | Deo Mercurio

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