views updated May 11 2018


MINERVA , a Roman goddess, was the protector of intellectual and manual skills. The oldest form of her name, Menerva, may derive from the Indo-European root *men-, which is expressive of mental processes. Various Etruscan transcriptions of the name, though earlier attested than any Italic form, probably should be regarded as borrowed from the Latin.

Minerva appears neither in the so-called Numan calendar, which registers the oldest public festivals in Rome, nor in connection with a priesthood. Her first occurrence is with Jupiter and Juno as a member of the divine triad that was worshiped on the Capitoline Hill in Etruscan-ruled Rome at the end of the sixth century bce. Archaeological findings in Santa Marinella and Veii-Portonaccio bear witness to a contemporaneous cult of Minerva in southern Etruria.

Images of the goddess show many features of the Greek Athena: helmet, shield, spear, and aegis stamped with the likeness of a Gorgon. Recent discoveries in Pratica di Mare (the ancient Lavinium) show that the influence of Greek art did not exert itself exclusively through the Etruscan medium. The mythological episodes that were selected in Italy represent the goddess as a patroness of warlike heroes and gods (especially Herakles and Mars) and as a palladium (a token of invincibility).

Minerva was worshiped throughout Italy and on several Roman hills: with Jupiter and Juno on the Capitoline and the Quirinal and alone on the Aventine. There were also sanctuaries of the "captive Minerva" (brought from Falerii in 241 bce) on the Caelius and of Minerva as patroness of physicians on the Esquiline. The emperor Domitian (8196 ce), a prominent votary of the goddess, increased the number of her cult places.

Minerva was the special patroness of craftsmen, and at least from the time of Augustus (27 bce14 ce) craftsmen attended the festival of the Quinquatrus (March 1923). The festival was publicly solemnized by gladiatorial exhibitions and included a tubilustrium (a ritual purification of war trumpets), further evidence of a link with Mars and war. Flute players celebrated a festival of their own ("little Quinquatrus") on June 13.

The cult of Minerva, supported by the municipal institution of capitols (imitations of the Roman temple of the Capitoline triad) and the devotion of craftsmen and soldiers, diffused widely throughout the Roman Empire until the beginning of the common era.


Articles in three classical encyclopedias provide detailed and cautiously interpretative views of the subject: Franz Altheim's "Minerva," in Real-Encyclopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft (Stuttgart, 1932); Filippo Coarelli's "Minerva," in Enciclopedia dell'arte antica (Rome, 1963); and Konrat Ziegler's "Minerva," in Der kleine Pauly: Lexicon der Antike (Stuttgart, 1969). The most recent discoveries are commented on by Ambros J. Pfiffig in Ein Opfergelübde an die etruskische Minerva (Vienna, 1968), for Santa Marinella, and by F. Castagnoli in Il culto di Minerva a Lavinium, "Problemi attuali di scienza e di cultura," no. 246 (Rome, 1979), for Pratica di Mare.

New Sources

Cunliffe, Barry. "The Sanctuary of Sulis Minerva at Bath: A Brief Review." In Pagan Gods and Shrines of the Roman Empire, edited by Martin Henig and Anthony King, pp. 114. Oxford, 1986.

Girard, Jean-Louis. "Domitien et Minerve: une prédilection impériale." In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt. Berlin and New York, 1981. See pages 233245.

Girard, Jean-Louis. "La place de Minerve dans la religion romaine au temps du principat." In Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt. Berlin and New York, 1981. See pages 203232.

Graf, Fritz. "Athena and Minerva: Two Faces of One Goddess?" In Athena in the Classical World., edited by Susan Deacy and Alexandra Willing, pp. 127139. Leiden, 2001.

Köves-Zulauf, Thomas. "Minerva Capta." In Religio Graeco-Romana: Festschrift für Walter Pötscher, edited by Joachim Dalfen, Gerhard Petersmann, and Franz Ferdinand Schwarz., pp. 159176. Horn, 1993.

Martin, Luther H. "Why Cecropian Minerva? Hellenistic Religious Syncretism as System." Numen 30 (1983): 131145.

Massa-Pairault, Françoise-Hélène. "De Preneste à Volsinii: Minerve, le 'fatum' et la constitution de la société." Parola del Passato 42 (1987): 200233.

Sauer, Eberhard. "An Inscription from Northern Italy, the Roman Temple Complex in Bath, and Minerva as a Healing Goddess in Gallo-Roman Religion." Oxford Journal of Archaeology 15, no.1 (1996): 6393.

Jean-Louis Girard (1987)

Revised Bibliography


views updated May 14 2018

Minerva in Roman mythology, the goddess, originally of weaving and other crafts, later of wisdom, creativity, and prowess in war, from ancient times identified with the Greek Athene; her symbol is an owl. She is said to have been born fully-armed from the head of Jupiter. (See also invita Minerva.)


views updated May 14 2018

Minerva Roman goddess of the arts, professions and handicrafts, whose cult is believed to have originated in Etruria. She was identified with the Greek goddess Athena, and so became goddess of wisdom and later of war.