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Carmentis or Carmenta, (one of the Camenae), goddess of childbirth and prophecy, a goddess of charms and spells. Her soothing words ease the pains of women in labor, heal the ills of childhood, foretell the futures of brides and that of their children. The main festivals of Carmentis, the Carmentalia occur on a.d. III Id. Ian. and a.d. XVIII Kal. Feb. , the first day celebrating the dedication of her sacred grove by Numa Pompilius. However, each month rites are also performed for her. Carmentis was also the mother of Evander, who played a part in the story of Hercules in Italy.

The area of the city immediately south of the Capitoline Hill held significant importance in the early developments of the religio Romana. It was here, near the Tiber, in the sacred grove of Carmentis that King Numa Pompilius would meet with the nympha Egeria, who instructed him on how to consult with the Gods[1] . Her cultus seems to have been one of the earliest in the City.

One aspect that we know about the cultus of Carmentis was that no leather was permitted inside her sacred grove. It meant that She was to be approached while barefoot, as was also the case in some rites performed for Ceres and other goddesses. Where we hear of worship made while barefoot it usually refers only to women, and the cultus of Carmentis was primarily a women's cultus. The prohibition against leather also meant that no blood sacrifices were to be performed in the sacred grove of Carmentis. One reason for that was that her cultus related to childbirth. We see the reason given for this with the ceremony to a person's genius or juno on his or her birthday, "For on the day when they had received life, they did not want to deprive another life [2] ." This was even carried over into the celebrations held for the birth of the City at Parilia. "In the beginning, so it is said, they sacrificed no living creature, but thought that they should keep pure and bloodless the festival commemorating the birth of their country [3] ." Augures also, who rites were established by Numa, supposedly were not to perform blood sacrifices lest they should pollute themselves. Another aspect of her cultus was that it probably used milk rather than wine as a libation. That is not certain, but, first, her cultus supposedly went back to the time of Romulus. "Romulus poured libations of milk, not wine; proof of this lies in rites established by him that preserve this custom today [4] ." Also women were generally prohibited from using wine, and again the cultus of Carmentis was primarily performed by women. Another probable aspect was that her cultus would have prohibited use of iron inside her grove or for her rites. Such a prohibition is known in the case of rites held for Ceres, and it appears in the temple rules at other locations. Such a prohibition may refer to the antiquity of a cultus, where bronze implements were preferred as the material for ritual tools. On the other hand iron was specified in the cultus of Mars. Iron was associated with war and death and thus, like blood sacrifices, would have been inappropriate in a cultus concerned mainly with childbirth. We see these two prohibition come together, along with another against performing rights for the dead, in a dedication inscription.

"Into this locus nothing made of cast metal may be brought and no carcasses may be projected over its altars, and no sacrifices may be made for deceased parents. If against this rule a small altar is set up, then it will be permitted for a magistrate to hand down any judgement and set whatever fines he may wish (ILS 4912)."

We may get some idea on what was permitted in her cultus by considering these various prohibitions.

"Formerly what served to reconcile gods and men was spelt and pure salt's glistening grain. … A man was wealthy if he could add violets to crowns fashioned from meadow flowers; the knife which eviscerates a pole-axed bull had no role in the sacred rites [5]


The more ancient a cultus, the simpler and more native offerings were to be used. Flowers and herbs, fruits and vegetables that were locally grown rather than exotic plants that were later introduced into Rome. This would have been the same with incense used in her rites. Not cinnamon or nard, myrrh or frankincense that came from distant lands. Instead bay laurel would have been used, and other trees among the arbores felices. This played in again with the prohibition against blood sacrifices in her cultus, since "it is forbidden to pollute laurel... even for making a fire at altars and shrines when divinities are to be propitiated [6] ."

Another tree that may have been used in her cultus was the "Sabine herb," a juniper, due to the association with Numa, a Sabine king, and its use in other women's rites. Grain, salt, milk, honey, and bread were offerings likely used in her cultus, and as in the culti deorum of other deities, the shape of breads used in rites for Carmentis may have been unique to her cultus.

Among all of the culti deorum celebrated at Rome under the Res Publica Libera, the cultus Carmentis seems to have been unique in its prohibition against all immolationes (blood sacrifices) and anything that would be associated with the slaughtering of animals. This was due to the nature of the cultus having been devoted to a goddess primarily associated with childbirth, and also due to its having been a very ancient cultus and one associated with Numa Pompilius. It was also characterized by the fact that mostly women participated in the cultus of Carmenta, with the exception of Carmentalia when the flamen Carmentalis led her rites, assisted by the Pontifices. Some of the other features of sacrifices made to her are not known, but we can refer to the nature of her cultus, as I have done above, in trying to restore her cultus for Nova Roma.

See also


  1. Ovid, Fasti 3.261-284; 4.641-672
  2. Varro in Cens. 2.2
  3. Plutarch, Life of Romulus 12.1
  4. Pliny Natural History 14.88
  5. Ovid Fasti 1.337- 349
  6. Pliny NH 15.40

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