The goddess of war among the Romans. It is very probable that originally Bellona was a Sabine divinity whose worship was carried to Rome by the Sabine settlers. She is frequently mentioned by the Roman poets as the companion of Mars, or even as his sister or his wife. Virgil describes her as armed with a bloody scourge.1
The main object for which Bellona was worshiped and invoked, was to grant a warlike spirit and enthusiasm which no enemy could resist; and it was for this reason, for she had been worshiped at Rome from early times,2 that in 296 BCE, during the war against the Samnites, Appius Claudius the Blind vowed the first temple of Bellona, which was accordingly erected in the Campus Martius close by the Circus Flaminius.3 This temple subsequently became of great political importance, for in it the senate assembled to give audience to foreign ambassadors, whom it was not thought proper to admit into the city, to generals who returned from a campaign for which they claimed the honor of a triumph, and on other occasions.4 In front of the entrance to the temple there stood a pillar, which served for making the symbolical declarations of war; for the area of the temple was regarded as a symbolical representation of the enemies' country, and the pillar as that of the frontier, and the declaration of war was made by launching a spear over the pillar. This ceremony, so long as the Roman dominion was of small extent, had been performed on the actual frontier of the enemy's country.5
The priests of Bellona were called Bellonarii, and when they offered sacrifices to her, they had to wound their own arms or legs, and either to offer up the blood or drink it themselves, in order to become inspired with a warlike enthusiasm. This sacrifice, which was afterwards softened down into a mere symbolic act, took place on the 24th of March, which day was called dies sanguinis for this reason.
Her name comes from Latin bellum, "war."
Bellona was portrayed as a striding woman wearing a helmet and carrying a spear and a torch. Rembrandt painted her as a Roman matron wearing armor.
- Vergil. Aeneid viii, 703; Lucan. Pharsalia vii, 569; Horace. Satires ii, 3.223.
- Livy. The History of Rome viii, 9.
- ibid. x, 19; Ovid. Fasti vi, 201 ff.
- Livy. The History of Rome xxviii, 9; xxx, 21; Dictionary of Antiquities, s.v. Legatus.
- Ovid. Fasti vi, 205 ff.; Servius on Virgil's Aeneid ix, 53; Livy. The History of Rome i, 32; Dictionary of Antiquities s.v. Fetiales.
- Aken, Dr. A.R.A. van. (1961). Elseviers Mythologische Encyclopedie. Amsterdam: Elsevier.
- Hartung, J.A. Die Religion der Römer. Vol. 2, p. 270 ff.
- Lactantius, i, 21; comp. Heindorf, on Horace's Satires, l.c.
- Lucan, i, 565.
- Martial. Epigrams, vii, 57.
- Smith, William. (1870). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: Taylor, Walton, and Maberly.
- Tertullian. Apologeticus, 9.
- Tiesler, C. (1842). De Bellonae Cultu et Sacris. Berlin, 8vo.
This article incorporates text from Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) by William Smith, which is in the public domain.