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Mater Matuta, ‘Fertility Cults’, and the Integration of Women in Religious Life in Italy in the Fourth to First Centuries B.C.

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JournalPapers of the British School at Rome
DateAccepted/In press - 26 May 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 19 Feb 2019
DatePublished (current) - Oct 2019
Volume87
Number of pages45
Pages (from-to)1-45
Early online date19/02/19
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

The paper discusses the phenomenon of appeals to the gods for assistance with very human issues of conception, pregnancy, and sexual health in early Roman Italy, employing archaeological, historical, literary, and epigraphic evidence for so-called fertility cults in the period from the fourth to the first centuries BC. This study critically assesses the divinities traditionally associated with female fertility, motherhood, and childbirth, and some gods who were not, and it reviews the relevant archaeological material from a range of sanctuaries. Special attention is paid to the goddess Mater Matuta, who is often cited in modern scholarship as a goddess of maternity and birth. Terracotta votive offerings are examined to extract the information that they can provide on the identity of the deities worshipped and on their particular properties related to health and wellbeing. Although ex-votos associated with female reproductive and sexual health are the main focus here, it is obvious that reproduction and the survival of the family was an important concern, not just for Roman women, but also for men. It is of special interest here how women participated in religion and what role they played in commissioning and dedicating thank offerings to their divine helpers in the last centuries BC.

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