Mosaic of the Minerva of Peace (detail), Elihu Vedder, 1896 (Library of Congress)

Ancient Roman religion

Marcus Aurelius sacrificing Marcus Aurelius (head covered)
sacrificing at the Temple of Jupiter

Practices and beliefs

Imperial cult  · festivals  · ludi
mystery religions · funerals
temples · auspice · sacrifice
votum · libation · lectisternium


College of Pontiffs · Augur
Vestal Virgins · Flamen · Fetial
Epulones · Arval Brethren
Quindecimviri sacris faciundis

Jupiter · Juno · Neptune · Minerva
Mars · Venus · Apollo · Diana
Vulcan · Vesta · Mercury · Ceres

Other deities

Janus · Quirinus · Saturn ·
Hercules · Faunus · Priapus
Liber · Bona Dea · Ops
Chthonic deities: Proserpina ·
Dis Pater · Orcus · Di Manes
Domestic and local deities:
Lares · Di Penates · Genius
Hellenistic deities: Sol Invictus · Magna Mater · Isis · Mithras
Deified emperors:
Divus Julius  · Divus Augustus
See also List of Roman deities

Related topics

Roman mythology
Glossary of ancient Roman religion
Religion in ancient Greece
Etruscan religion
Gallo-Roman religion
Decline of Hellenistic polytheism
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Minerva (Etruscan: Menrva) was the Roman goddess whom Romans from the 2nd century BC onwards equated with the Greek goddess Athena. She was the virgin goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic.[1] She is often depicted with her sacred creature, an owl, which symbolizes her ties to wisdom.

This article focuses on Minerva in ancient Rome and in cultic practice. For information on Latin literary mythological accounts of Minerva, which were heavily influenced by Greek mythology, see Pallas Athena, where she is one of three virgin goddesses along with Artemis and Hestia, known by the Romans as Diana and Vesta.


Etruscan Menrva

Stemming from an Italic moon goddess *Meneswā 'She who measures', the Etruscans adopted the inherited Old Latin name, *Menerwā, thereby calling her Menrva. Extrapolating from her Roman nature, it is assumed that in Etruscan mythology, Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, war, art, schools and commerce. She was the Etruscan counterpart to Greek Athena. Like Athena, Minerva was born from the head of her father, Jupiter (Greek Zeus). It is possible that such a goddess was "imported" to both Greece and Italy from beliefs originating in the Near East during the extreme antiquity. The very few extant Lemnian inscriptions suggest that the Etruscans may have originated in Asia Minor, in which case subsequent syncretism between Greek Athena and Italic Minerva may have been all the easier.

By a process of folk etymology, the Romans could have confused the phones of her foreign name with those of the root men- in Latin words such as mens meaning "mind", perhaps because one of her aspects as goddess pertained to the intellectual. The word mens is built from the Proto-Indo-European root *men- 'mind' (linked with memory as in Greek Mnemosyne/μνημοσύνη and mnestis/μνῆστις: memory, remembrance, recollection).

Cult in Rome

Minerva was part of a holy triad with Tinia and Uni, equivalent to the Roman Capitoline Triad of Jupiter-Juno-Minerva. Minerva was the daughter of Jupiter.

As Minerva Medica, she was the goddess of medicine and doctors. As Minerva Achaea, she was worshipped at Luceria in Apulia where votive gifts and arms said to be those of Diomedes were preserved in her temple.[2][3]

A head of "Sulis-Minerva" found in the ruins of the Roman baths in Bath

In Fasti III, Ovid called her the "goddess of a thousand works." Minerva was worshipped throughout Italy, though only in Rome did she take on the warlike character shared by Athena. Her worship was also taken out to the empire — in Britain, for example, she was conflated with the local wisdom goddess Sulis.

The Romans celebrated her festival from March 19 to March 23 during the day which is called, in the neuter plural, Quinquatria, the fifth after the Ides of March, the nineteenth, an artisans' holiday . A lesser version, the Minusculae Quinquatria, was held on the Ides of June, June 13, by the flute-players, who were particularly useful to religion. In 207 BC, a guild of poets and actors was formed to meet and make votive offerings at the temple of Minerva on the Aventine hill. Among others, its members included Livius Andronicus. The Aventine sanctuary of Minerva continued to be an important center of the arts for much of the middle Roman Republic.

Minerva was worshipped on the Capitoline Hill as one of the Capitoline Triad along with Jupiter and Juno, at the Temple of Minerva Medica, and at the "Delubrum Minervae" a temple founded around 50 BC by Pompey on the site now occupied by the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva facing the present-day Piazza della Minerva.

Universities and educational establishments

As patron goddess of wisdom, Minerva frequently features in statuary, as an image on seals, and in other forms, at educational establishments, including:

  • Minerva is featured in the University at Albany's logo. The catalog of books and other materials in the University Library at the University at Albany campus is called the "Minerva Catalog". Minerva is also mentioned in UAlbany's Alma Mater:

"Wisdom's duty heeds thy call, Ever in Minerva's thrall,"

  • Minerva is the goddess of Kappa Kappa Gamma and can be seen, with her owl, on their crest.
  • Minerva as a bronze head bust over the main entrance of the Main Library of the University of California, Berkeley.
  • The Minerva head has been associated with the Chartered Society of Designers since its inception in 1930 and has been redefined several times during the history of the Society by notable graphic designers. The current logo was established in 1983.
  • Minerva is the symbol of the University of Porto.
  • A statue of Minerva is located in the center of La Sapienza University, the most important university of Rome.
  • Athena is the patron goddess of Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
  • Minerva is displayed in front of Columbia University's Low Memorial Library as "Alma Mater."
  • Above the entrance to the University of Vienna main building, there is a sculpture work titled "The Birth of Minerva".[4]
  • A statue of Minerva adorns the library at the United States Military Academy
  • Minerva is the name of a language school in Ruse, Bulgaria.
  • Minerva is the name of a female residence at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
  • Minerva is displayed to the East of University of North Carolina at Greensboro's Elliot University Center as a statue.
  • The SUNY Potsdam campus in Potsdam, NY is home to multiple statues of Minerva and a cafe named after her.
Statue of Minerva on the Alte Brücke in Heidelberg
Temple of Minerva in Sbeitla, Tunisia
  • Minerva is featured on the seals and logos of many institutions of higher learning:
    • the University of Louisville official seal
    • the University of North Carolina at Greensboro official seal. UNCG also has a Minerva statue, donated by the Class of 1953.
    • University of Lincoln. An emblem of Minerva's head is represented in the logo for this UK University. There is a tradition within the Lincoln Rugby Union team where it is thought that they are Knights of Minerva, with each match being fought and won in her honour.
    • University at Albany, The State University of New York. Minerva is pictured in the university's logo. "Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom has been the institution's enduring symbol." [5] Minerva is still venerated by seniors and their 'torch bearers' during a pre-graduation ritual called "Torch Night" there.
    • the University of Alabama
    • the University of Virginia
    • Union College, New York. Union College has also used Minerva as the name of their new academic and social "Third Space" program, the Minerva House System; and, also here, Minerva is the goddess of Theta Delta Chi.
    • UFRJ, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil.
    • Escola Politécnica da USP, Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo, in Brazil.
    • Ghent University, in Belgium
A 1817 French Empire mantel clock depicting Minerva. Purchased by James Monroe for the White House.
    • American Academy of Arts & Sciences, in Cambridge, Mass. The seal's principal figure is Minerva - a symbol appropriate for an organization created in the midst of the American Revolution and dedicated to the cultivation of every art and science to "advance the interest, honour, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people."
    • Max Planck Society, Germany.
    • Leiden University, Minerva is presented in the centre of the great seal of the most ancient University in the Netherlands (1575).
  • Minerva is the name and the patroness of the most ancient student-association of Leiden and was established in 1819.
  • Minerva decorates the keystone over the main entrance to the Boston Public Library beneath the words, "Free to all." BPL was the original public-financed library in America and, with all other libraries, is the long-term memory of the human race.
  • The annual prize for the best Politics student in Liverpool Hope University in the UK is called the Minerva Prize, both because of the association with wisdom and knowledge and because there is a statue of Minerva on the dome of Liverpool Town Hall, the seat of local politics in the city.
  • Minerva is the Goddess of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Fraternity Brothers are known as Loyal Sons of Minerva.
  • Minerva is the name of a remote learning facility at Bath Spa University in England, UK.
  • Minerva is featured on the seal of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.
  • Minerva is featured on the seal of the "Escuela Comercial Cámara de Comercio", in Mexico, founded in 1923.
  • A statue of Minerva stands in the entrance to Main Building at Wells College in Aurora, NY. On the last day of spring semester classes, graduating seniors kiss Minerva's feet for luck and lifelong wisdom. Minerva was the only statue that survived the 1888 fire of old Main Building. [6]
  • Minerva is the patroness of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
  • Minerva is featured in the logo of The Mac.Robertson Girls' High School, Australia.
  • Minerva is featured in the logo of Kelvinside Academy, Glasgow, Scotland
  • Minerva is featured on the seals of many schools and colleges: on that of Union College in Schenectady, NY, the motto is (translated from the French) "Under the laws of Minerva, we are all brothers."
  • Minerva is the patroness of the Union Philosophical Society of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
  • The Yale School of Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut, features a Roman marble statue of Minerva in its 4th floor atrium.
  • The Minerva head is displayed outside The Natural History Museum, Bergen, Norway
  • The seal for the University of Louisville includes a large head of Minerva.
  • McGill University's web interface is called Minerva.
  • Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo has a statue of Minerva in their lobby.
  • Minerva is the name of the managed learning environment at the University of Sheffield Medical School
  • Minerva is the goddess of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
  • Minerva is on the crest of the Girls Day School Trust
  • A statue of Minerva appears on top of the Minerva Building at Dumfries Academy, Dumfries, Scotland.

Societies and governmental use

  • A statue of Minevera is atop the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C.
  • The Minerva head has been associated with the Chartered Society of Designers since its inception in 1930 and has been redefined several times during the history of the Society by notable graphic designers. The current logo was established in 1983.
  • The Seal of California depicts the Goddess Minerva having sprung full grown from the brain of Jupiter. This was interpreted as analogous to the political birth of the State of California without having gone through the probation period of being a Territory.
  • In the early 20th century, Manuel José Estrada Cabrera, President of Guatemala, tried to promote a "Cult of Minerva" in his country; this left little legacy other than a few interesting Hellenic style "Temples" in parks around Guatemala.
  • According to John Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy (1798), the third degree of the Bavarian Illuminati was called Minerval or Brother of Minerva, in honor of the goddess of learning. Later, this title was adopted for the first initiation of Aleister Crowley's OTO rituals.
  • Minerva is the logo of the world famous German "Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science" (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft)
  • The helmet of Minerva serves as the crest of the distinctive unit insignia for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
  • Minerva is displayed on the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government.
  • A large mozaic of Minerva is the focal art piece in the great room of the U.S. Library of Congress.

Public monuments and places

The Minerva Roundabout in Guadalajara, Mexico

See also

Footnotes and references

Secondary sources

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology by William Smith (1870). See page 1090

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