Bellona is a Roman goddess of war, and whose origin is coeval with the birth of the Eternal City.
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She possessed an important temple at Alatri. She can be identified with the Greek goddess Enyo. She usually rides into combat in a four-horse chariot while brandishing a sword, spear, shield, torch, or whip as her most distinguishing feature. Bellona was initially a Sabine goddess of battle who was linked to Nerio, Mars’s war partner, and then to Enyo in Greek mythology. During the conflict with the Etruscans and Samnites, Appius Claudius Caecus erected her temple in Rome in 296 BCE, next to the Circus Flaminius.
The first site where ornamental shields intended for mortals were hung in a sacred space was this temple. The shields were hoisted and given to Appius Claudius’ family. Her feast was held on June 3, and her priests, known as Bellonarii, offered blood sacrifices to her by cutting off their own arms or legs. Following the event, these ceremonies were performed on March 24, also known as the Day of Blood (dies sanguinis). Enyo and Bellona both associated with her Cappadocian aspect, Ma, as a result of this ritual, which was similar to the ceremonies honoring Cybele in Asia Minor.
The adoration of Bellona and the legends surrounding her were frequently graphic or frightful. Discordia, Strife, and the Furies were said to follow her to battle, terrifying her adversaries. One of the more common ideas is the widespread acceptance of her bloodlust and lunacy in combat. The Scordici people, according to Ammianus Marcellinus, practiced aggressive Bellona worship. They were vicious and ferocious in their worship of Bellona and Mars.
Blood would be drawn from the victims’ heads and offered up as human sacrifices.
Featured image: “Bellona inspires the invention of arms”, Philip Galle, 1574
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