The Cloaca Maxima, or “Greatest Drain,” was the major interceptor discharge outfall of Rome’s sewage system, and Cloacina was the goddess in charge of it.
One of Rome’s Etruscan rulers, Tarquinius Priscus, is credited with starting the Cloaca Maxima and another, Tarquinius Superbus, with finishing it. Cloacina may have originated as an Etruscan goddess. One of the founding myths of Rome states that Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines, constructed a monument to Cloacina at the spot where the two peoples collided to signal the end of their war after the rape of the Sabine women.
By establishing legal marriage between Sabines and Romans, Tatius brought them together as a single nation under the sovereignty of both him and Romulus, the founder of Rome. A purification ceremony with myrtle was performed at or very close to an old Etruscan temple to Cloacina, above a little stream that would eventually be widened as the primary exit for Rome’s major sewer, the Cloaca Maxima, to commemorate the peace between the Sabines and the Romans. Cloacina was known as Venus Cloacina because myrtle was one of Venus’ signs and Venus was a goddess of unity, peace, and reconciliation (Venus the Cleanser). She was also given credit for removing impurities from marital sex.
On the Roman Forum, just in front of the Basilica Aemilia and above the Cloaca Maxima, stood the little, round Venus Cloacina shrine. The sanctuary of Cloacina was shown on certain Roman coins. The most distinct depicts two female figures, maybe goddesses, each holding a bird perched on a pillar. One is holding a little thing, presumably a flower; among other goddesses, Venus is represented by birds and flowers. The figurines could have portrayed Cloacina and Venus’ two facets.
Featured image: Remains of the Shrine of Venus Cloacina
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