Bona Dea

Bona Dea ([bɔ.na ˈde.a] 'Good Goddess') was a divinity in ancient Roman religion. She was associated with chastity and fertility in Roman women, healing, and the protection of the state and people of Rome. According to Roman literary sources, she was brought from Magna Graecia at some time during the early or middle Republic, and was given her own state cult on the Aventine Hill.

Her rites allowed women the use of strong wine and blood-sacrifice, things otherwise forbidden them by Roman tradition. Men were barred from her mysteries and the possession of her true name. Given that male authors had limited knowledge of her rites and attributes, ancient speculations about her identity abound, among them that she was an aspect of Terra, Ops, Cybele, or Ceres, or a Latin form of the Greek goddess "Damia" (Demeter). Most often, she was identified as the wife, sister, or daughter of the god Faunus, thus an equivalent or aspect of the nature-goddess Fauna, who could prophesy the fates of women.

The goddess had two annual festivals. One was held at her Aventine temple; the other was hosted by the wife of Rome's senior Annual Magistrate for an invited group of elite matrons and female attendants. The latter festival came to scandalous prominence in 62 BC, when the politician Publius Clodius Pulcher was tried for his intrusion on the rites, allegedly bent on the seduction of Julius Caesar's wife, whom Caesar later divorced because "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion". The rites remained a subject of male curiosity and speculation, both religious and prurient.

Bona Dea's cults in the city of Rome were led by the Vestal Virgins, and her provincial cults by virgin or matron priestesses. Surviving statuary shows her as a sedate Roman matron with a cornucopia and a snake. Personal dedications to her are attested among all classes, especially plebeians, freedmen and women, and slaves. Approximately one third of her dedications are from men, some of whom may have been lawfully involved in her cult.

Titles, names and origins

Bona Dea ("The Good Goddess") is both an honorific title and a respectful pseudonym; the goddess' true or cult name is unknown. Her other, less common pseudonyms include Feminea Dea ("The Women's Goddess"),[1] Laudanda ... Dea ("The Goddess ... to be Praised"),[2] and Sancta ("The Holy One").[3] She is a goddess of "no definable type", with several origins and a range of different characteristics and functions.[4]

Based on what little they knew of her rites and attributes, Roman historians speculated her true name and identity. Festus describes her as identical with a "women's goddess" named Damia, which Georges Dumézil sees as an ancient misreading of Greek "Demeter".[5][6] In the late Imperial era, the neoplatonist author Macrobius identifies her as a universal earth-goddess, an epithet of Maia, Terra, or Cybele, worshiped under the names of Ops, Fauna and Fatua.[7][8] The Christian author Lactantius, claiming the late Republican polymath Varro as his source, describes her as Faunus' wife and sister, named "Fenta Fauna" or "Fenta Fatua" (Fenta "the prophetess" or Fenta "the foolish").[9]

Festival and cult

Republican era

The known features of Bona Dea's cults recall those of various earth and fertility goddesses of the Graeco-Roman world, especially the Thesmophoria festival to Demeter. They included nocturnal rites conducted by predominantly or exclusively female initiates and female priestesses, music, dance and wine, and sacrifice of a sow.[10] During the Roman Republican era, two such cults to Bona Dea were held at different times and locations in the city of Rome.

One was held on May 1 at Bona Dea's Aventine temple. Its date connects her to Maia; its location connects her to Rome's plebeian commoner class, whose tribunes and emergent aristocracy resisted patrician claims to rightful religious and political dominance. The festival and temple's foundation year is uncertain – Ovid credits it to Claudia Quinta (c. late 3rd century BC).[11] The rites are inferred as some form of mystery, concealed from the public gaze and, according to most later Roman literary sources, entirely forbidden to men. In the Republican era, Bona Dea's Aventine festivals were probably distinctly plebeian affairs, open to all classes of women and perhaps, in some limited fashion, to men.[12] Control of her Aventine cult seems to have been contested at various times during the Mid Republican era; a dedication or rededication of the temple in 123 BC by the Vestal Virgin Licinia, with the gift of an altar, shrine and couch, was immediately annulled as unlawful by the Roman Senate; Licinia herself was later charged with inchastity, and executed. By the Late Republic era, Bona Dea's May festival and Aventine temple could have fallen into official disuse, or official disrepute.[13]

The goddess also had a Winter festival, attested on only two occasions (63 and 62 BC). It was held in December, at the home of the current senior annual Roman magistrate cum imperio, whether consul or praetor. It was hosted by the magistrate's wife and attended by respectable matrons of the Roman elite. This winter festival is not marked on any known religious calendar but was dedicated to the public interest and supervised by the Vestals, and therefore must be considered official. Shortly after 62 BC, Cicero presents it as one of very few lawful nocturnal festivals allowed to women, privileged to those of aristocratic class, and coeval with Rome's earliest history.[14]

Festival rites

The house was ritually cleansed of all male persons and presences, even male animals and male portraiture. Then the magistrate's wife and her assistants[15] made bowers of vine-leaves, and decorated the house's banqueting hall with "all manner of growing and blooming plants" except for myrtle, whose presence and naming were expressly forbidden. A banquet table was prepared, with a couch (pulvinar) for the goddess and the image of a snake. The Vestals brought Bona Dea's cult image from her temple[16] and laid it upon her couch, as an honoured guest. The goddess' meal was prepared: the entrails (exta) of a sow, sacrificed to her on behalf of the Roman people (pro populo Romano), and a libation of sacrificial wine.[17] The festival continued through the night, a women-only banquet with female musicians, fun and games (ludere), and wine; the last was euphemistically referred to as "milk", and its container as a "honey jar".[18] The rites sanctified the temporary removal of customary constraints imposed on Roman women of all classes by Roman tradition, and underlined the pure and lawful sexual potency of virgins and matrons in a context that excluded any reference to male persons or creatures, male lust or seduction,.[19] According to Cicero, any man who caught even a glimpse of the rites could be punished by blinding. [20] Later Roman writers assume that apart from their different dates and locations, Bona Dea's December and May 1 festivals were essentially the same.[21]

Clodius and the Bona Dea scandal

The Winter rites of 62 BC were hosted by Pompeia, wife of Julius Caesar, senior magistrate in residence and pontifex maximus. Publius Clodius Pulcher, a popularist politician and ally of Caesar, was said to have intruded, dressed as a woman and intent on the hostess's seduction. As the rites had been vitiated, the Vestals were obliged to repeat them, and after further inquiry by the senate and pontifices, Clodius was charged with desecration, which carried a death sentence. Cicero, whose wife Terentia had hosted the previous year's rites, testified for the prosecution.[22]

Caesar publicly distanced himself from the affair as much as possible – and certainly from Pompeia, whom he divorced because "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion".[23] He had been correctly absent from the rites but as a paterfamilias he was responsible for their piety. As pontifex maximus, he was responsible for the ritual purity and piety of public and private religion. He had the responsibility to ensure that the Vestals had acted correctly, then chair the inquiry into what were essentially his own household affairs. Worse, the place of the alleged offense was the state property lent to every pontifex maximus for his tenure of office.[24] It was a high profile, much commented case. The rites remained officially secret, but many details emerged during and after the trial, and remained permanently in the public domain. They fueled theological speculation, as in Plutarch and Macrobius: and they fed the prurient male imagination – given their innate moral weakness, what might women do when given wine and left to their own devices? Such anxieties were nothing new, and underpinned Rome's traditional strictures against female autonomy. In the political and social turmoil of the Late Republic, Rome's misfortunes were taken as signs of divine anger against the personal ambition, religious negligence and outright impiety of her leading politicians.

Clodius' prosecution was at least partly driven by politics. In an otherwise seemingly thorough account, Cicero makes no mention of Bona Dea's May festival, and claims the goddess' cult as an aristocratic privilege from the first; the impeccably patrician Clodius, Cicero's social superior by birth, is presented as an innately impious, low-class oaf, and his popularist policies as threats to Rome's moral and religious security. After two years of legal wrangling, Clodius was acquitted – which Cicero put down to jury-fixing and other backroom dealings – but his reputation was damaged.[25] The scandalous revelations at the trial also undermined the sacred dignity and authority of the Vestals, the festival, the goddess, office of the pontifex maximus and, by association, Caesar and Rome itself. Some fifty years later, Caesar's heir Octavian, later the princeps Augustus, had to deal with its repercussions.[26]

Imperial Era

Octavian presented himself as restorer of Rome's traditional religion and social values, and as peacemaker between its hitherto warring factions.[27] In 12 BC he became pontifex maximus, which gave him authority over Rome's religious affairs, and over the Vestals, whose presence and authority he conspicuously promoted.[28] His wife Livia was a distant relative of the long-dead but still notorious Clodius;[29] but also related to the unfortunate Vestal Licinia, whose attempted dedication of Bona Dea's Aventine Temple had been thwarted by the Senate. Livia restored the temple and revived its May 1 festival, perhaps drawing attention away from her disreputable kinsman and the scandalous events of 62 BC.[30] Thereafter, Bona Dea's December festival may have continued quietly, or could simply have lapsed, its reputation irreparably damaged. There is no evidence of its abolition. Livia's name did not and could not appear in the official religious calendars, but Ovid's Fasti associates her with May 1, and presents her as the ideal wife and "paragon of female Roman virtue".[31] Most of Bona Dea's provincial and municipal sanctuaries were founded around this time, to propagate the new Imperial ideology.[32] An Imperial cult centre in Aquileia honours an Augusta Bona Dea Cereria, probably in connection with the corn dole.[33] Other state cults to the goddess are found at Ostia and Portus.[34] As the Vestals seldom went beyond Rome's city boundary, these cults would have been led by leading women of local elites, whether virgin or matron.[35]

Livia's best efforts to restore Bona Dea's reputation had only moderate success in some circles, where scurrilous and titillating stories of the goddess' rites continued to circulate. Well over a century after the Clodius scandal, Juvenal describes Bona Dea's festival as an opportunity for women of all classes, most shamefully those of the upper class – and men in drag ("which altars do not have their Clodius these days?") – to get drunk and cavort indiscriminately in a sexual free-for-all.[36]

From the late 2nd century, an increasing religious syncretism in Rome's traditional religions presents Bona Dea as one of many aspects of Virgo Caelestis, the celestial Virgin, Great Mother of the gods, whom later Mariologists identify as prototype for the Virgin Mary in Christian theology.[37] Christian writers present Bona Dea - or rather, Fauna, whom they clearly take her to be - as an example of the immorality and absurdity at the heart of traditional Roman religion; according to them, she is no prophetess, merely "foolish Fenta", daughter and wife to her incestuous father, and "good" (bona) only at drinking too much wine.[38]


The Temple of Bona Dea in Rome was situated on a lower slope of the northeastern Aventine Hill, beneath the height known as Saxum,[39] southeast of the Circus Maximus. Its foundation year is unknown but the Aventine was host to several foreign or imported cults. Dumezil claims that Festus' identification of Bona Dea with Damia infers a foundation date in or shortly after 272 BC, after Rome's capture of Tarentum. On the other hand Cicero, during Clodius' trial, claimed the goddess' cult as native to Rome, coeval with its foundation. In the middle Republican era, the temple may have fallen into disrepair, or its cult into official disfavour. In 123 BC the Vestal Licinia gave the temple an altar, small shrine and couch for the goddess, but they were removed as unlawful by the pontifex maximus P. Scaevola.[40] Its use and status at the time of the Bona Dea scandal are unknown. It was restored in the Imperial era, once by the empress Livia, wife of Augustus, and perhaps again by Hadrian.[41] It survived to at least the 4th century AD.[42] Nothing is known of its architecture or appearance, save that unlike most Roman temples it was walled. It was an important centre of healing; it held a store of various medicinal herbs that could be dispensed at need by its priestesses. Harmless snakes roamed its precincts. Men were forbidden entry but could dedicate offerings to the goddess,[43] or, according to Ovid, could enter the precincts "if bidden by the goddess".[44]

Most provincial sanctuaries and temples to Bona Dea are too decayed, despoiled or fragmentary to offer firm evidence of structure and layout, but the remains of four are consistent with the sparse descriptions of her Aventine temple. In each, a perimeter wall surrounds a dense compound of annexes, in which some rooms show possible use as dispensaries. The layout would have allowed the concealment of inner cults or mysteries from non-initiates. There is evidence that at least some remained in use to the 4th century AD as cultic healing centres.[45]

Dedications and iconography

Despite the exclusively female, aristocratic connections of her winter festival at Rome and her high status as a protecting deity of the Roman state, elite dedications to Bona Dea are far outnumbered by the personal dedications of the Roman plebs, particularly the ingenui; the greatest number of all are from freedmen and slaves; and an estimated one-third of all dedications are from men, one of whom, a provincial Greek, claims to be a priest of her cult. This is evidence of lawful variation – at least in the Roman provinces – from what almost all Roman literary sources present as an official and absolute rule of her cult.[46] Inscriptions of the Imperial era show her appeal as a personal or saviour-goddess, extolled as Augusta and Domina; or as an all-goddess, titled as Regina Triumphalis (Triumphal Queen), or Terrae marisque Dominatrici (Mistress of sea and land).[47] Private and public dedications associate her with agricultural deities such as Ceres, Silvanus, and the virgin goddess Diana.[48] She is also named in some dedications of public works, such as the restoration of the Claudian Aqueduct.[49]

Most inscriptions to Bona Dea are simple and unadorned but some show serpents, often paired. Cumont (1932) remarks their similarity to the serpents featured in domestic shrines (lararia) at Pompei; serpents are associated with many earth-deities, and had protective, fertilising and regenerating functions, as in the cults of Aesculapius, Demeter and Ceres. Some Romans kept live, harmless snakes as household pets, and credited them with similarly beneficial functions.[50]

Images of the goddess show her enthroned, clad in chiton and mantle. On her left arm she holds a cornucopia, a sign of her abundant generosity and fruitfulness. In her right hand, she holds a bowl, which feeds a serpent coiled around her right arm: a sign of her healing and regenerative powers. This combination of snake and cornucopia are unique to Bona Dea. The literary record offers at least one variation on this type; Macrobius describes her cult statue as overhung by a "spreading vine", and bearing a sceptre in her left hand.[51]


Cicero makes no reference to any myth pertaining to Bona Dea. Later Roman scholars connected her to the goddess Fauna, a central figure in Latium's aristocratic foundation myth, which was thus re-embroidered as a Roman moral fable. Several variants are known; Fauna is daughter, wife or sister of Faunus (also named Faunus Fatuus, meaning Faunus "the foolish", or seer). Faunus was son of Picus, and was the first king of the Latins, empowered with the gift of prophecy. In Roman religion he was a pastoral god and protector of flocks, with a shrine and oracle on the Aventine, sometimes identified with Inuus and later, with Greek Pan. As his female counterpart, Fauna had similar gifts, domains and powers in relation to women. In Plutarch's version of the myth, the mortal Fauna secretly gets drunk on wine, which is forbidden her. When Faunus finds out, he thrashes her with myrtle rods; in Lactantius's version, Faunus thrashes her to death, regrets the deed and deifies her. Servius derives the names Faunus and Fauna, collectively the Fatui, from fari (to prophesy): they "are also called Fatui because they utter divine prophecy in a state of stupor".[52] Macrobius writes that Bona Dea is "the same as Fauna, Ops or Fatua... It is said too that she was the daughter of Faunus, and that she resisted the amorous advances of her father who had fallen in love with her, so that he even beat her with myrtle twigs because she did not yield to his desires though she had been made drunk by him on wine. It is believed that the father changed himself into a serpent, however, and under this guise had intercourse with his daughter."[53] Macrobius refers the serpent's image at the goddess' rites to this mythical transformation, and to the live, harmless serpents who roamed the goddess' temple precincts.[54]

Varro explains the exclusion of men from Bona Dea's cult as a consequence of her great modesty; no man but her husband had ever seen her, or heard her name. For Servius, this makes her the paragon of chaste womanhood.[55] Most likely, once Fauna's mythology seemed to offer an explanation for Bona Dea's mysterious cult, the myth developed circumstantially, to fit what little was known of the practice. In turn, the cult practice may have changed to support the virtuous ideological message required of the myths, particularly during the Augustan religious reforms that identified Bona Dea with the empress Livia.[56] Versnel (1992) notes the elements common to the Bona Dea festival, Fauna's myths, and Greek Demeter's Thesmophoria, as "wine, myrtle, serpents and female modesty blemished".[57]

Cult themes in modern scholarship

Bona Dea's is the only known festival in which women could gather at night, drink strong, sacrificial-grade wine and perform a blood sacrifice. Although women were present at most public ceremonies and festivals, the religious authorities in Roman society were the male pontiffs and augurs, and women could not lawfully perform rites at night, unless "offered for the people in proper form".[58] Women were allowed wine at these and other religious occasions. At other times, they might drink weak, sweetened, or diluted wine in moderation but Roman traditionalists believed that in the more distant and virtuous past, this was forbidden,[59] "for fear that they might lapse into some disgraceful act. For it is only a step from the intemperance of Liber pater to the forbidden things of Venus".[60] Some ancient sources infer that women were banned from offering blood-and-wine sacrifice in their own right; even banned from handling such materials; both claims are questionable.[61] Nevertheless, the strong, sacrificial grade wine used in the rites to Bona Dea was normally reserved for Roman gods, and Roman men.[62]

The unusual permissions implicit at these rites probably derived from the presence and religious authority of the Vestals. They were exceptional and revered persons; virgins, but not subject to their fathers' authority; and matrons, but independent of any husband. They held forms of privilege and authority otherwise associated only with Roman men, and were answerable only to the Senior Vestal and the Pontifex Maximus. Their ritual obligations and religious integrity were central to the well being of the Roman state and all its citizens.[63]

The euphemistic naming of strong wine at this festival has been variously described as an actual substitution for milk and honey, relatively late in the cult's development; as a theological absurdity;[64] and as an ingenious justification for behaviours that would be considered unacceptable outside this specific religious sphere. Fauna's myths illustrate the potential of wine as an agent of sexual transgression; wine was thought to be an invention of Liber-Dionysus, who was present as the male principle in certain "soft fruits", including semen and grapes; and ordinary wine was produced under the divine patronage of Venus, the goddess of love and sexual desire. Its aphrodisiac effects were well known.[65][66]

For Staples, the euphemisms are agents of transformation. The designation of wine as "milk" conceives it as an entirely female product, dissociated from the sexually and morally complex realms of Venus and Liber. Likewise, the wine jar described as a "honey jar" refers to bees, which in Roman lore are sexually abstinent, virtuous females who will desert an adulterous household.[67] Myrtle, as the sign of Venus, Faunus' lust and Fauna's unjust punishment, is simply banned; or as Versnel puts it, "Wine in, Myrtle out".[68] The vine-leaf bowers and the profusion of plants – any and all but the forbidden myrtle – transform the sophisticated, urban banqueting hall into a "primitive" dwelling, evoking the innocence of an ancestral golden age in which women rule themselves, without reference to men or Venus, drinking "milk and honey", which are "markers par excellence of utopian golden times"[69] – under the divine authority of Bona Dea.[70]


  1. ^ In Propertius, 4, 9, 25.
  2. ^ Lygdamus, Elegia, 5, 8.
  3. ^ Brouwer, p. 236 ff.
  4. ^ Brouwer, p. 323.
  5. ^ Staples, p. 14, cites Dumezil's theory that "Damia" was perhaps probably an ancient misreading or mistranslation of "Demeter", later institutionalised.
  6. ^ Brouwer, pp. 237–238, 240–242, citing Festus, Epitome of Flaccus, de Verborum Significatu.
  7. ^ Macrobius cites Cornelius Labeo as his source for Bona, Fauna, and Fatua as indigitamenta of Terra in the Libri Pontificales
  8. ^ Cornelius Labeo seems to have drawn this theology from the work of Varro. See Brouwer, p. 356, footnote 255.
  9. ^ Brouwer, p. 239: citing Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones, 1, 22, 9–11.
  10. ^ Versnel, p.31ff.
  11. ^ Ovid, Fasti, 2, 35; he is the only source for this assertion.
  12. ^ Brouwer, p. 398: "And considering the fact that the aristocracy were only a small percentage of the population, it is not surprising that most expressions of Bona Dea worship originate from the lower classes."
  13. ^ Wildfang, pp.92 - 93, citing Cicero, De Domo Sua, 53.136.
  14. ^ Brouwer, p. 398.
  15. ^ Possibly, her own female servants.
  16. ^ Presumably her Aventine Temple.
  17. ^ The sacrifice could have been offered by the Vestals or, according to Plutarch, by the hostess; see Cult themes in this article.
  18. ^ Winter festival summary based on Brouwer (1989) as summarised in Versnel, p.32, and Wildfang, p.31. For Roman sources, cf. Plutarch, Lives: Life of Caesar, ix (711E), Life of Cicero, xix (870B); Juvenal, vi.339 (a satirical treatment); and Plutarch, Roman Questions, (Loeb), 20 - 35, available via link to Bill Thayer's website
  19. ^ Versnel, p.44.
  20. ^ Cicero, De Haruspicum Responsis XVII 37 - XVIII 38; cited in Brouwer, pp.165 - 166.
  21. ^ See W. Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the period of the Republic, MacMillan (New York, 1899): 102 - 106.[1]
  22. ^ Beard et al., pp. 129 - 130, 296 - 7. Clodius' mere presence would have been sacrilegious: the possibility of his intrusion for sexual conquest would be an even more serious offense against Bona Dea. See also Brouwer, p.xxiii, and Herbert-Brown, p.134.
  23. ^ The proverbial phrase "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion" is based on Caesar's own justification of this divorce, following the scandal. See Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 1.13; Plutarch, Caesar 9-10; Cassius Dio, Roman History 37.45 and Suetonius, Julius 6.2 and 74.2
  24. ^ Herbert-Brown, pp. 134, 141-3.
  25. ^ Beard et al., pp. 129 - 130, 296 - 7. In 59 BC, to further his political career, which otherwise might have stalled, Clodius renounced his patrician status for a questionable adoption into a plebeian gens, and was elected tribune of the people. To his opponents, he was a dangerous social renegade; he was murdered in 53.
  26. ^ Herbert-Brown, pp.141 - 143.
  27. ^ As a dutiful heir, he deified the dead Caesar and established his cult, but he took pains to distance himself from Caesar's mortal aspirations, and cultivated an aura of personal modesty. His religious reforms reflect an ideology of social and political reconciliation, with a single individual (himself) as focus of empire and its final arbiter.
  28. ^ His restoration of the Vestals began even before his pontificate. On his return from the final battle of the civil war, at Actium he was greeted by a procession of women, headed by the Vestals.
  29. ^ Herbert-Brown, p.146.
  30. ^ Phyllis Cunham, in Harriet Flower (ed), The Cambridge Companion to the Roman Republic, Cambridge University Press, 2004, p.155.googlebooks partial preview. Livia's association with the Vestal Licinia is itself not unproblematic. Licinia was tried on an almost certainly trumped-up charge of broken chastity, acquitted, then re-tried, found guilty, and executed on the strength of two prophecies in the Sibylline books. She was a contemporary of the Gracchi, and was probably a victim of the turbulent factional politics of the time. Livia's actions may also have helped to repair and elevate Licinia's posthumous reputation. Augustus is known to have called in, examined and censored many oracles, including the Sybilline books. According to Herbert-Brown, p.144, he might have removed the prophecies that had been used to condemn Licinia.
  31. ^ Herbert-Brown, p.130, citing Ovid, Fasti, 5. 148 - 158. As a non-divinity, Livia could not have appeared on the religious calendar. Claudius deified her long after her death.
  32. ^ Brouwer, pp. 237 - 238.
  33. ^ Brouwer, p.412.
  34. ^ Brouwer, pp.402, 407.
  35. ^ Parker, p.571.
  36. ^ Juvenal, Satires, 6.316 - 344. See Brouwer, p. 269, for further commentary.
  37. ^ Stephen Benko, The virgin goddess: studies in the pagan and Christian roots of mariology, BRILL, 2004, p.168. Other goddesses named Caelestis or Regina Caelestis (Heavenly Queen) include Juno, the Magna Mater (also known as "the Syrian Goddess" and Cybele), and Venus, the one goddess ritually excluded from Bona Dea's rites.
  38. ^ Lactantius appears to draw on Varro as his source for Fenta Fatua. Fenta appears to be a proper name; Fatua is translatable as "female seer" (one who foretells fate), or a divinely inspired "holy fool", either of which might carry Varro's intended meaning: but also as merely "foolish" (in Arnobius, for getting drunk in the first place, or because stupefied by drinking wine, or perhaps both). Arnobius gives two 1st century BC sources (now lost) as his authority: Sextus Clodius, and Butas. See Brouwer, pp. 233-4, 325.
  39. ^ Traditionally, Remus took his auspices on the Saxum, the Aventine's lesser height and probably identical with Ennius' Mons Murcia.
  40. ^ Wildfang, pp.92 - 93, citing Cicero, De Domo Sua, 53.136. Licinia may have been attempting to assert the independence of her order against the dominant traditionalists in of the Senate. Scaevola removed her donations as not made "by the will of the people". Thereafter, the Temple's official status is unknown until Livia's restoration in the Augustan era.
  41. ^ Ovid, Fasti, 5.157 - 158, refers to the Augustan restoration. Historia Augusta, Hadrian, 19, is the sole source for a rebuilding under Hadrian: Fecit et... Aedem Bonae Deae. Brouwer, p. 401, regards this as the most likely meaning, rather than a new building.
  42. ^ The temple is listed in the 4th century Notitia Regionis, (Regio XII)
  43. ^ Samuel Ball Platner (revised by Thomas Ashby): A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, London: Oxford University Press, 1929, p.85.courtesy link to Bill Thayer's website
  44. ^ The meaning is uncertain: see Ovid, Ars Amatoria, III, 637-638: ...cum fuget a templis oculos Bona Diva virorum, praeterquam siquos illa venire iubet. (...Bona Dea bars the eyes of men from her temple, except such as she bids come there herself). Cited in Brouwer, p.183. See also p. 210, citing Festus, epitome of Flaccus, De Verborum Significatu, 56: the entry of men to Bona Dea's temple is religiosus (contrary to the divine will and law). Presumably, men were allowed in the precincts but not the sanctuary.
  45. ^ Brouwer, 410, 429.
  46. ^ Brouwer, p.258. The estimate is in Peter F. Dorcey, The cult of Silvanus: a study in Roman folk religion, Columbia studies in the Classical tradition, BRILL, 1992, p.124, footnote 125. The claim to be a male priest of Bona Dea is from Inscriptiones Graecae, XIV 1499.
  47. ^ Brouwer, pp. 384 ff.
  48. ^ Brouwer, p. 21.
  49. ^ Brouwer, pp.79 - 80.
  50. ^ Franz Cumont, "La Bona Dea et ses serpents", Mélanges d'archéologie et d'histoire, 1932, Vol. 49, Issue 49, pp.1 - to French language article at Persée.
  51. ^ Brouwer, p. 401: Macrobius may have been referring to her Aventine cult statue (now lost): cf. the sceptre as an attribute of Juno, and a dedication at Aquincum to Bonae Deae Iunoni.
  52. ^ Versnel p.46, citing Plutarch, Roman Questions, 35: cf. Arnobius, Adversus Nationes, 5.18: Lactantius Divinae Institutiones, 1.22.9 - 11: Servius, In Aeneidos, 8, 314.
  53. ^ Macrobius, Saturnalia, 1.12.20 - 29.
  54. ^ Brouwer, pp. 340 - 341.
  55. ^ Brouwer, pp.218, 221.
  56. ^ See Brouwer, p. xxiii, 266ff.
  57. ^ Versnel, pp.35, 47. Thesomphoria was a three-day festival; its participants, exclusively female, slept on "primitive" beds made of lugos, a willow species known to the Romans as agnos, or vitex agnus castis: supposedly an infertile tree, and a strong anaphrodisiac. Though wine is not attested at Thesmophoria, it may have been used. Like the Vestals, Demeter's priestesses were virgin.
  58. ^ Cicero, De Legibus, 2.9.21.
  59. ^ Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 10.23.1:available at Bill Thayer's website. His principal source for this prohibition is the 2nd century BC moralist, Cato the Elder. See also Versnel, p.44.
  60. ^ Valerius Maximus, 2.1.5.
  61. ^ Prohibitions against the handling of wine and the preparation of meat by Roman women occur in Roman literature as retrospective examples of time-hallowed tradition, in which the Vestals, whose duties include the supervision of Bona Dea's rites, are the significant exception. Some modern scholarship challenges these traditional assumptions. While female drunkenness was disapproved of, so was male drunkenness, and the moderate consumption of wine by women was probably a commonplace of domestic and religious life. Lawful blood-and-wine sacrifice is indicated many female-led cults, particularly in Graeca Magna and Etruria. See Emily A. Hemelrijk, in Hekster, Schmidt-Hofner and Witschel (Eds.), Ritual Dynamics and Religious Change in the Roman Empire, Proceedings of the Eighth Workshop of the International Network Impact of Empire (Heidelberg, July 5–7, 2007), Brill, 2009, pp.253 - 267.[2]
  62. ^ Versnell, p.32: "the most surprising aspect is the nature of the drinks: during this secret, exclusively female, nocturnal festival the women were allowed to drink - at the very least to handle - wine": see Versnel, p.45 and Wildfang, p.31.
  63. ^ Modern scholarship on the Vestals is summarised in Parker, pp. 563-601. See also discussion in Wildfang, pp.31 - 32.
  64. ^ Versnel, H.S., Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion: Transition and reversal in myth and ritual, BRILL, 1994, p.233. Brouwer (1989) regards the wine as a substitution for earlier sacrifices of milk and honey.
  65. ^ Staples, pp. 85 - 90.
  66. ^ Versnel, p. 45.
  67. ^ Staples, pp.125 - 126.
  68. ^ Versnel, p. 44.
  69. ^ Versnel, p.45, citing Graf F., "Milch, Honig und Wein. Zum Verstindnis der Libation im Griechischen Ritual', In G. Piccaluga (ed.), Perennitas. Studi in onore di A. Brelich, Rome, 1980, pp.209 - 21. Some myths credit Liber-Dionysus with the discovery of honey; but not its invention.
  70. ^ Versnel,p. 45: "On the other hand, the mimicry may also have functioned as fuel for 'laughter of the oppressed"... "'say, dear, would you be so kind as to pass on the milk?'".

References and further reading

  • Beard, M., Price, S., North, J., Religions of Rome: Volume 1, a History, illustrated, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Brouwer, Henrik H. J., Bona Dea, The Sources and a Description of the Cult, Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l'Empire romain, 110, BRILL, 1989. googlebooks partial preview.
  • Herbert-Brown, Geraldine, Ovid and the Fasti, An Historical Study, Oxford Classical Monographs, 1994. ISBN 978-0-19-814935-4 googlebooks partial preview.
  • Parker, Holt N., Why Were the Vestals Virgins? Or the Chastity of Women and the Safety of the Roman State, The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 125, No. 4 (Winter, 2004), pp. 563–601.
  • Staples, Ariadne, From Good Goddess to vestal virgins: sex and category in Roman religion, Routledge, 1998. googlebooks partial preview.
  • Versnel, H. S., "The Festival for Bona Dea and the Thesmophoria", Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association, Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Apr., 1992), pp. 31–55.
  • Wildfang, Robin Lorsch, Rome's vestal virgins: a study of Rome's vestal priestesses in the late Republic and early Empire, Routledge/Taylor & Francis, 2007, googlebooks partial preview.
Bonus Eventus

Bonus Eventus ("Good Outcome") was a divine personification in ancient Roman religion. The Late Republican scholar Varro lists him as one of the twelve deities who presided over agriculture, paired with Lympha, the goddess who influenced the water supply. The original function of Bonus Eventus may have been agricultural, but during the Imperial era, he represents a more general concept of success and was among the numerous abstractions who appeared as icons on Roman coins.

Carmen Arvale

The Carmen Arvale is the preserved chant of the Arval priests or Fratres Arvales of ancient Rome.The Arval priests were devoted to the goddess Dia, and offered sacrifices to her to ensure the fertility of ploughed fields (Latin arvum). There were twelve Arval priests, chosen from patrician families. During the Roman Empire the Emperor was always an Arval priest. They retained the office for life, even if disgraced or exiled. Their most important festival, the Ambarvalia, occurred during the month of May, in a grove dedicated to Dia.

The Carmen Arvale is preserved in an inscription dating from 218 AD which contains records of the meetings of the Arval Brethren. It is written in an archaic form of Old Latin, likely not fully understood any more at the time the inscription was made.One of its interpretations goes as follows:

enos Lases iuuate

enos Lases iuuate

enos Lases iuuateneue lue rue Marmar sins incurrere in pleores

neue lue rue Marmar sins incurrere in pleores

neue lue rue Marmar sins incurrere in pleoressatur fu, fere Mars, limen sali, sta berber

satur fu, fere Mars, limen sali, sta berber

satur fu, fere Mars, limen sali, sta berbersemunis alternei advocapit conctos

semunis alternei advocapit conctos

semunis alternei advocapit conctosenos Marmor iuuato

enos Marmor iuuato

enos Marmor iuuatotriumpe triumpe triumpe triumpe triumpeWhile passages of this text are obscure, the traditional interpretation makes the chant a prayer to seek aid of Mars and the Lares (lases), beseeching Mars not to let plagues or disasters overtake in the fields, asking him to be satiated, and dance, and call forth the "Semones", who may represent sacred sowers. (Cf. Semo Sancus, a god of good faith.) Semones are minor tutelary deities, in particular Sancus, Priapus, Faunus, all Vertumni, all Silvani, Bona Dea.The semones are probably the hidden life forces residing in seeds: they were presented only offers of milk in the earliest tradition.limen sali, sta means jump over the beam of the threshold/door/lintel, stand in standard Latin.


Dea is the Latin for "goddess", see Roman pantheon. Specific goddesses referred to as "Dea" in Roman antiquity:

Bona Dea, a (mostly) exclusively women's goddess introduced from Magna Graeca

Dea Dia, goddess of growth in Roman mythology

Dea Matrona, or "Divine mother goddess", goddess of the river Marne in Gaul

Dea Sequana, goddess of the river Seine in Gallo-Roman religion

Dea Syria, or Atargatis, "Goddess of Syria"

Dea Tacita, or "Silent goddess", goddess of the dead in Roman mythologyDea may also refer to a given name – mostly as short form of various feminine names, such as Dorothea or Andrea:

Dea Trier Mørch (1941–2001), Danish writer

Dea Birkett (b. 1958), British writer

Dea Loher, pseudonym of German writer Andrea Beate Loher (b. 1964)

Dea Norberg (b. 1974), Swedish singer

Dea Klein-Šumanovac (b. 1981), Croatian basketball player

Dea Herdželaš (b. 1996), Bosnian tennis playerDea is also the given name of the heroine in The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo. She is a blind girl who is in love with the novel's protagonist, Gwynplaine, a disfigured clown. As her name suggests, Dea represents the Divine Feminine within the world of the book, and especially to Gwynplaine--"You are the soul, I am the heart," he often tells her.Dea is an English surname:

Billy Dea (b. 1933), Canadian ice hockey player

Matt Dea (b. 1991), Australian football player

Jean-Sébastien Dea (b. 1994), Canadian ice hockey player

Marie Déa, pseudonym of French actress Odette Alice Marie Deupès (1912–1992)Dea is also the title of an album

Dea (album) (2001), album by Russian group CatharsisDea is the name used for dialects of two Papua New Guinea languages:

Dea, a dialect of the Managalasi or Ese language

Dea, an alternative name for the Zimakani language

Early life and career of Julius Caesar

The early career of Julius Caesar was characterized by military adventurism and political persecution. Julius Caesar was born on July 13, 100 BC, into a patrician family, the gens Julia, which claimed descent from Iulus, son of the legendary Trojan prince Aeneas, supposedly the son of the goddess Venus. His father died when he was just 16, leaving Caesar as the head of the household. His family status put him at odds with the Dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who almost had him executed.

At about that time, Caesar found himself captured by pirates, only to crucify his former captors after he was ransomed. Soon he began his military career. He served in Hispania, married Sulla's granddaughter and was elected chief priest, all in rapid succession.

Shortly after this, he was suspected, though not convicted, of involvement in the Catiline Conspiracy. Soon he was leaving for a governorship in Hispania and positioning himself to be one of the most important figures in history.

Fauna (deity)

In ancient Roman religion, Fauna [fau̯na] is a goddess said in differing ancient sources to be the wife, sister, or daughter of Faunus (the Roman counterpart of Pan). Varro regarded her as the female counterpart of Faunus, and said that the fauni all had prophetic powers. She is also called Fatua or Fenta Fauna.

Hercules in ancient Rome

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Hercules was venerated as a divinized hero and incorporated into the legends of Rome's founding. The Romans adapted Greek myths and the iconography of Heracles into their own literature and art, but the hero developed distinctly Roman characteristics. Some Greek sources as early as the 6th and 5th century BC gave Heracles Roman connections during his famous labors.Dionysius of Halicarnassus places Hercules among divine figures honored at Rome "whose souls after they had left their mortal bodies are said to have ascended to Heaven and to have obtained the same honours as the gods." His apotheosis thus served as one model during the Empire for the concept of the deified emperor.

List of Roman deities

The Roman deities most familiar today are those the Romans identified with Greek counterparts (see interpretatio graeca), integrating Greek myths, iconography, and sometimes religious practices into Roman culture, including Latin literature, Roman art, and religious life as it was experienced throughout the Empire. Many of the Romans' own gods remain obscure, known only by name and sometimes function, through inscriptions and texts that are often fragmentary. This is particularly true of those gods belonging to the archaic religion of the Romans dating back to the era of kings, the so-called "religion of Numa", which was perpetuated or revived over the centuries. Some archaic deities have Italic or Etruscan counterparts, as identified both by ancient sources and by modern scholars. Throughout the Empire, the deities of peoples in the provinces were given new theological interpretations in light of functions or attributes they shared with Roman deities.

An extensive alphabetical list follows a survey of theological groups as constructed by the Romans themselves. For the cult pertaining to deified Roman emperors (divi), see Imperial cult.

Liz Larin

Mary Elizabeth Larin is a musician, composer and music producer. Born in Detroit, Larin is also the founder of Bona Dea Music, an independent label focused on electronic pop/rock, world and ambient music; and Digital Opts & Sound Design and ACM Creative Digital, digital media companies specializing in video, music, sound art installations, web development and interactive publishing.


Maia ( or ; Greek: Μαῖα; Latin: Maia), in ancient Greek religion, is one of the Pleiades and the mother of Hermes.

Maia is the daughter of Atlas and Pleione the Oceanid, and is the oldest of the seven Pleiades. They were born on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia, and are sometimes called mountain nymphs, oreads; Simonides of Ceos sang of "mountain Maia" (Maiados oureias) "of the lovely black eyes." Because they were daughters of Atlas, they were also called the Atlantides.

Mana Genita

In ancient Roman religion, Mana Genita or Geneta Mana is an obscure goddess mentioned only by Pliny and Plutarch. Both tell that her rites were carried out by the sacrifice of a puppy or a bitch. Plutarch alone has left some examination of the nature of the goddess, deriving Mana from the Latin verb manare, "to flow", an etymology which the Roman grammarian Verrius Flaccus also relates to the goddess Mania mentioned by Varro, and to the Manes, the souls of the departed. In a Greek equivalence perspective, Plutarch, on account of the bitch sacrifice, loosely connects the goddess to Hekate and in parallel notes that Argive sacrificial practice (using dogs) makes as well for an interesting comparison for her with Eilioneia, meaning the birth goddess Eileithyia.

Some modern commentators have elaborated on the "Genita" and "Mana" qualifiers, to suggest she were a goddess who could determine whether infants were born alive or dead. Others have suggested that Horace may be referring to this goddess when he mentions a goddess Genitalis in the Carmen Saeculare (line 16.). Some have compared it to the Oscan Deiua Geneta (birth goddess), while still others deem that Genita Mana may be only a vague epithet like Bona Dea rather than an actual theonym.

Marcus Pupius Piso Frugi Calpurnianus

Marcus Pupius Piso Frugi Calpurnianus belonged originally to the gens Calpurnia, but was adopted by Marcus Pupius, when the latter was an old man. He retained, however, his family-name Piso.Piso had attained some importance as early as the first civil war. On the death of Lucius Cornelius Cinna, in 84 BC, he married his wife Annia, and in the following year, 83, was appointed quaestor to the consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio. But he quickly deserted this party, and went over to Sulla, who compelled him to divorce his wife on account of her previous connection with Cinna. Piso was the father of Marcus Pupius Piso Frugi, a Roman politician who may have been praetor in 44 BC and could have been a legatus in 40 BC. His grandson may have been Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives, consul of 14 BC.

He failed in obtaining the aedileship, and the year of his praetorship is uncertain. After his praetorship he received the province of Spain with the title of proconsul, and on his return to Rome in 69 BC, enjoyed the honour of a triumph, although it was asserted by some that he had no claim to this distinction.

Piso served in the Third Mithridatic War as a legatus of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, who sent him to Rome in 62, to become a candidate for the consulship, as he was anxious to obtain the ratification of his acts in Asia, and therefore wished to have one of his friends at the head of the state. Piso was accordingly elected consul for the following year, 61, with Marcus Valerius Messalla Niger. In his consulship he gave great offense to Cicero, by not asking him first in the senate for his opinion, and still further increased the anger of the orator by taking Publius Clodius under his protection after his violation of the mysteries of the Bona Dea. Cicero revenged himself on Piso, by preventing him from obtaining the province of Syria, which had been promised to him. Piso must have died, in all probability, before 47 BC, for in 47 BC Marcus Antonius inhabited his house at Rome.

Pan (god)

In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Pan (; Ancient Greek: Πάν, Pan) is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature of mountain wilds, rustic music and impromptus, and companion of the nymphs. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. With his homeland in rustic Arcadia, he is also recognized as the god of fields, groves, wooded glens and often affiliated with sex; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of spring. The ancient Greeks also considered Pan to be the god of theatrical criticism. The word panic ultimately derives from the god's name.

In Roman religion and myth, Pan's counterpart was Faunus, a nature god who was the father of Bona Dea, sometimes identified as Fauna; he was also closely associated with Sylvanus, due to their similar relationships with woodlands. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Pan became a significant figure in the Romantic movement of western Europe and also in the 20th-century Neopagan movement.

Pompeia (wife of Caesar)

Pompeia (fl. 1st century BC) was the second wife of Julius Caesar. Her parents were Quintus Pompeius Rufus, a son of a former consul, and Cornelia, the daughter of the Roman dictator Sulla.

Caesar married Pompeia in 67 BC, after he had served as quaestor in Hispania, his first wife Cornelia having died the previous year in giving birth to her son who was stillborn. Caesar was the nephew of Gaius Marius, and Cornelia had been the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Cinna so that they were related to both the leaders of the losing populares side in the civil war of the 80s BC.

In 63 BC Caesar was elected to the position of the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion, which came with an official residence on the Via Sacra. In 62 BC Pompeia hosted the festival of the Bona Dea ("good goddess"), which no man was permitted to attend, in this house. However a young patrician named Publius Clodius Pulcher managed to gain admittance disguised as a woman, apparently for the purpose of seducing Pompeia. He was caught and prosecuted for sacrilege. Caesar gave no evidence against Clodius at his trial, and he was acquitted. Nevertheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying that "my wife ought not even to be under suspicion". This gave rise to a proverb, sometimes expressed: "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion".

Publius Clodius Pulcher

Publius Clodius Pulcher (c. December 93 BC – 52 BC, on January 18 of the pre-Julian calendar) was a Roman politician. As tribune, he pushed through an ambitious legislative program, including a grain dole, but he is chiefly remembered for his feud with Cicero and Titus Annius Milo, whose bodyguards murdered him on the Appian Way. Clodius was a Roman nobilis of the patrician Claudian gens and a senator. He was known as an eccentric, mercurial and arrogant character. He became a major disruptive force in Roman politics during the First Triumvirate, of Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar (59–53 BCE). He passed numerous laws in the tradition of the populares known as the Leges Clodiae, and has been called "one of the most innovative urban politicians in Western history".

Quintus Fufius Calenus

Quintus Fufius Calenus (died 40 BC) was a Roman general, and consul in 47 BC.

As tribune of the plebeians in 61 BC, he was chiefly instrumental in securing the acquittal of the notorious Publius Clodius when charged with having profaned the mysteries of Bona Dea (Cicero, Ad. Att. 1.16). In 59 BC Calenus was praetor, and brought forward a law that the senators, knights, and tribuni aerarii, who composed the judices, should vote separately, so that it might be known how they gave their votes (Cassius Dio xxxviii. 8). He fought in Gaul (51 BC) and Spain (49 BC) under Julius Caesar, who, after he had crossed over to Greece (48 BC), sent Calenus from Epirus to bring over the rest of the troops from Italy. On the passage to Italy, most of the ships were captured by Bibulus and Calenus himself escaped with difficulty. In 47 BC, he was raised to the consulship through the influence of Caesar. After the death of the dictator, he joined Mark Antony, for whom he commanded eleven legions in the north of Italy. Calenus died in 40 BC, while stationed with his army at the foot of the Alps, just as he was on the point of marching against Octavian; but Calenus' son handed over the legions to the future emperor.

Santa Maria Arabona

Santa Maria Arabona is a Cistercian abbey in Abruzzo, in central Italy. It is located at Manoppello in the frazione also called Santa Maria Arabona. In Roman times the area was sacred to the goddess of fertility and virginity Bona Dea.

Temple of Bona Dea

The Temple of Bona Dea was an ancient sanctuary in Ancient Rome, erected the 3rd century BC and dedicated to the goddess Bona Dea.The date of the foundation is unknown. However, the cult was introduced in Rome after 272 BC, and the sanctuary was founded in that century. It is mentioned to have been repaired by the empress Livia, spouse of Emperor Augustus.

The sanctuary was a center of healing in Rome. Domesticated snakes was housed in the temple, and medicial herbs was sold. It was the center of the cult of the festival of Bona Dea, which was celebrated on 1 May. During the festival, no men was allowed within the borders of the sanctuary.

The Temple of Bona Dea was still in use during the 3rd century. If still in use by the 4th-century, it would have been closed during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire. A church was erected in the area of the temple in the 5th-century.

The Ides of March (novel)

The Ides of March is an epistolary novel by Thornton Wilder that was published in 1948. It is, in the author's words, 'a fantasia on certain events and persons of the last days of the Roman republic... Historical reconstruction is not among the primary aims of this work'. The novel deals with the characters and events leading to, and culminating in, the assassination of Julius Caesar.

American publisher Bennett Cerf remarked at that year's meeting of the American Booksellers Association that there had been "only three novels published since the first of the year that were worth reading ... Cry, the Beloved Country, The Ides of March, and The Naked and the Dead. Wilder himself once wrote that the book was "a kind of crossword puzzle" that "only begins to speak at its second reading." Edmund Fuller called the novel "a text so rich that it requires exploration rather than reading."The novel is divided into four books, each of which starts earlier and ends later than the previous book.

Catullus' poems and the closing section by Suetonius are the only documents of the book which are not imagined; however, many of the events are historical, such as Cleopatra's visit to Rome.

Though the novel describes events leading up to Caesar's assassination on 15 March 44 BC a number of earlier events are described as if they were contemporary. Thus, the violation of the Bona Dea mysteries by Publius Clodius Pulcher, Caesar's subsequent divorce of his second wife Pompeia, and the circulation of two poems by Catullus suggesting that Caesar and his engineer, Mamurra, were lovers (and Catallus's subsequent apology) are transposed from December 62 BC to December 45 BC. In addition, many of the characters depicted as living in the novel were actually dead by 44 BC, including M. Porcius Cato (in 46 BC), Catullus (in c. 54 BC), Julia (in 69 BC) and Clodius (in 52 BC).

Venus (mythology)

Venus (, Classical Latin: ) is a Roman goddess, whose functions encompassed love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory. In Roman mythology, she was the mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy. Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor. Venus was central to many religious festivals, and was revered in Roman religion under numerous cult titles.

The Romans adapted the myths and iconography of her Greek counterpart Aphrodite for Roman art and Latin literature. In the later classical tradition of the West, Venus became one of the most widely referenced deities of Greco-Roman mythology as the embodiment of love and sexuality.

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