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17th century painting of Ceres by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli.

In ancient Roman mythology and religion, Ceres was a goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships. She was originally the central deity in Rome's so-called plebeian or Aventine Triad, then was paired with her daughter Proserpina in what Romans described as "the Greek rites of Ceres". Her seven-day April festival of Cerealia included the popular Ludi Ceriales (Ceres' games). She was also honoured in the May lustration of fields at the Ambarvalia festival, at harvest-time, and during Roman marriages and funeral rites.

Ceres is the only one of Rome's many agricultural deities to be listed among the Di Consentes, Rome's equivalent to the Twelve Olympians of Greek mythology. The Romans saw her as the counterpart of the Greek goddess Demeter, whose mythology was reinterpreted for Ceres in Roman art and literature.

Etymology and origins

Ceres' name may derive from the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European root ker, meaning "to grow", which is also a possible root for "create" and "increase". Roman etymologists thought "ceres" derived from the Latin verb gerere, "to bear, bring forth, produce", because the goddess was linked to pastoral, agricultural and human fertility. Archaic cults to Ceres are well-evidenced among Rome's neighbours in the Regal period, including the ancient Latins, Oscans and Sabellians, less certainly among the Etruscans and Umbrians. An archaic Faliscan inscription of c.600 BCE asks her to provide far (spelt wheat), which was a dietary staple of the Mediterranean world. Throughout the Roman era, Ceres' name was synonymous with grain and, by extension, with bread.[1]

Cults and cult themes

Agricultural fertility

Ceres was credited with the discovery of spelt wheat (far), the yoking of oxen and ploughing, the sowing, protection and nourishing of the young seed, and the gift of agriculture to humankind; before this, it was said, man had subsisted on acorns, and wandered without settlement or laws. She was the first to "break open the earth", and all activities of the agricultural cycle were protected by her laws. She held the power to fertilize, multiply and fructify plant and animal seed, whose offspring were the physical incarnations of her power.

In January, Ceres and Tellus were offered spelt wheat and a pregnant sow at the movable Feriae Sementivae, which was almost certainly held before the annual sowing of grain. The divine portion of sacrifice was the intestines (exta) presented in an olla (earthenware pot).[2] In a rural context, Cato the Elder describes the offer to Ceres of a porca praecidanea (a pig, offered before the sowing).[3]

Ceres' major festival, Cerealia, was held from mid to late April. Its original form is unknown; it may have been founded during the regal era. During the Republican era, it was organised by the plebeian aediles, and included ludi circenses (circus games). These opened with a horse race in the Circus Maximus, whose starting point lay just below the Aventine Temple of Ceres, Liber and Libera.[4] In a nighttime ritual after the race, blazing torches were tied to the tails of live foxes, who were released into the Circus. The origin and purpose of this ritual are unknown; it may have been intended to cleanse the growing crops and protect them from disease and vermin, or to add warmth and vitality to their growth.[5] From c.175 BCE, Cerealia included ludi scaenici (theatrical religious events), held through April 12 to 18.[6] Various rural and urban festivals were held at harvest-time. Before the harvest, Ceres was offered a propitiary grain sample (praementium).[7]

Assistant deities

In the ancient sacrum cereale a priest, probably the flamen cerialis, invoked Ceres (and probably Tellus) along with twelve specialised, minor assistant-gods to secure divine protection and assistance at each stage of the grain cycle, beginning shortly before the Feriae Sementivae.[8]

  • Vervactor, "He who ploughs"
  • Reparator, "He who prepares the earth"
  • Imporcitor, "He who ploughs with a wide furrow"[9]
  • Insitor, "He who plants seeds"
  • Obarator, "He who traces the first plowing"
  • Occator, "He who harrows"
  • Serritor, "He who digs"
  • Subruncinator, "He who weeds"
  • Messor, "He who reaps"
  • Conuector (Convector), "He who carries the grain"
  • Conditor, "He who stores the grain"
  • Promitor, "He who distributes the grain"

Human fertility, marriage and nourishment

Several of Ceres' ancient Italic precursors are connected to human fertility and motherhood; the Pelignan goddess Angitia Cerealis has been identified with the Roman goddess Angerona (associated with childbirth).[10] In the late 2nd century CE, Festus describes a wedding ceremony, during which a torch is carried in honour of Ceres; Pliny the Elder "notes that the most auspicious wood for wedding torches came from the spina alba, the may tree, which bore many fruits and hence symbolised fertility". This practice may represent the continuation of a much earlier identification or conflation of Ceres with Tellus (as Terra Mater), a personification of the fertile earth itself, who was invoked in the auspices at Roman weddings. Tellus was offered sacrifice by the bride; a sow is the most likely victim. Varro describes the sacrifice of a pig as "a worthy mark of weddings" because "our women, and especially nurses" call the female genitalia porcus (pig). Spaeth (1996) believes Ceres may have been included in the sacrificial dedication, because she is closely identified with Tellus and "bears the laws" of marriage. In the most solemn form of marriage, confarreatio, the bride and groom shared a cake made of far, the ancient wheat-type particularly associated with Ceres.[11]

The cult to Ceres and Proserpina reinforced and formalised Ceres' connection with traditional Roman ideals of female virtue, motherhood and its attendant duties: promotion of her cult is associated with the development of a plebeian nobility, a fall in the patrician birthrate and a rise in the birthrate among plebeian commoners.[12] The late Republican Ceres Mater (Mother Ceres) is genetrix (progenitress) and alma (nourishing) and in the early Imperial era she receives joint cult with Ops Augusta, Ceres' own mother in Imperial guise and a bountiful genetrix in her own right.[13]


Ceres was patron and protector of plebeian laws, rights and Tribunes. Her Aventine Temple served the plebeians as cult centre, legal archive, treasury and possibly law-court; its foundation was contemporaneous with the passage of the Lex Sacrata, which established the office and person of plebeian aediles and tribunes inviolate. As representatives of the Roman people, the tribunes held a high-profile immunity to arrest or threat; the lives and property of those who violated this law were forfeit to Ceres, whose judgment was expressed by her aediles.[14] When the Lex Hortensia of 287 BCE extended plebeian law to the city itself, and all its citizens, the status of aediles was raised, and their scope was broadened. The official decrees of the Senate (senatus consulta) were placed in her Temple, under her guardianship. Livy puts the reason bluntly: the consuls could no longer seek advantage by arbitrarily tampering with the laws of Rome.[15] The Aventine Temple might also have offered asylum for the needy, and for those threatened with arbitrary arrest by patrician magistrates.[16] Goods, property and fines raised through prosecution of those who offended her laws were used to fund her temple, games and cult. Ceres was thus the patron goddess of Rome's written laws; the poet Vergil later calls her legifera Ceres (Law-bearing Ceres), in direct translation of Demeter's Greek epithet, thesmophoros.[17]

Ceres' role as protector of laws continued throughout the Republican era. Those who approved the murder of Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BCE justified his death as punishment for his offense against the Lex sacrata of the goddess Ceres: those who deplored this as murder appealed to Gracchus' sancrosanct status as tribune under Ceres' protection. In 70 BCE, Cicero refers to this killing in connection with Ceres' laws and cults, during his prosecution of Verres, Roman governor of Sicily, for extortion.[18] The case included circumstantial details of Verres' irreligious exploitation and abuse of Sicilian grain farmers, naturally under Ceres' special protection at the very place of her "earthly home" – and thefts from her temple, including an ancient image of the goddess herself.[19] Faced by the mounting evidence against him, Verres abandoned his own defense and withdrew to a prosperous exile. Soon after, Cicero won election as aedile.

As Ceres' first plough-furrow opened the earth (Tellus' realm) to the world of men and created the first field and its boundary, her laws determined the course of settled, lawful, civilised life. Crimes against fields and harvest were crimes against the people and their protective deity. Landowners who allowed their flocks to graze on public land were fined by the plebeian aediles, on behalf of Ceres and the people of Rome. Ancient laws of the Twelve Tables forbade the magical charming of field crops from a neighbour's field into one's own, and invoked the death penalty for the illicit removal of field boundaries.[20] An adult who damaged or stole field-crops should be hanged "for Ceres".[21] Any youth guilty of the same offense was to be whipped or fined double the value of damage.[22]

Ceres protected natural transitions of life; from girlhood to womanhood, from unmarried to married life and motherhood and the growth of children from infancy. Despite her chthonic connections to Tellus, she was not, according to Spaeth, an underworld deity. Rather, she maintained the boundaries between the realms of the living and the dead. Given the appropriate rites, she would help the deceased of both sexes into afterlife as an underworld shade (Di Manes): otherwise, the spirit of the deceased might remain among the living as a wandering, vengeful ghost. For her service, well-off families offered Ceres sacrifice of a pig. The poor could offer wheat, flowers, and a libation.[23] The expectations of afterlife for initiates in the sacra Cereris may have been somewhat different, as they were offered "a method of living" and of "dying with better hope".[24]

The mundus of Ceres

The mundus cerialis (literally "the world" of Ceres) was a pit or underground vault in Rome. Cato describes its shape as a reflection or inversion of the dome of the upper heavens.[25] It was normally sealed by a stone lid known as the lapis manalis.[26] Its origins, uses and location are disputed,[27] and it was opened on only three occasions in the religious year, August 24, October 5 and November 8. The circumstances of this ceremony remain obscure: the days when the mundus was open are identified in the oldest Roman calendar as C(omitiales) (days when the Comitia met) but by later authors as dies religiosus, when it would be irreligious to perform any official work: this apparent contradiction has led to the suggestion that the whole mundus ritual was not contemporary with Rome's early calendar or early Cerean cult, but was a later Greek import.[28] Nevertheless, these three days are intimate to the official festivals of the agricultural cycle, being clustered within the harvest period: the mundus rite of August 24 follows Consualia (an agricultural festival) and precedes Opiconsivia (another such). With the mundus opened, and the fact announced by the declaration "mundus patet", offerings were made there to agricultural or underworld deities, including Ceres as goddess of the fruitful earth and guardian of its underworld portals. On these days, the spirits of the dead could lawfully emerge from below and roam among the living, in what Warde Fowler describes as ‘holidays, so to speak, for the ghosts’. When it was re-sealed, they returned to the realms of the dead.[29]

Apart from the festivals of Parentalia and Lemuralia, these rites at the mundus cerialis on particular dies religiosi are the only known, regular official contacts with the spirits of the dead, or Di Manes. This may represent a secondary or late function of the mundus, attested no earlier than the Late Republican Era, by Varro.[30] Warde Fowler speculates its original function as a storehouse (penna) for the best of the harvest, to provide seed-grain for the next planting, becoming a largely symbolic penna of the Roman state. In Plutarch, the digging of such a pit to receive first-fruits and small quantities of native soil was an Etruscan colonial city-foundation rite.[31] The rites of the mundus suggest Ceres as guardian deity of seed-corn, an essential deity in the establishment and agricultural prosperity of cities, and a door-warden of the underworld's afterlife, in which her daughter Proserpina rules as queen-companion to Pluto or Dis.[32]


In Roman theology, prodigies were abnormal phenomena that manifested divine anger at human impiety. In Roman histories, prodigies are clustered around perceived or actual threats to the equilibrium of the Roman state, in particular, famine, war and social disorder, and are expiated as matters of urgency. The establishment of Ceres' Aventine cult has itself been interpreted as an extraordinary expiation after the failure of crops and consequent famine. In Livy's history, Ceres is among the deities placated after a remarkable series of prodigies that accompanied the disasters of the Second Punic War: during the same conflict, a lighting strike at her temple was expiated. A fast in her honour is recorded for 191 BCE, to be repeated at 5-year intervals.[33] After 206, she was offered at least 11 further official expiations. Many of these were connected to famine and manifestations of plebeian unrest, rather than war. From the Middle Republic onwards, expiation was increasingly addressed to her as mother to Proserpina. The last known followed Rome's Great Fire of 64 CE.[34] The cause or causes of the fire remained uncertain, but its disastrous extent was taken as a sign of offense against Juno, Vulcan, and Ceres-with-Proserpina, who were all were given expiatory cult. Champlin (2003) perceives the expiations to Vulcan and Ceres in particular as attempted populist appeals by the ruling emperor, Nero.[35]

Myths and theology

The complex and multi-layered origins of the Aventine Triad and Ceres herself allowed multiple interpretations of their relationships; Cicero asserts Ceres as mother to both Liber and Libera, consistent with her role as a mothering deity. Varro's more complex theology groups her functionally with Tellus, Terra, Venus (and thus Victoria) and with Libera as a female aspect of Liber.[36] No native Roman myths of Ceres are known. According to interpretatio romana, which sought the equivalence of Roman to Greek deities, she was an equivalent to Demeter, one of the Twelve Olympians of Greek religion and mythology; this made Ceres one of Rome's twelve Di Consentes, daughter of Saturn and Ops, sister of Jupiter, mother of Proserpina by Jupiter and sister of Juno, Vesta, Neptune and Pluto. Ceres' known mythology is indistinguishable from Demeter's:

"When Ceres sought through all the earth with lit torches for Proserpina, who had been seized by Dis Pater, she called her with shouts where three or four roads meet; from this it has endured in her rites that on certain days a lamentation is raised at the crossroads everywhere by the matronae."[37]

Ceres had strong mythological and cult connections with Sicily, especially at Henna (Enna), on whose "miraculous plain" flowers bloomed throughout the year. This was the place of Proserpina's rape and abduction to the underworld and the site of Ceres' most ancient Sanctuary.[38] According to legend, she begged Jupiter that Sicily be placed in the heavens. The result, because the island is triangular in shape, was the constellation Triangulum, an early name of which was Sicilia.


Vitruvius (c.80 - 15 BCE) describes the "Temple of Ceres near the Circus Maximus" (her Aventine Temple) as typically Araeostyle, having widely spaced supporting columns, with architraves of wood, rather than stone. This species of temple is "clumsy, heavy roofed, low and wide, [its] pediments ornamented with statues of clay or brass, gilt in the Tuscan fashion".[39] He recommends that temples to Ceres be sited in rural areas: "in a solitary spot out of the city, to which the public are not necessarily led but for the purpose of sacrificing to her. This spot is to be reverenced with religious awe and solemnity of demeanour, by those whose affairs lead them to visit it."[40] During the early Imperial era, soothsayers advised Pliny the Younger to restore an ancient, "old and narrow" temple to Ceres, at his rural property near Como. It contained an ancient wooden cult statue of the goddess, which he replaced. Though this was unofficial, private cult (sacra privata) its annual feast on the Ides of September, the same day as the Epulum Jovis, was attended by pilgrims from all over the region. Pliny considered this rebuilding a fulfillment of his civic and religious duty.[41]

Images of Ceres

No images of Ceres survive from her pre-Aventine cults; the earliest date to the middle Republic, and show the Hellenising influence of Demeter's iconography. Some late Republican images recall Ceres' search for Proserpina. Ceres bears a torch, sometimes two, and rides in a chariot drawn by snakes; or she sits on the sacred kiste (chest) that conceals the objects of her mystery rites.[42] Augustan reliefs show her emergence, plant-like from the earth, her arms entwined by snakes, her outstretched hands bearing poppies and wheat, or her head crowned with fruits and vines.[43] In free-standing statuary, she commonly wears a wheat-crown, or holds a wheat spray. Moneyers of the Republican era use Ceres' image, wheat ears and garlands to advertise their connections with prosperity, the annona and the popular interest. Some Imperial coin images depict important female members of the Imperial family as Ceres, or with some of her attributes.[44]


Ceres was served by several public priesthoods. Some were male; her senior priest, the flamen cerialis, also served Tellus and was usually plebeian by ancestry or adoption.[45] Her public cult at the Ambarvalia, or "perambulation of fields" identified her with Dea Dia, and was led by the Arval Brethren ("The Brothers of the Fields"); rural versions of these rites were led as private cult by the heads of households. An inscription at Capua names a male sacerdos Cerialis mundalis, a priest dedicated to Ceres' rites of the mundus.[46] The plebeian aediles had minor or occasional priestly functions at Ceres' Aventine Temple and were responsible for its management and financial affairs including collection of fines, the organisation of ludi Cerealia and probably the Cerealia itself. Their cure (care and jurisdiction) included, or came to include, the grain supply (annona) and later the plebeian grain doles (frumentationes), the organisation and management of public games in general, and the maintenance of Rome's streets and public buildings.[47]

Otherwise, in Rome and throughout Italy, as at her ancient sanctuaries of Henna and Catena, Ceres' ritus graecia and her joint cult with Proserpina were invariably led by female sacerdotes, drawn from women of local and Roman elites: Cicero notes that once the new cult had been founded, its earliest priestesses "generally were either from Naples or Velia", cities allied or federated to Rome. Elsewhere, he describes Ceres' Sicilian priestesses as "older women respected for their noble birth and character".[48] This was the only Roman public priesthood reserved to matrons and was held in the highest honour. Priestesses of Ceres far outnumbered her few male priests, and would have been influential figures in their communities.[49][50]

Cult development

Archaic and Regal eras

Roman tradition credited Ceres' eponymous festival, Cerealia, to Rome's second king, the semi-legendary Numa. Ceres' senior, male priesthood was a minor flaminate. This priesthood and its rites were supposedly also innovations of Numa.[51] Her affinity and joint cult with Tellus, also known as Terra Mater (Mother Earth) may have developed at this time. Much later, during the early Imperial era, Ovid describes these goddesses as "partners in labour"; Ceres provides the "cause" for the growth of crops and Tellus provides them a place to grow.[52]

Republican era

Ceres and the Aventine Triad

In 496 BCE, against a background of economic recession and famine in Rome, imminent war against the Latins and a threatened secession by Rome's plebs (citizen commoners), the dictator A. Postumius vowed a temple to Ceres, Liber and Libera on or near the Aventine Hill. The famine ended and Rome's plebeian citizen-soldiery co-operated in the conquest of the Latins. Postumius' vow was fulfilled in 493 BCE: Ceres became the central deity of the new Triad, housed in a new-built Aventine temple.[53] She was also – or became – the patron goddess of the plebs, whose enterprise as tenant farmers, estate managers, agricultural factors and importers was a mainstay of Roman agriculture.

Much of Rome's grain was imported from territories of Magna Graecia, particularly from Sicily, which later Roman mythographers describe as Ceres' "earthly home". Writers of the late Roman Republic and early Empire describe Ceres' Aventine temple and rites as conspicuously Greek.[54] In modern scholarship, this is taken as further evidence of long-standing connections between the plebeians, Ceres and Magna Graecia. It also raises unanswered questions on the nature, history and character of these associations: the Triad itself may have been a self-consciously Roman cult formulation based on Greco-Italic precedents.[55] To complicate matters further, when a new form of Cerean cult was officially imported from Magna Graecia, it was known as the ritus graecus (Greek rite) of Ceres, and was distinct from her older Roman rites.[56]

The older forms of Aventine rites to Ceres remain uncertain. Most Roman cults were led by men, and the officiant's head was covered by a fold of his toga. In the Roman ritus graecus, a male celebrant wore Greek-style vestments, and remained bareheaded before the deity, or else wore a wreath. While Ceres' original Aventine cult was led by male priests, her "Greek rites" (ritus graecus Cereris) were exclusively female.[57]

Middle Republic

Ceres and Proserpina

The ritus graecus Cereris to Ceres and her daughter Proserpina was imported to Rome around 205 BCE,[58] soon before the end of the Second Punic War. It was brought from southern Italy, along with its Greek priestesses. The latter were given Roman citizenship, and thus owed responsibility and allegiance to the Roman state, so that they could pray to the gods "with a foreign and external knowledge, but with a domestic and civil intention". The cult was based on ancient, ethnically Greek cults to Demeter, most notably the Thesmophoria to Demeter and Persephone, whose cults and myths also provided a basis for the Eleusinian mysteries.

From the end of the 3rd century BCE, Demeter's temple at Enna, in Sicily, was acknowledged as Ceres' oldest, most authoritative cult centre, and Libera was recognised as Proserpina, Roman equivalent to Demeter's daughter Persephone.[59] Their joint cult recalls Demeter's search for Persephone, after the latter's rape and abduction into the underworld by Hades. The new cult to "mother and maiden" took its place alongside the old, but made no reference to Liber. Thereafter, Ceres was offered two separate and distinctive forms of official cult at the Aventine. Both might have been supervised by the male flamen Cerialis but otherwise, their relationship is unclear. The older form of cult included both men and women, and probably remained a focus for plebeian political identity and discontent. The new identified its exclusively females initiates and priestesses as upholders of Rome's traditional, patrician-dominated social hierarchy and mores.[60]

Ceres and Magna Mater

A year after the import of the ritus cereris, patrician senators imported cult to the Greek goddess Cybele and established her as Magna Mater (The Great Mother) within Rome's sacred boundary, facing the Aventine Hill. Cybele's cult image was brought by the Vestal Virgin Claudia Quinta, as an errand of State. Like Ceres, Cybele was a form of Graeco-Roman earth goddess. Unlike her, she had mythological ties to Troy, and thus to the Trojan prince Aeneas, mythological ancestor of Rome's founding father and first patrician Romulus. The establishment of official Roman cult to Magna Mater coincided with the start of a new saeculum (cycle of years). It was followed by Hannibal's defeat, the end of the Punic War and an exceptionally good harvest. Roman victory and recovery could therefore be credited to Magna Mater and patrician piety: so the patricians dined her and each other at her festival banquets. In similar fashion, the plebeian nobility underlined their claims to Ceres. Up to a point, the two cults reflected a social and political divide, but when certain prodigies were interpreted as evidence of Ceres' displeasure, the senate appeased her with a new festival, the ieiunium Cereris.(The Feast of Ceres)[61]

In 133 BCE, the plebeian noble Tiberius Gracchus bypassed the Senate and appealed directly to the popular assembly to pass his proposed land-reforms. Civil unrest spilled into violence; Gracchus and many of his supporters were murdered by their conservative opponents. At the behest of the Sibylline oracle, the senate sent the quindecimviri to Ceres' ancient cult centre at Henna in Sicily, the goddess' supposed place of origin and earthly home. Some kind of religious consultation or propitiation was given, either to expiate Gracchus' murder – as later Roman sources would claim – or to justify it as the lawful killing of a would-be king or demagogue, a homo sacer who had offended Ceres' laws against tyranny.[62]

Late Republic

The Eleusinian mysteries became increasingly popular during the late Republic. Early Roman initiates at Eleusis in Greece included Sulla and Cicero; thereafter many Emperors were initiated, including Hadrian, who founded an Eleusinian cult centre in Rome itself.[63]

In Late Republican politics, aristocratic traditionalists and popularists used coinage to propagated their competing claims to Ceres' favour. A coin of Sulla shows Ceres on one side, on the other a ploughman with yoked oxen: the images, accompanied by the legend "conditor", claim his rule (a military dictatorship) as regenerative and divinely justified.[64] Popularists used her name and attributes to appeal their guardianship of plebeian interests, particularly the annona and frumentarium; and plebeian nobles and aediles used them to point out their ancestral connections with plebeian commoners.[65] In the decades of Civil War that ushered in the Empire, such images and dedications proliferate on Rome's coinage: Julius Caesar, his opponents, his assassins and his heirs alike claimed the favour and support of Ceres and her plebeian proteges, with coin issues that celebrate Ceres, Libertas (liberty) and Victoria (victory).[66]

Imperial era

Imperial theology conscripted Rome's traditional cults as the divine upholders of Imperial Pax (peace) and prosperity, for the benefit of all. The emperor Augustus began the restoration of Ceres' Aventine Temple; his successor Tiberius completed it.[67] Of the several figures on the Augustan Ara Pacis, one doubles as a portrait of the Empress Livia, who wears Ceres' corona spicea. Another has been variously identified in modern scholarship as Tellus, Venus, Pax or Ceres, or in Spaeth's analysis, a deliberately broad composite of them all.[68]

Rome's grain supply, as reformed by the emperor Claudius, was personified as an Imperial goddess, Annona, a junior partner to Ceres and the Imperial family. The traditional, Cerean virtues of provision and nourishment were symbolically extended to Imperial family members with coinage that showed Claudius' mother Antonia as Augusta with corona spicea.[69]

The relationship between the reigning emperor, empress and Ceres was formalised as an Imperial title, Ceres Augusta. On coinage, various emperors and empresses wear her corona spicea; goddess, emperor and spouse are conjointly responsible for agricultural prosperity and the all-important provision of grain. A coin of Nerva (reigned 96 - 98 CE) acknowledges Rome's dependence on the princeps' gift of frumentio (corn dole) to the masses.[70] Under Nerva's later dynastic successor Antoninus Pius, Imperial theology represents the death and apotheosis of the Empress Faustina the Elder as Ceres' return to Olympus by Jupiter's command. Even then, "her care for mankind continues and the world can rejoice in the warmth of her daughter Proserpina: in Imperial flesh, Proserpina is (Faustina the Younger)", empress-wife of Pius' successor Marcus Aurelius.[71]

In Britain, a soldier's inscription of the 2nd century CE attests to Ceres' role in the popular syncretism of the times. She is "the bearer of ears of corn", the "Syrian Goddess", identical with the universal heavenly Mother, the Magna Mater and Virgo, virgin mother of the gods. She is peace and virtue, and inventor of justice: she weighs "Life and Right" in her scale.[72]

During the Late Imperial era, Ceres gradually "slips into obscurity"; the last known official association of the Imperial family with her symbols is an issue of Septimius Severus (193 - 211 CE), showing his empress, Julia Domna, in the corona spicea. After the reign of Claudius Gothicus, no coinage shows Ceres' image. Even so, an initiate of her mysteries is attested in the 5th century CE, after the official abolition of all non-Christian cults.[73]


The word cereals derives from Ceres, commemorating her association with edible grains. Statues of Ceres top the domes of the Missouri State Capitol and the Vermont State House serving as a reminder of the importance of agriculture in the states' economies and histories. There is also a statue of her on top of the Chicago Board of Trade Building, which conducts trading in agricultural commodities.

The dwarf planet Ceres (discovered 1801), is named after this goddess. And in turn, the chemical element cerium (discovered 1803) was named after the dwarf planet. A poem about Ceres and humanity features in Dmitri's confession to his brother Alexei in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, Part 1, Book 3, Chapter 3.

Ceres appears as a character in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest (1611).

An aria in praise of Ceres is sung in Act 4 of the opera The Trojans by Hector Berlioz.

The goddess Ceres is one of the three goddess offices held in the Grange or Patrons of Husbandry. The other goddesses are Pomona, and Flora.

Ceres is depicted on the Seal of New Jersey as a symbol of prosperity.

Notes and references

  1. Spaeth, 1990, pp. 1, 33, 182. See also Spaeth, 1996, pp. 1 - 4, 33-34, 37. Spaeth disputes the identification of Ceres with warlike, protective Umbrian deities named on the Iguvine Tablets, and Gantz' identification of Ceres as one of six figures shown on a terracotta plaque at Etruscan Murlo (Poggio Civitate).
  2. John Scheid, in Rüpke, Jörg (Editor), A Companion to Roman Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, p 264; and Varro, Lingua Latina, 5.98.
  3. Spaeth, 1996, p. 35: "The pregnant victim is a common offering to female fertility divinities and was apparently intended, on the principle of sympathetic magic, to fertilise and multiply the seeds committed to the earth." See also Cato the Elder, On Agriculture, 134, for the porca praecidanea.
  4. Wiseman, 1995, p.137.
  5. Spaeth, 1996, pp.36 - 37. Ovid offers a myth by way of explanation: long ago, at ancient Carleoli, a farm-boy caught a fox stealing chickens and tried to burn it alive. The fox escaped, ablaze; in its flight it fired the fields and their crops, which were sacred to Ceres. Ever since (says Ovid) foxes are punished at her festival.
  6. A plebeian aedile, C. Memmius, is credited with Ceres' first ludi scaeneci. He celebrated the event with the dole of a new commemorative denarius; his claim to have given "the first Cerealia" represents this innovation. See Spaeth, 1996, p.88.
  7. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 35 - 39: the offer of praemetium to Ceres is thought to have been an ancient Italic practice. In Festus, "Praementium [is] that which was measured out beforehand for the sake of [the goddess] tasting it beforehand". In the historical period, the praementium was offered at Ceres' temple.
  8. Ceres' 12 assistant deities are listed in Servius, On Vergil 1.21. Cited in Spaeth, 1996, p.36. Servius cites the historian Fabius Pictor (late 3rd century BCE) as his source.
  9. Beard et al, p. 11. Spaeth, 1996, p.36 has "Maker of Pigs"
  10. Spaeth, 1996, 103 - 105.
  11. Benko, p.177.
  12. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 5, 6, 44-47. The "most auspicious wood for wedding torches" is from Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, 30.75; the relevant passage from Varro is Rerum Rusticarum, 2.4.10. Servius, On Vergil's Aeneid, 4.58, "implies that Ceres established the laws for weddings as well as for other aspects of civilized life."
  13. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 42 - 43, citing Vetter, E., 1953, Handbuch der italienischen Dialekte 1. Heidelberg, for connections between Ceres, Pelignan Angitia Cerealis, Angerona and childbirth.
  14. For discussion of the duties, legal status and immunities of plebeian tribunes and aediles, see Andrew Lintott, Violence in Republican Rome, Oxford University Press, 1999,pp. 92 - 101
  15. Livy's proposal that the senatus consulta were placed at the Aventine Temple more or less at its foundation (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 3.55.13) is implausible. See Spaeth, 1996, p.86 - 87, 90.
  16. The evidence for the temple as asylum is inconclusive; discussion is in Spaeth, 1996, p.84.
  17. Cornell, T., The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c.1000–264 BCE), Routledge, 1995, p. 264, citing vergil, Aeneid, 4.58.
  18. David Stockton, Cicero: a political biography, Oxford University Press, 1971, pp.43 - 49. Cicero's published account of the case is usually known as In Verrem, or Against Verres.
  19. Cicero, Against Verres, Second pleading, 4.49 - 51:English version available on Wikisource.
  20. Ogden, in Valerie Flint, et al., Athlone History of Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome, Vol. 2, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd., 1998, p.83: citing Pliny, Natural History, 28.17 - 18; Seneca, Natural Questions, 4.7.2
  21. Cereri necari, literally "killed for Ceres".
  22. Spaeth, 1996, p.70, citing Pliny the elder, Historia naturalis, 18.3.13 on the Twelve Tables and cereri necari; compare the terms of punishment for violation of the sancrosancticity of Tribunes.
  23. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 55 - 63. See also Viet Rosenberger, in Rüpke, Jörg (Editor), A Companion to Roman Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, p 296, for sacrifice of a pig at funerals.
  24. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 60 - 61, 66; citing Cicero, de Legibus, 2.36. As initiates of mystery religions were sworn to secrecy, very little is known of their central rites or beliefs.
  25. Festus p. 261 L2, citing Cato's commentaries on civil law.
  26. Apparently not the same Lapis manalis used by the pontifices to alleviate droughts.
  27. Candidates for location include the site of Rome's Comitium and the Palatine Hill, within the city’s ritual boundary (pomerium). According to Roman tradition, it had been dug and sealed by Romulus at Rome's foundation. See Spaeth, pp.63-5: W. Warde Fowler, "Mundus Patet" in Journal of Roman Studies, 2, (1912), pp.25-33: available online at Bill Thayer's website: M. Humm, "Le mundus et le Comitium : représentations symboliques de l’espace de la cité," Histoire urbaine, 2, 10, 2004. French language, full preview.
  28. M. Humm, "Le mundus et le Comitium : représentations symboliques de l’espace de la cité," Histoire urbaine, 2, 10, 2004. French language, full preview.
  29. W. Warde Fowler, "Mundus Patet" in Journal of Roman Studies, 2, 1912, pp.25-26: Warde Fowler notes the possibilty that pigs were offered: also (pp.35-36) seed-corn, probably far, from the harvest.
  30. Cited in Macrobius, 1.16.18.
  31. Plutarch, Romulus, 11.
  32. In Festus, the mundus is an entrance to the underworld realm of Orcus, broadly equivalent to Pluto and Dis Pater. For more on Ceres as a liminal deity, her earthly presidence over the underworld and the mundus, see Spaeth, 1996, pp. 5, 18, 31, 63-5. For further connection between the mundus, the penates, and agricultural and underworld deities, see W. Warde Fowler, "Mundus Patet" in Journal of Roman Studies, 2, (1912), pp.25-33: available online at Bill Thayer's website
  33. Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 36.37.4-5. Livy describes the fast as a cyclical ieiunium Cereris; but see also Viet Rosenberger, in Rüpke, Jörg (Editor), A Companion to Roman Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, p 296; if expiatory, it may have been a once-only event.
  34. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 14 - 15, 65 - 7.
  35. For the circumstances of this expiation, and debate over the site of the Cerean expiation, see Edward Champlin, Nero, Harvard University Press, 2003, pp.191-4: this expiation is usually said to be at the Aventine Temple. Champlin prefers the mundus (at or very near the Comitia). Google-books preview
  36. C.M.C. Green, "Varro's Three Theologies and their influence on the Fasti", in Geraldine Herbert-Brown, (ed)., Ovid's Fasti: historical readings at its bimillennium, Oxford University Press, 2002. pp. 78-80.[1]
  37. Servius on Virgil, Aeneid, 4.609. Cited in Spaeth, 107.
  38. Spaeth, 1996, p. 129.
  39. Vitruvius, On Architecture, 3.1.5 available at penelope. edu
  40. Vitruvius, On Architecture, 1.7.2 available at penelope. edu
  41. Pliny the Younger, Epistles, 9.39: cited by Oliver de Cazanove, in Rüpke, Jörg (Editor), A Companion to Roman Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, p.56.
  42. Spaeth, pp.11, 61.
  43. Spaeth, p.37, illustrated at fig. 7.
  44. Spaeth, pp.97-102.
  45. Rome's legendary second King, Numa was thought to have instituted the flamines, so Ceres' service by a flamen cerialis suggested her oldest Roman cult as one of great antiquity.
  46. Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum X 3926.
  47. Responsibility for the provision of grain and popular games lent the aedileship a high and politically useful public profile. See Cursus honorum.
  48. Spaeth, 104-5, citing Cicero, Pro Balbus, 55, and Cicero, Contra Verres, 2.4.99. The translations are Spaeth's.
  49. A Roman matron was any mature woman of the upper class, married or unmarried. While females could serve as Vestal Virgins, few were chosen, and those were selected as young maidens from families of the upper class.
  50. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 4-5, 9, 20 (historical overview and Aventine priesthoods), 84 - 89 (functions of plebeian aediles), 104 - 106 (women as priestesses): citing among others Cicero, In Verres, 2.4.108; Valerius Maximus, 1.1.1; Plutarch, De Mulierum Virtutibus, 26.
  51. Whether or not Numa existed, the antiquity of Ceres' Italic cult is attested by the threefold inscription of her name c.600 BCE on a Faliscan jar; the Faliscans were close neighbours of Rome. See Spaeth, 1996, pp. 4, 5, 33 - 34.
  52. Ovid, Fasti, 1.673 - 684.
  53. Spaeth, 1996, pp.8, 44.
  54. Wiseman, 1995, p.133 and notes 20, 22.
  55. The Sibylline Books were written in Greek; according to later historians, they had recommended the inauguration of Roman cult to the Greek deities Demeter, Dionysus and Persephone. See also Cornell, T., The beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c.1000–264 BC), Routledge, 1995, p. 264, for Greek models as a likely basis in the development of plebeian political and religious identity from an early date.
  56. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 4, 6 - 13. For discussion of ritus graecus and its relation to Ceres' cult, see Scheid, pp. 15-31.
  57. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 4, 6 - 13. For discussion of ritus graecus and its relation to Ceres' cult, see Scheid, pp. 15-31.
  58. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 4, 6 - 13, citing Arnobius, who mistakes this as the first Roman cult to Ceres. His belief may reflect its high profile and ubiquity during the later Imperial period, and possibly the fading of older, distinctively Aventine forms of her cult.
  59. Scheid, p.23.
  60. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 13, 15, 60, 94 - 97.
  61. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 15, 94 - 97.
  62. Both interpretations are possible. On the whole, Roman sources infer the expedition as expiatory; for background, see Valerius Maximus, 1.1.1., and Cicero, In Verres, 2.4.108 et passim, cited by Olivier de Cazanove, in Rüpke, Jörg (Editor), A Companion to Roman Religion, Wiley-Blackwell, 2007, p 56. For debate and challenge to Roman descriptions of the motives for this expedition, see Spaeth, 1990, pp. 182-195. Spaeth finds the expedition an attempt to justify the killing of T. Gracchus as official, right and lawful, based on senatorial speeches given soon after the killing; contra Henri Le Bonniec, Le culte de Cérès à Rome. Des origines à la fin de la République, Paris, Librairie C. Klincksieck, 1958. Le Bonniec interprets the consultation as an attempt to compensate the plebs and their patron goddess for the murder.
  63. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 13, citing Cicero, Balbus, 55.5., and p. 60.
  64. Fears, J. Rufus, The Cult of Virtues and Roman Imperial Ideology, in Hildegard Temporini, Wolfgang Haase (eds), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Part 2, Volume 17, p. 795.[2]
  65. The plebeian L. Assius Caeicianus, identifies his plebeian ancestry and duties to Ceres on a denarius issue, c.102 BC. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 97 - 100.
  66. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 97 - 100, with further coin images between pp. 32 - 44.
  67. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 6-8, 86ff.
  68. Spaeth argues for the identification of the central figure in the Ara Pacis relief as Ceres. It is more usually interpreted as Tellus. See Spaeth, 1996, 127 - 134.
  69. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 26, 30. See also Fears, J. Rufus, The Cult of Virtues and Roman Imperial Ideology, in Hildegard Temporini, Wolfgang Haase (eds), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Part 2, Volume 17, pp. 894-5.[3]: Ceres Augusta can be considered, along with Pax, Libertas et al., as one of several Imperial Virtues.
  70. Spaeth, 1996, p. 101.
  71. Fears, J. Rufus, The Cult of Virtues and Roman Imperial Ideology, in Hildegard Temporini, Wolfgang Haase (eds), Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Part 2, Volume 17, Walter de Gruyter, 1981, pp. 905 - 5, footnote 372 1, 1.
  72. Benko, pp.112 - 114: see also pp.31, 51, citing Apuleius, Metamorphoses, 11.2, in which Isis reveals to Lucius that she, Ceres and Proserpina, Artemis and Venus are all aspects of the one "Heavenly Queen"; cf Juno Caelestis, "Queen of Heaven", the Romanised form of Tanit.
  73. Spaeth, 1996, pp. 30, 62, citing EE 4.866 for the 5th century mystes Cereris.


  • Benko, Stephen, The virgin goddess: studies in the pagan and Christian roots of mariology, BRILL, 2004.
  • Scheid, John, "Graeco Ritu: A Typically Roman Way of Honoring the Gods," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 97, Greece in Rome: Influence, Integration, Resistance, 1995, pp. 15–31.
  • Spaeth, Barbette Stanley, "The Goddess Ceres and the Death of Tiberius Gracchus", Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 39, No. 2, 1990.
  • Spaeth, Barbette Stanley, The Roman goddess Ceres, University of Texas Press, 1996.
  • Wiseman, T.P., Remus: a Roman myth, Cambridge University Press, 1995
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Ceres (mythology). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.