Who was Minerva? The Roman goddess Minerva

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A Roman temple from the forum in Ostia, near Rome

The goddess Minerva: A Roman temple from the forum in Ostia, near Rome. It was probably dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

Is the goddess Minerva the same as Athena?

Minerva was Jupiter’s daughter for the Romans, the way Athena was Zeus‘s daughter for the Greeks.

(More about the goddess Athena)

But the goddess Minerva was not exactly like Athena, just as Jupiter was not exactly like Zeus.

Was Minerva an Italian goddess?

Minerva’s name comes from an older Etruscan goddess, and that comes from an even older Italian goddess Meneswā. Meneswa was a moon goddess. Her name means “the measurer”. So she probably had something to do with measuring out your fate – how long you would live. Because she spun out and cut the thread of your fate, she was naturally also the goddess of spinning and weaving.

A Roman Minerva in onyx, from the 100s AD. Now in the Louvre.

A Roman Minerva in onyx, from the 100s AD. Now in the Louvre. She’s holding her owl.

The Roman goddess Minerva

By Roman times, Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, like Athena, but she was much more a goddess of strategy in war. Minerva was also the goddess of medicine and doctors.

Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva

The Romans often thought of Minerva as part of a group of three gods, JupiterJuno, and Minerva. They seem to have gotten this idea from the Etruscans. Many Etruscan and Roman temples were dedicated to all three of these gods together.

So what about Minerva’s connection to Athena then?

People in Italy had already been worshipping Minerva for a long time before they met anyone from Greece. But when the Etruscans and Romans did hear about the Greek goddess Athena, they thought she sounded like their goddess Minerva. They were both goddesses of war, and wisdom, so they seemed to go well together.

The Roman poet Ovid and Minerva

In the Roman Empire, many people in the Roman Empire thought of Minerva and Athena as the same goddess. The Roman poet Ovid, for example, retold the Greek story – if it even is a Greek story –  of Athena and Arachne’s weaving contest, but he used Minerva in place of Athena.

When did people stop worshipping Minerva?

People kept right on worshipping Minerva all through the Roman Empire. But when most people converted to Christianity in the 300s and 400s AD, they started to think of the older gods as demons. So they didn’t worship Minerva any more then.

More about the Greek goddess Athena
More about Roman religion

Bibliography and further reading about the Roman goddess Minerva:

   

Athena
Juno
Jupiter
Etruscans
More Roman religion
Ancient Rome
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By |2018-06-01T16:17:54+00:00September 4th, 2017|Religion, Romans|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Who was Minerva? The Roman goddess Minerva. Quatr.us Study Guides, September 4, 2017. Web. October 23, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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