The Magna Mater Romana: A sociocultural study of the cult of the Magna Mater in Republican Rome
Burns, Krishni Schaefgen
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The Magna Mater was brought to Rome in the year 204BCE from the Phrygian city of Pessinus in Asia Minor. Although the cult was introduced as a new form of the Phrygian goddess Matar by way of its Greek incarnation, the Cult of Cybele, it was actually a Roman construction of a "foreign" cult. From its first arrival, the Roman cult had a public branch that was established by the state in order to incorporate it into Roman public religion and a private branch that developed separately with its own rituals and modes of worship. The prominence of the Magna Mater's public cult stood in marked contrast to her counterpart's rites in the Greek world, where she was worshiped solely with private, initiation rites, and her Pessinan cult, which was a state affair under the purview the city's king. The Magna Mater's cult is a cultural touchstone that can elucidate the complex changes that Roman social identity underwent during the mid to late Republic due to its new multiculturalism. Although the cult was deliberately introduced into Rome as part of public worship, it also developed a strong presence in the city as a private cult. The Magna Mater always maintained her status as a "foreign" goddess through her priests' distinctive rituals and Greek language rites. At the same time she was embraced as the founder of the Roman race through her association with the region near Troy and identified with important foundational figures such as Aeneas in the late Republic. The Magna Mater was both public and private, foreign and Roman.