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Umbrian Religion


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Ancient UmbriansMain page     Literary sources   

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(Note that the page “Literary Sources” expands on all the classical references in the account below)

Deities in the Ikuvine Tablets

Like other Italic people, the Umbrians seem to have venerated deities that the Romans called Jupiter (chief of the gods) and Mars (the god of war).  These gods appear with the otherwise unknown Vofionus in the Ikuvine Tablets, each with the epithet “Grabovius”.   (Jupiter and Mars appeared with Quirinus, the god of prosperity in the pantheon of early Rome, and it might be that Vofionus was the Umbrian version of Quirinus).  Few, if any, of the other deities mentioned in the Ikuvine Tablets are known from other sources, and they may have been specific to Ikuvina or even to the Atiedian Brothers.

Cupra

Cupra is recorded in a number of surviving inscriptions from Umbria described below.  Her name also lives on at the towns of Cupramontana and Cupramaritimma in what was Picenum .  Strabo  mentioned Cupra in his account of the geography of Picenum:

  1. “Next in order comes the temple of Cupra, which was established and founded as a city [Cupramaritimma] by the [Etruscans], whose name for Hera [the Roman Juno] is ’Cupra’” (‘Geography’, 5;4;2).

According to Varro:

  1. “cyprum Sabine bonum” (‘De Lingua Latina’, V 159)

As Francesco Marcattili (referenced below, at p. 469) pointed out:

  1. “... this  very brief observation from Varro  [that ‘cyprum’ was the Sabine word for ‘good’] is very important, not only for its linguistic implications but also, more generally, for its important historical-religious significance: the text is in fact a basic argument tin the identification of the Umbrian/ Picene goddess Cupra with the Roman goddess Bona Dea” (my translation).

Bronze plaques dedicated to Cupra from Plestia (4th century BC) 

  

cupr]as, matres pletinas sacru esu

Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Umbria (MANU), Perugia

 
              

                                                       cupr [                                                 cupr]as, matresp[letinas            

                                            MANU, Perugia                                                 MAC, Colfiorito

  

cupras, matres pletinas sacru

Museo Archeologico di Colfiorito (MAC), Colfiorito

These four fragmentary bronze plaques from a sanctuary near Santa Maria di Plestia, Colfiorito that was in use from the 6th to the 1st century BC.  They  carry inscriptions relating to the presiding deity of the sanctuary, Cupra:

  1. two of them are exhibited in the Museo Archeologico, Perugia; and

  2. the other two are in the Museo Archeologico Colfiorito.

The inscriptions are in the Umbrian language, using an Etruscan alphabet that shows the influence of Volsinii (Orvieto).  None of the inscriptions is complete, but they can be reconstructed to read:

cupras, matres pletinas, sacru esu

I am a sacred to Cupra, mother of the Plestini 

All four are illustrated on the site of the Associazione Culturale Istituto di Ricerche e Documentazione sugli Antichi Umbri, Gubbio.  The inscriptions are also discussed  in the page on Umbrian Inscriptions before the Roman Conquest.

Bronze plaques dedicated to Cupra from Fossato di Vico (2nd century BC) 

This inscribed bronze plaque in in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Perugia was found in 1868 at Aja della Croce, near Fossato di Vico, the site of Helvillum, a way station on Via Flaminia that almost certainly belonged to nearby Tadinum.  The inscription (ST UM 7), which uses the Latin alphabet, reads:

CVBRAR MATRER BIO ESO

OSETO CISTERNO N(ummi) CLV

IIII SV MARONATO

V L VARIE T C FVLONIE

Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2007, at p. 400, entry 96) dated it to the late 3rd century BC, but Giulio Giannecchini (in L. Agostiniani et al., referenced below, p. 51, entry 35) more recently dated it to the second half of the 2nd century BC.

Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2009, pp. 204-5, entry 26) observed that the inscription conveys two distinct pieces of information:

  1. the first line can be translated as:

  2. “this [is] the ‘bia’ [probably a fountain] of [the goddess] Cupra Mater”; and

  3. the last three lines record that:

  4. “[this] cistern was built at a cost of 159 nummi in the maronate (magistracy) of

  5. Vibius Varius, son of Lucius; and

  6. Titus Fullonius, son of Gaius.

Sisani suggested that:

  1. the terracotta support to which the plaque is still fixed probably came from the rim of a round puteal that covered the opening of the cistern through which water was draw; and

  2. the cistern was used to store water that had taken from the fountain of Cupra Mater, which was therefore also sacred to the goddess. 

Francesco Marcattili (referenced below, at pp. 478-80 and Figure 16) described the excavations that were carried out in 1918 on a site adjacent to the find spot of the inscription, which revealed a rectangular sanctuary containing two large water basins.  On the basis of his analysis of cult sites in Italy dedicated to Bona Dea, with whom the Umbrian Cupra has been identified, he observed that:

  1. “[The fact] that the cult celebrated in the sanctuary of Cupra of Helvillum vicus was identical to that officiated for Bona Dea in Ostia (and elsewhere) is revealed without a shadow of doubt by the existence of two large open basins ... in the immediate vicinity of the [find spot of the inscription]. ...  As is evident, we have here a coherent structural and functional system that satisfies the liturgical requirements ... that were common to the worship of both Bona Dea and Cupra” (my translation).

In other words, the bia at Aja della Croce seems to have been integral to a sanctuary dedicated to Cupra, albeit that her cult seems to have been to some extent Romanised by this time.

Mars Cyprius (2nd century AD)

   

The Museo Civico of Gubbio exhibits copies of a statue and a related inscription that were found in 1781 at San Pietro in Vigneto, some 16 km from Gubbio on the River Chiascio.  The originals are in the Museo Archeologico, Florence:

  1. The base of the statue contains an inscription (CIL XI 5806) that reveals the donor as L[ucius] Iavolenus Apulus.

  2. The related inscription (CIL XI 5805, now partly lost) identified the statue as that of  Mars Cyprius, and also recorded that Lucius Iavolenus Apulus had also restored the temple, which had collapsed some time before, adding a pronaus and columns. 

The EDR database (see the CIL links) dates both inscriptions to the 2nd century AD.

Thus, it seems that San Pietro in Vigneto stands on the site of a temple dedicated to Mars Cyprius.  Although the temple was restored in the 2nd century AD, its roots are much older.  This is evidenced by two terracotta figures that were also found here in 1781: although they no longer survive, they were sketched at the time of the excavations (see the reproduction of the sketch by Simone Sisani, referenced below, at p. 73, figure 41.)  Sisani suggested (at p. 76) that these statues dated to the 3rd or 2nd century BC, and further that they represented (respectively) Mars and Cupra.  Thus the temple dedication to Mars Cyprius implied that, in this case, Mars was associated with Cypria (Cupra).

Conclusions

At both Colfiorito and Helvillum, Cupra is described as a mother goddess, which suggests that she was a goddess of fertility akin to the Roman fertility goddess "Bona Dea" (the good goddess).  The fact that a fountain at Helvillum seems to have been dedicated to her suggests an association with the therapeutic properties of water.  Her association with Mars at San Pietro in Vigneto suggests an association with the Roman Venus.

Feronia

The goddess Feronia, the protectress of water and woods, has long been associated with the Sorgente di Feronia, a channelled spring near the Rocca of Narni.  One of the accounts of Dionysius of Halicarnassus of the  origins of the Sabines, had them arriving in Italy from Sparta and building a temple to Feronia at the place at which they landed.  He also described Lucus Feroniae, a grove north of Rome that was sacred to the goddess.  (He went on to descibe an incident that occurred there in 650 BC that led to war between the Sabines and the Romans). Two sites closer to Narni that were dedicated to Feronia are known:

  1. Pesaro (where a Latin inscription (3rd or early 2nd century BC) includes her in a list of deities); and

  2. Albacina in the Marche of Ancona.

Other Cults Associated with Water

Bronze votive offerings found near Lake Aiso, outside Bevagna suggest that it was a cult site devoted to a river god perhaps as early as the 7th century BC.

The river god that the Romans called Clitumnus and worshipped at Fonto del Clitunno might have been of Umbrian origin.  Pliny the Younger described the nature of the cult in the 1st century AD.

It is possible that the word "Suppune" inscribed on a cippus (2nd century BC) at Foligno was also a river god or goddess.

Umbrian Votive Bronzes

[In progress]

Umbrian Sanctuaries

[In progress]


Read more:

F. Marcattili , “Tra Venere, Bona Dea e Cupra: Note a Margine della Lamina di Fossato di Vico”, in:

  1. A. Ancillotti et al. (Eds), “Forme e Strutture Della Religione nell' Italia Mediana Antica: Atti Del Terzo Convegno Internazionale Di Studi Umbri: 21-25 Settembre 2011”, (2016) Rome

L. Agostiniani et al. (Eds), “Screhto Est: Lingua e Scrittura degli Antichi Umbri”, (2011) Città di Castello

S. Sisani, “Umbrorum Gens Antiquissima Italiae: Studi sulla Società e le Istituzioni dell' Umbria Preromana”, (2009) Perugia

S. Sisani,  “Fenomenologia della Conquista: La Romanizzazione dell' Umbria tra il IV sec. a. C. e la Guerra Sociale”, (2007) Rome S. Sisani, “Tuta Ikuvina: Sviluppo e Ideologia della Forma Urbana a Gubbio”, (2001) Rome


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