Festivals of Venus: Vinalia Urbana, Vinalia Rustica & Venus Genetrix

Instructor: Brittney Clere

Brittney, a National Board Certified Teacher, has taught social studies at the middle school level for 15 years.

Venus is the goddess of love, sex, beauty, fertility, victory, gardens and profane wine. That's a hefty resume for one deity, but she must have served the Romans well given the many festivals held in her honor. We'll explore four of them here.

The Roman Venus

The Roman goddess Venus.
Roman goddess Venus.

The goddess Venus was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Aphrodite, and was the essence of natural beauty. She was associated with most all things girly, especially when it came to love and romance. She was even considered the protector of chastity for young women, despite her reputation for having many love affairs. You probably wouldn't expect powerful male rulers to find a goddess who is busy dealing with lovesick girls to be of much importance. But she was. And they did.

You see, in 217 BCE, as the Second Punic War was raging between Carthage and Rome, an oracle predicted that Rome could win, but only if they convinced Venus of Eryx to grant them her allegiance. They promised to build a temple in her honor if she would agree to help them. Apparently, she accepted--the Romans did win, and they eventually fulfilled their promise by building the temple in the middle of Rome.

Genealogy also made Venus important to many Roman rulers. In Greek and Roman mythology, one of her love interests was the mortal prince Anchises. From one of their romps came their son Aeneas. He would go on to lead the survivors of Troy into Italy, guided by the celestial light of Venus. As the Roman poet Virgil tells it, the heirs of Aeneas were the founders of Rome. They claimed direct descent from the goddess, which gave them quite a divine status. Among the members of this prestigious family were Julius Caesar and his nephew and adopted son, Augustus.

Venus leading Aeneas from Troy.
Aeneas and Venus

Festivals of Venus

As a fertility goddess, Venus represented new life, so it makes sense that the Romans would honor her during a spring month, April, although festivals were held in her honor throughout the year. The first was held on the first of April. It was called Veneralia, and it was a day shared with Fortuna Virilis, the goddess of fortune. As for Venus, the festival honored her role as Venus Verticordia, the changer of hearts. During the festival, the women bathed in the men's baths and adorned themselves with wreaths of myrtle, which is a tree found in several of her myths symbolizing lasting love.

The second festival which took place in April was the Vinalia Urbana, the first of two annual Roman wine festivals aimed at protecting the vineyards. This festival originally honored Jupiter. However, as Venus became more and more important in Roman society, she stole part of the spotlight. As she is the goddess of fertility and gardens, it's understandable why the Romans would include her on this day.

The myth behind Urbana's beginnings goes back to the story of Aeneas. It was said that as he tried to establish his place in Italy by defeating the Etruscans, he offered up all the wine of the next vintage to Jupiter in exchange for his help. Apparently, it worked, so the offering of wine became a tradition. To celebrate the Vinalia Urbana, Jupiter's high priest offered up the first jars of the year's wine to the god. Only then could people drink it.

Venus's role as the goddess of gardens and profane wine was honored on this day by burning mint, incense, and myrtle at her alter. This was followed by women bringing roses and other flowers to her statue and pouring wine into the temple's gutters. As Venus's importance increased, the offering to Jupiter was eventually made at her temple on the Capitol.

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