The altar of Magna Mater
Front face. Luna marble.
Luna marble. The time of Claudius (41—54 CE).
Height 0,87 m, width 0,59 m, depth 0,51 m.
CIL VI 494, 30777 = ILS 4096.
Rome, Capitoline Museums, Museum Montemartini (Centrale Montemartini)

The altar of Magna Mater.

Front face. Luna marble.
Luna marble. The time of Claudius (41—54 CE).
Height 0,87 m, width 0,59 m, depth 0,51 m.
CIL VI 494, 30777 = ILS 4096.

Rome, Capitoline Museums, Museum Montemartini (Centrale Montemartini)
(Musei capitolini, Centrale Montemartini)

Origin:
Discovered on the bank of the Tiber below the Aventine under the papacy of Clement XI between 1700 and 1721.
Description:
p.1 The relocation during the 1990’s — whether permanent or merely temporary — of many items of sculpture from the Capitoline collections in the Museum of the Power Plant Montemartini has given a new visibility to several items as interesting for their cultural significance as for their artistry. One of these is a marble relief altar discovered on the bank of the Tiber below the Aventine under the papacy of Clement XI at some time between 1700 and 1721. The face of the altar bears a dedicatory inscription and a pictorial allusion to the arrival by ship at Rome of the goddess Cybele1. On the altar’s back face are two flutes, while the right side has a pedum and cymbal and the left a Phrygian cap, all unmistakably referring to Cybele’s Phrygian origins and her association with the myth of Attis2.

p.2 The central image is a small ship with a curved stern plume and a volute prow. The goddess enthroned at the center should probably be imagined within the aedicula shell behind her. She is fully enveloped in a veil, chiton and himation with one hand resting on her knee and another raised with a tympanum3. Around the capstan on the bow is wrapped a short pull whose other end falls lightly from the hand of a woman positioned obliquely to the front of the boat on a projecting square platform. She also has her head veiled and she wears a chiton wrapped closely over her breast and fastened in the manner of the goddess, but her mantle is loosely draped over the free arm. The dedicatory inscription names the goddess and, surprisingly, gives a name to the ship (CIL VI 492)4.

matri.deum.et navi salviae
salviae voto suscepto
claudia synthyche
d. d.

To the mother of the gods and the ship salvia
As in a vow made to Salvia
Claudia Syntyche
dedicates this gift

Although the event represented here is well known from a variety of sources, both historical and poetic, certain idiosyncrasies of the iconography and the inscription added to the otherwise unknown identity of the dedicator prompt questions concerning the altar’s particular association with time and place.
Sources leave no doubt as to the identity of the figure who tows the boat, no other than Claudia Quinta a celebrated woman of the Republican third century traditionally associated with the reception of the goddess.

1 Simon, Erika. Altar der Göttermutter und ihres schiffes Salviae in Helbig. Führer 24—25. 1175. M.J. Vermaseren. Corpus Cultus Cybelae Attidisque (CCCA) III. Italia-Latium. Leiden 1977. #218. Pp. 45-46. At the time of these publications the altar was located in the Sala delle Columbe of the Capitoline Museum.

2 Vermaseren (above, note 1) 45—46.

3 Clearly the scene depicts the arrival of the goddess previously mentioned, although some of its features are unusual in this context. While representations of Cybele within the boat occur frequently, the goddess is usually wearing a mural crown and attended by her two lions, while the ship itself has both oars and sails. Several terra cotta antefixes from Ostia show the goddess in this form (Vermaseren [above note 8] #s 429-435 and Pls. CCLXXII—CCLXXIV.)

4 CIL VI 493, a marble plaque now in the Museo Archaeologico ad Theatro Romano of Verona bears almost the same dedication and was also found on the Tiber bank. Vermaseren (above note 1) #219. p. 46 and Pl. CXV.

navi. salviae et
matri. deu d d
claudia. sintyche...

Credits:
© 2007. Photo, text: E. W. Leach. Claudia Quinta (Pro Caelio 34) and an altar to Magna Mater. Dictynna, No. 4 (2007), pp. 1—2, 13, fig. 1.
Keywords: γλυπτική sculptura sculpture sculptural scultura skulptur ρωμαϊκό roman romana romano romani römisch römische römisches römischen römischer romain romaine romains romaines luna marble luni marble marmo lunense altar relief votive inscription magna mater deorum great mother of gods cybele ship salvia claudia quinta g679 synthyche rope infula chain throne aedicula temple veil chiton himation tympanum cil vi 494; 30777 ils 4096
History of Ancient Rome