The Qoddess Victory in the Roman Curia

The goddess Victoria, "Victory," was a symbol of Rome's might and empire. Typically she was represented as a woman with outstretched wings and bare feet; a long flowing garment stretched out behind her as though she was about to light. According to the third-century Roman historian Cassius Dio (Roman History 51.22.2), Augustus first set up the statue of Victory in the Curia in 29 B.C.E. to acknowledge her aid in conquering Egypt. He brought the statue from the south-Italian city of Tarentum and decorated it with the spoils from his victory over Cleopatra and Mark Antony. At the same time he also set up an altar to the deity Victoria right near the statue in the Curia. It was on this altar where senators offered incense and libations and allegiance to the emperor; it was on this altar where Roman religion and politics met. When Constantius II

visited Rome in April 357 C.E., he ordered the altar removed in keeping with his legislation prohibiting sacrifices. This legislation had already required that temples be closed and sacrifices prohibited. The penalties for disobeying were harsh. We know, for example, from a law recorded in the Codex Theodosianus, "Theodosian Code" (16.10.4), from 356 C.E. that the property of anyone who sacrificed in the pagan temples would be confiscated for the imperial treasury.

Perhaps the emperor feared that if he were to speak in the Curia in the presence of the altar of Victory, he would be somehow defiled. Or, perhaps he ordered the altar's removal out of deference to Christian senators, so that they would not have to sacrifice upon it. In either case, besides the prohibition against sacrifices, there was no other legislation directed at pagan religious practices in Rome during Constan-tius II's reign, and the altar did not remain removed for long. It was restored immediately, or soon, after the visit. It may even have been returned during the brief reign of Julian in 361-363 C.E., when he restored other pagan altars. The altar remained in the Curia through the reigns of Jovian (363-364 C.E.) and Valentinian I (364-375 C.E.), even though there was a growing bitterness between the imperial Christian court and the Roman senators on the question of blood sacrifices, magic, and divination.

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