Tellus or Terra Mater

Tellus Relief on the Ara Pacis
Tellus Relief on the Ara Pacis. CC Flickr User Alun Salt

Tellus or Terra Mater, the goddess of Mother Earth, was invoked by the Romans in case of earthquake. She was also the Roman goddess of marriage. Coupled with Ceres, she was invoked for fruitfulness. Tavenner says Ovid says Ceres makes the plants grow, but Tellus makes the place for them to grow. Vergil, who acknowledges Tellus as first among the gods, but doesn't have much to say about her (again, according to Tavenner), does place Tellus at the "wedding" ceremony between Dido and himself."

The sowing festival, feriae sementivae, were held in her honor at the end of January, marking the end of winter sowing. At the same time (dates fixed by the pontifex maximus each year) the paganalia were celebrated in the country in honor of Tellus Mater and Ceres. On the 15th of April, the fordicidia feast was held, where pregnant cows in calf were sacrificed to her. This feast was under the management of the pontifex and the vestal virgins, the latter of which kept the ashes of the unborn calves until the parilia at which time they were used for purification. For more details on the fordicidia, including the role of unborn calves see: "Some Survivals of Magic in Roman Religion," by Eli Edward Burriss; The Classical Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Nov., 1928), pp. 112-123.

Livy writes about Tellus Mater in Book 10:

29. From this moment the battle could hardly have appeared to any man to be dependent on human strength alone. After losing their leader, a thing which generally demoralises an army, the Romans arrested their flight and recommenced the struggle. [2] The Gauls, especially those who were crowded round the consul's body, were discharging their missiles aimlessly and harmlessly as though bereft of their senses; some seemed paralysed, incapable of either fight or flight. [3] But, in the other army, the pontiff Livius, to whom Decius had transferred his lictors and whom he had commissioned to act as propraetor, announced in loud tones that the consul's death had freed the Romans from all danger and given them the victory, the Gauls and Samnites were made over to Tellus the Mother and the Dii Manes. [4] Decius was summoning and dragging down to himself the army which he had devoted together with himself, there was terror everywhere among the enemy, and the Furies were lashing them into madness.

29. Vix humanae inde opis videri pugna potuit. Romani duce amisso, quae res terrori alias esse solet, sistere fugam ac novam de integro velle instaurare pugnam; [2] Galli, et maxime globus circumstans consulis corpus, velut alienata mente vana in cassum iactare tela; torpere quidam et nec pugnae meminisse nec fugae. [3] at ex parte altera pontifex Livius, cui lictores Decius tradiderat iusseratque pro praetore esse, vociferari vicisse Romanos, defunctos consulis fato; [4] Gallos Samnitesque Telluris matris ac deorum Manium esse, rapere ad se ac vocare Decium devotam secum aciem furiarumque ac formidinis plena omnia ad hostes esse.

In his commentary on Vergil's Georgics, fourth century AD grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus lists 12 helper gods invoked by the flamen when he arranged the cereal rite festival for Tellus and Ceres:

Fabius Pictor [Roman historian of the 3rd century B.C.] hos deos enumerat, quos invocat flamen sacrum Cereale faciens Telluri et Cereri: Vervactorem, Reparatorem, Inporcitorem, Insitorem, Obaratorem, Occatorem, Sarritorem, Subruncinatorem, Messorem, Convectorem, Conditorem, Promitorem.

Sources:

  • Oskar Seyffert's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
  • "Roman Religion with Especial Relation to Vergil," by Eugene Tavenner; The Classical Journal , Vol. 40, No. 4 (Jan., 1945), pp. 198-220.
  • "Victimal Hierarchies in Indo-European Animal Sacrifice," by Jaan Puhvel; The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 99, No. 3 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 354-362.

     

Also Known As: Mother Earth