Deity of the Day Bellona
Roman Goddess of War
Bellona was an Ancient Roman goddess of war. She was called the sister of Mars, and in some sources, his wife or an associate of his female cult partner Nerio. Bellona’s main attribute is the military helmet worn on her head, and she often holds a sword, a shield, or other weapons of battle.
Politically, all Roman Senate meetings relating to foreign war were conducted in the Templum Bellonæ (Temple of Bellona) on the Collis Capitolinus outside the pomerium, near the Temple of Apollo Sosianus. The fetiales, a group of priest advisors, conducted ceremonies to proclaim war and peace, and announce foreign treaties at the columna bellica, in front of her temple.
The name Bellona is transparently derived from the Latin word bellum “war”—the older form Duellona demonstrates its antiquity, showing the same sound change as duellum.
In art, she is portrayed with a helmet on her head, usually wearing a breastplate or plate armour, bearing a sword, spear, shield, or other weaponry, sometimes holding a flaming torch or sounding the Horn of Victory and Defeat. In heraldic crests, she may be shown as a goddess with spread feathered wings bearing a helmet or coronet.
Ammianus Marcellinus, in describing the Roman defeat at the Battle of Adrianople refers to “Bellona, blowing her mournful trumpet, was raging more fiercely than usual, to inflict disaster on the Romans”.
Near the beginning of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (I.ii.54), Macbeth is introduced as a violent and brave warrior when the Thane of Ross calls him “Bellona’s bridegroom” (i.e. Mars). In Henry IV, Part I, Hotspur describes her as “the fire-eyed maid of smoky war” (IV.i.119). And in The Two Noble Kinsmen (1613), set in pre-Roman Athens, the sister of Hippolyta will solicit her divine aid for Theseus against Thebes (I.iii.13).
The goddess has also proved popular in post-Renaissance art as a female embodiment of military virtue, and an excellent opportunity to portray the feminine form in armour and helmet.
The composer Francesco Bianchi and the librettist Lorenzo da Ponte together created a Cantata first performed in London on 11 March 1797 & called Le nozze del Tamigi e Bellona, (The Wedding of the Thames and Bellona), to mark the British naval victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Cape St Vincent.
Also, the “Temple of Bellona” was a popular choice of name for the small mock-temples that were a popular feature of 18th- and 19th-century English landscaped gardens (e.g. William Chambers’s 1760 Temple of Bellona for Kew Gardens, a small Doric temple with a four-column facade to contain plaques honouring those who served in the Seven Years’ War of 1756–64).
First World War poet Edgell Rickwood wrote a poem “The Traveller” where he marches toward the front line in company of Art, the God Pan and the works of essayist Walter Pater. As they approach the active war, they meet Bellona. One by one the pleasurable companions are forced to flee by the violence of war, until Bellona rejoices in having him to herself.
Samuel R. Delany’s 1975 novel Dhalgren is set in the city of Bellona.
The detective novel The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L Sayers is set at a fictional London club whose membership is composed of active or retired military officers, and is named after the goddess.