Ceres (mythology)

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Colossal statue of Ceres ( Vatican Museums , Rome)

Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture and fertility and is considered a legislator. She is the daughter of Ops and Saturn . In Greek, Ceres is called Demeter . She had two children with Jupiter : Proserpina and an unnamed boy. The Interpretatio Romana contrasts the Eleusinian triad Demeter, Iakchos and Kore with the Aventinian triad formed by Ceres, Liber and Libera .


The attributes of the Ceres were fruits, torches, snakes, wreaths or sheaves of ears and ants . The poppy seeds and the pig continued to be sacred to her. Ceres is described as having wheat-blonde, i.e. golden-blonde hair that is often worn long, but is also braided into pigtails. Sometimes she wears a cornucopia.

The snake accompanying it , which lives in crevices and rocks and crawls on the earth, is symbolically widely interpreted as a chthonic badge.

She carried the torch as a symbol from the Eleusinian mystery cult (see Mysteries of Eleusis ). Demeter is also shown with a torch. So it seems to be a later achievement. The torch itself means: lighting the way, that is, lighting the way for someone. According to legend, Ceres is said to also search for her daughter Proserpina with a torch at night.

The pig , an animal burrowing in the earth, is sacred to Demeter and Ceres. There is no transference here, but an identity from the point of view of the fact that the pigs' uproaring and wallowing in the countryside were probably the first "fields" at the cultural stage of transition to agriculture, i.e. the point where the sprouting of seeds can be observed was.

The poppy was also a gift from Demeter. Poppy was already a symbol of the Babylonian Ištar . It is believed that this happened because of the many seeds in the poppy capsule, which are supposed to symbolize fertility. Whether the intoxicating effect of poppy seed juice, which was known early on, played a role can only be guessed at.

The wreath or sheaf of ears are symbols for food. These are mainly wheat and barley , the two predominant types of grain.

The cornucopia is a mythological symbol of material happiness. It is primarily an attribute of Pluto , the god of the underworld and of wealth.

Ceres embodies summer in allegorical depictions of the four seasons.

Ceres on an As Domitians , back

The name and its pronunciation

The name Ceres is associated with Latin verbs such as crescere - to grow and creare - to create, produce, procreate / give birth, choose; but probably also to cernere - decide. Cera - the wax and cervus - the deer belong here too . The name Ceres was pronounced in classical Latin with an unaspirated K, tongue-R, open E (ä), where the second E was long, and a sharp eszett: Kerreeß [kerε: s] .


Its origin is probably Etruscan . She is considered to be an ancient Italian Roman deity, whose essence was darkened by assimilating it to Tellus and mixing it with Demeter, mediated by Oscar or Etruscan. Since the 6th century BC It is the Roman counterpart to the Greek goddess Demeter .

One must not forget that the interpretatio romana of the Greek triad Demeter, Dionysus and Kore (Κόρη - girl) is an interpretation and not an identification. In this context, however, the proximity of the term Tellus (earth, earth) to that of Demeter, gr. Δημήτηρ = gr Γῆ-μήτηρ = earth mother and also the etymological relationship of Ceres and Kore, remains remarkable. Mythologically it would also make sense to depict growth (Ceres = Kore = girl) as the fruit of the earth mother.

The Ceres, along with Tellus and her old Italian children Libera and Liber, is considered a chthonic Dea . It is assigned to the Inferi , that is, the beings living in the earth's inner world, which is also reminiscent of their “responsibility” for death. This original non-Graecised Triassic was possibly the plebeian counterpart to the Capitoline Triassic (Jupiter, Mars, Quirinus) of the patricians . Since these came from heaven as a treaty of the superi , logically the vulgar plebeians had to be of inferior origin, i.e. of earthly origin.

Since there was no dogmatics in the Roman religion , there was also no absolute separation between Tellus and Ceres, and it can be assumed that the distinction made by Ovid was by no means common property of the cult community.

Temple of Ceres in Rome

The earliest verifiable state place of worship in Rome was a hemispherical depression in the earth, the so-called Mundus Cereris , located in the Roman Forum next to the Comitium (meeting place of the people) at the foot of the Capitol .

A three-cell temple with an Etruscan floor plan, located between Circus Maximus and Aventine , became her and the gods Liber and Libera from 496 BC. Built because the dictator Postumius had vowed a temple because of a famine on the instructions of the Sibylline books of Ceres, and 493 BC. Consecrated by the consul Spurius Cassius . Only the Ceres was sacrificed here. 31 BC This so-called aedes Cereris burnt down , was renewed by Augustus and consecrated by Tiberius in 17 AD.

Relatively early on, the temple received its own priest, the flamen Cerialis , who was allowed to come from the people. It is believed that the aedilat arose from the head of this building, the templum Cereris , which was so important for the Roman plebeians , because the aediles were responsible for the cura annonae , i.e. the supervision of grain donations and fairness of the market, which included price monitoring, among other things. This temple was the sacred center of the Roman plebs, had the right of asylum, maintained the archives of the plebeian officials and housed the cash register of the Roman plebs. From here the secessiones of 494 BC passed. BC and 450/449 BC From, the exodus of the plebeians to the Mons Sacer , with which they defeated the patricians and enforced the introduction of the plebiscite . The tribunes of the people were obliged to comply with the law towards Ceres.

Public cult

Before the sowing, Tellus and Ceres were made a public sacrifice by the flamen Cerialis , although in Rome, even during public rituals , twelve male special gods from the circle of indigitamenta were invoked, all of whom were related to peasant work related to grain. These were called:

  • Vervactor (1st plowing of vervactum = the fallow field)
  • Repairer (2nd plow)
  • Inporcitor (3rd, last plowing, lirae = furrows are drawn and porcae = water drainage furrows )
  • Insitor (seed)
  • Obarator (incorporating the seeds)
  • Occator (harrows)
  • Saritor (weeding)
  • Subrunc (in) ator (weeds)
  • Messor (Mahd)
  • Convector (entry of the sheaves)
  • Conditor (storage of the grain)
  • Promitor (delivery of the grain)

The number twelve is striking, and it cannot be ruled out that old peasant monthly geniuses will continue to live in these special gods . Their names partly coincide with special goddesses of agriculture from early and pre-Roman times. These were Seia (Sower), Segetia or Segesta ( Seges , etis, f - Saat), Messia (Mower) and Tutulina (Protector). These genii, exhibited in the circus after Pliny , were assigned to a Mediterranean corn goddess, who the Italian immigrants later called Ceres. They suggest that the field work was originally mainly in the hands of women.

After the spring sowing had ended , a pregnant sow and a spelt were offered to Ceres and Tellus at the mobile feriae Sementivae on two days separated by seven days in late January or early February .

Private cult

We know from the older Cato that the Ceres was one of the numina of farms. The private cult is likely to be even older than the public one. When a family member died, a sow, the porca praesentanea , was immediately offered to Ceres . Certainly it was not a whole sacrifice, a Holocaust in which the victim was completely burned, but a meal offering in which only parts of the goddess were offered and the rest of the food was prepared and consumed by people as a funeral feast. Since Ceres was one of the Inferi, the gifts will not have been given to her over the fire, but simply placed in a pit. Something similar is reported of the thesmophorias relating to Demeter.


Whether there is an original identity between Demeter and Ceres - after all, both peoples were closely related Indo-Europeans - remains to be seen. After all, the Romans considered Enna in Sicily, which belonged to Magna Graecia, to be the home of the Ceres. Priestesses from southern Italy had also been in their service for a long time. Around 250 BC In any case, the Ceres cult was practiced mainly by Greek priestesses. Here we summarize a specialization in the cultivation of grain. The cult changed to the scheme given by Demeter in the Tesmophoria, where she was looking for her daughter Persephone ( Kore in Roman mythology Proserpina ). The early alignment of the ancient Roman libers to Dionysus may also be more than a late theoretic system.


The Cerialia are in the festival calendar on April 19th. They were exactly three days apart between the Fordicidien (cow festival) and the Vinalia (wine festival). At least since the third century BC Chr. Were Ludes given (games) of the plebeian aediles.

Between 249 and 218 BC In BC, Ceres was an annual festival in midsummer according to the Greek rite. During this festival abstinence from bread and wine and possibly also from the use of the pudenda was required. It was called Initia cereris - "Entrance into Ceris" - which may mean an initiation or an invocation. Another theory is that it meant the beginning of growth and that the festival name was changed from the Spring Festival to the Summer Festival.

For the sake of completeness it should be mentioned here that the Liberalia celebrated the old Italian couple Liber / Libera on March 17th . On those days old women offered homemade sacrificial cakes Libum = cakes for sale, which they then offered on small stoves for the customer. The boys also took the opportunity to put on the men's toga.


Ovid describes Ceres as a legislator. As such it is already mentioned in the Twelve Tables . Possibly Demeter as mistress of the thesmophoria plays a role here, because of the double meaning of the thesmon as "put down / written down".

The Greek tribe νέμ- refers to agriculture as the beginning of legalism, also contained in our German “take” and “name”, from which two in classical Greek differed only by the accent, like our “way” and “ away “, derive nouns, namely νόμος = law and νομός = pastureland. The latter is reflected in Nom aden resist, the former example in Oeko nom ie. Even the German is clear that Ge releasing something with Be seated and this something with Sess bility, and this has something to do with agriculture. So here we have a linguistic fossil. From this we can imagine how Ceres could have become a legislator.


Web links

Commons : Ceres  - collection of images