Shrine of Cloacina – Sacrum Cloacina

Shrine of Cloacina – Sacrum Cloacina

Shrine of Cloacina or Sacrum Cloacina

The Sacrum Cloacina was a shrine to Cloacina, an Etruscan diety who may well have been associated with the small brook that would eventually become the sewer of Rome, the Cloaca Maxima. Cloacina’s name may be a derivation of the Latin verb cloare (to purify or to clean), or the noun cloaca (sewer). For unknown reasons, the goddess would eventually become associated with the Roman goddess Venus and be called Venus Cloacina.

The shrine was located in the Roman Forum in front of the Tabernae Novae (new shops and eventual location of the Basilica Aemilia) on the Via Sacra. The foundations of the shrine were discovered directly in front of the Basilica Aemilia in 1899-1901. They stand over the drain that flows under the Basilica, near the point where it drains into the Cloaca Maxima. The remains consist of a round marble base, except on the west side where there is a rectangular projection. It appears that the foundation of the shrine was raised over time, probably as the Basilica encroached on it.

Sacrum Cloacina

Location of the Sacrum Cloacina or Shrine of Cloacina

Coins minted around 42 BC give a clear visual representation of the shrine. The coins show the legend CLOACIN, with two statues of females standing on a round sacellum (small, uncovered shrine) with a metal balustrade. Each statue has a low pillar with a bird on it. One is holding an object in her hand (possibly a flower) or waving.

Sacrum Cloacina Coin

Coin showing Sacrum Cloacina

Tradition ascribes the shrine to Titus Tatius, the Sabine king (8th century BC), during the reign of Romulus though it seems more reasonable that it would have been erected some time during the early history of the Cloaca Maxima (traditionally held to be around 600 BC during the reign of Tarquinius Priscus king of Rome), given its relationship with the sewer.

Shrine of Cloacina

Sacrum Cloacina or Shrine of Cloacina drawing from 1906

In 449 BC, according to legend a butcher named Verginius emerged from his shop in the Tabernae Novae and stabbed his daughter Verginia in front of the shrine to save her honor from the lecherous attentions of the lustful Appius Claudius.

According to the poem below by Plautus (c. 254–184 BC) a Roman playwright, the shrine was a place where you would find braggarts and liars.

I’ll show you where you’ll find each sort of man in town,

To save you the trouble of tracking them down, be it men of virtue

You seek, or men of vice, men with and without morals.

If you need a man to perjure an oath, the Comitium’s the place;

But for liars and braggarts, go to the shrine of Venus Cloacina.

Wealthy husbands incautious with cash haunt the Basilica—

There too the busiest hookers and the pimps who strike the deal.

Members of the dinner clubs you’ll find in the Fish-market.

Gentlemen stroll at the end of the Forum, men of money;

In the center, near the Canal, linger the pure pretenders.

Above the Lacus Curtius the slanderers gather, bold

Malicious men who brazenly accuse the innocent

But who themselves make truer targets for their charges.

At the Old Shops are those who lend or borrow money,

And others behind the Temple of Castor—trust them at your peril.

On Tuscan Way, more hookers, of either sex;

On the Velabrum, bakers, butchers, and prognosticators,

And swindlers, or those who rent the stalls for swindlers’ work.

Plautus, Curculio 467-82

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