The annual games were held in her honor. She was brought to Rome in an abstract block of stone (like that of Kybele from Pessinus). And became popular there diring the early part of the third century AD; in this guise she became known as the «mighty protectress of the Tarpeian hill.»
Caelestis, a figure in ancient Roman religion, represents an interesting example of cultural syncretism and the evolution of religious practices across different civilizations. Here’s a detailed look at her significance and history:
- Carthaginian Origins: Caelestis was originally a Carthaginian moon goddess, closely associated with or possibly another form of the Punic goddess Tanit. Tanit was a principal deity in the Carthaginian pantheon, often associated with the moon, fertility, and the city of Carthage itself.
- Romanization: With the expansion of Roman influence and the eventual fall of Carthage, Tanit was assimilated into the Roman pantheon, albeit in a modified form. This Romanized version of the goddess was known as Caelestis, derived from the Latin word for «heavenly» or «celestial.»
- Syncretism with Aphrodite-Venus: In the broader Mediterranean world, Caelestis was syncretized with the cult of Aphrodite-Venus, the Greco-Roman goddess of love and beauty. This kind of syncretism, where gods and goddesses from different cultures were identified with each other, was common in the ancient world and reflected the interconnectedness of these civilizations.
- Annual Games: Special games and celebrations were held in honor of Caelestis, indicating her significance and popularity within the Roman religious landscape. These festivities would likely have included various rituals, offerings, and possibly athletic or theatrical performances.
- Abstract Stone Symbol: Similar to the Phrygian goddess Kybele, who was brought to Rome as an aniconic (non-representational) stone, Caelestis was also represented by an abstract block of stone. This form of worship, where the divine was represented not by a human-like image but by a symbolic object, was a feature of several ancient religions.
- Popularity in Rome: By the early part of the 3rd century AD, the cult of Caelestis had become quite popular in Rome. She was revered as the «mighty protectress of the Tarpeian Hill,» a reference to one of the seven hills of Rome, which was a significant site in Roman religion and governance.
- Cultural Integration: Her story reflects the broader themes of cultural and religious integration in the ancient Mediterranean world. Deities often transcended their original cultural contexts, adopting new characteristics and forms of worship as they were absorbed into the pantheons of conquering or neighboring civilizations.
Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 50