Temple of Libitina

The figure of Libitina, one of the oldest deities attested on the Esquiline, is closely connected to the presence of the vast necropolis that developed on the hill; the literary sources allow us to date her cult to very ancient times, even linking it to the figure of Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome and successor of Romulus (Plut. Num., 12.1-2), or, according to the historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus, to king Servius Tullius (Dion. Hal., IV, 15, 5)

The sources relate that Libitina was initially worshipped in a lucus, a sacred forest, which according to the archaeological data lay in the area between the Esquiline Gate and today’s Piazza Vittorio. It was thus outside the walls, as prescribed by the very ancient law of the Twelve Tables, which relegated outside the city everything connected with the sphere of death. In this area, the excavations of the late nineteenth century unearthed a large number of bronze brooches, hair pins made of bone, human figurines in bronze and small pottery vessels, probably part of a votive deposit, a pit containing the offerings made to the goddess by worshippers. The first forms of “monumentalization” of the cult almost certainly began in around the sixth century BC, with some cultural and religious aspects being inspired by the Greek model. Certainly belonging to this tradition is the magnificent terracotta statue painted in bright colours, now on display in the Capitoline Museums, representing a warrior or a wounded Amazon and forming part of the decoration of a cult building or a treasure-chamber dedicated to Libitina.