Roman Marble Head of Cybele

Roman, Roman, Roman, Roman, Roman, Roman · 1st century A.D.




H: 29.0 cm (11.4 in)





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The crowned goddess has her wavy hair parted into two bands whose locks fall on the neck behind the ears and her diadem is adorned with three towers.

Known as the Great Mother or Magna Mater, Cybele, whose chief sanctuary was at Pessinus, was one of the early female deities, first appearing in the province of Lydia as a goddess of the mountains. Arriving from Phrygia, she made her initial appearance in Greece in the 5th century B.C. with a temple in Athens (the Metroum); the Greeks identified her with the goddess Rhea (mother of the Olympians) and Demeter (goddess of the harvest). While never achieving great popularity in Greece, the cult reached Rome around the end of the 3rd century B.C.

Originally, the Cybelean cult was brought to Rome during the time of the Second Punic War (218 -201 B.C.). At that time the Carthaginian general Hannibal was wreaking havoc in Italy, posing a serious threat to the city of Rome. The Sibylline Books, books of prophecy consulted by the Roman Senate in times of emergencies, predicted that Italy would be freed by an Idaean mother of Pessinus; to many, this meant Cybele. A black meteorite, representing the goddess, was brought to Rome from Asia Minor in 204 B.C. Miraculously, Hannibal and his army left shortly afterwards to defend Carthage against the invading Romans; a temple honoring Cybele would be built on Palatine Hill in 191 B.C. The cult eventually achieved official recognition during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41 – 44 CE). Ultimately, her appeal as an agrarian goddess would enable her to find adherents in northern Africa as well as Transalpine Gaul.

Due to its agricultural nature, her cult had tremendous appeal to the average Roman citizen, more so women than men. She was responsible for every aspect of an individual’s life. She was the mistress of wild nature, symbolized by her constant companion, the lion. Not only was she being a healer (she both cured and caused disease) but also the goddess of fertility and protectress in time of war (although, interestingly, not a favorite among soldiers), even offering immortality to her adherents. She is depicted in statues either on a chariot pulled by lions or enthroned carrying a bowl and drum, wearing a mural crown, flanked by lions. Followers of her cult would work themselves into an emotional frenzy and self-mutilate, symbolic of her lover’s self-castration.

Cybele was one of many cults that appeared in Rome. Some were considered harmless, the Cult of Isis for example, and allowed to survive while others, like Bacchus, were seen as a serious threat to the Roman citizens and was persecuted. Of course, almost all of these cults disappeared with the arrival of Christianity when Rome became the center of this new religion. The Cult of Cybele lasted until the 4th century B.C.


Surface cleaned; a few chips; damage of hair on the left side; some deposits.


Ex- European private collection, France, acquired in the 1970’s.


Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), vol. 8, Zürich, Düsseldorf, 1997, s.v. Kybele.