Sulis Minerva was a blending of Sulis, a local Celtic goddess associated with the springs, and Minerva, the Roman goddess often identified with the Greek Athena. Roman’s often combined their deities with local ones that had similar characteristics or myths. This was done in part to merge the two religions and two communities. By seeing the incorporation and acceptance of their own local cults into the Roman’s religion rather than seeing their replacement or destruction the conquered peoples were more likely to accept their conquerors and other aspects of the new culture that came with them.
Minerva was originally an Etruscan goddess, Minvre, associated with household arts and crafts, but under the Roman republic she quickly became associated with the Greek Athena and took on many of her characteristics. Athena was a goddess of crafts and skills, but was also the goddess of wisdom, intelligence, strategy and war. She was one of the twelve Olympian gods and was born fully formed from Zeus’ head after Hephaestus treated Zeus for a headache by hitting him with an axe (do not try this at home, I promise you a fully formed goddess will not be the result). Athena’s symbolic animal was the owl, which represented wisdom. As Minerva was merged with Sulis it seems likely that Sulis shared the associated traits of wisdom, curative powers, and martial prowess.
|Cult Statue Head of Sulis Minerva|
The head of Sulis Minerva that is part of the collections here at the Roman Baths was once crowned with a Corinthian helmet and was probably the cult statue in a temple dedicated to Sulis Minerva. Although the head does not say the name Sulis Minerva on it anywhere we know it must be of her because of many of its characteristics including its beauty, location, the fact that it was wearing a helmet, its likeness to other known statues, and the fact that it was re-gilded six times. Gilt bronze statues like this are very rare and reflect the importance of the deity and the wealth of the temple in which she was displayed. The head displays evidence of intentional destruction. It is thought that raiders or another religious group destroyed the statue in late Roman times. The statue head was found under a nearby street, just a few metres from where it is now displayed, when a sewer trench was dug in 1727.
Did you know that the name Sulis only appears in and around Bath?
This is due to the fact that Celtic deities like Sulis were commonly place associated deities.