The maza of Iuno Sospes in Lanuvio

Culture: The maza of Iuno Sospes in Lanuvio

Saturday March 22th 2014 a new "old" food was presented during the event sponsored by the City of Lanuvio to launch the new touristic-cultural event “Lanuvio urbs imperatorum”. This food is related to the history of the city: the flatbread offered to the goddess Juno on the occasion of one of the several archaic cults in Lazio. The initiative, by the Association of Lanuvio traders with the historical advice of Archeogusto by Vita Romana, led to the creation of a bakery product. The recipe is based on the careful analysis of the documents and appears as a contemporary reworking of maza, the ritual flatbread offering to the goddess. New unpublished archaeological discoveries bring novel elements to the already rich history of the site and make the historical narrative more fascinating. The flatbread of Juno will be presented in Rome during the Cerealia Festival 2014.
The archaic cult of Iuno Sospes in Lanuvio
Among the religious cults of the archaic Latin Lazio, a particularly important one was dedicated to the goddess Iuno Sospes in Lanuvio (Sil. It., VIII, 360: Lanuvium, Iunionia sedes). The archaeological findings of the temple testify with their monumentality a considerable investment in terms of energy and resources. These investments give the idea of a non-marginal importance of the temple and of the goddess already in the Archaic period. Lanuvio played for a long time an important role in the area of Latin culture, also because of its participation in the alliances of the Latin League. It is easy to imagine that this role was also connected to the importance of Iuno Sospes for the Latin populations. After the Romanization of Lanuvio or at least after its final admission in the Roman orbit, the temple was still the destination of many pilgrimages in line with those of the archaic period, representing an important economic resource for the city. In 338 A.C. the cult of Iuno Sospes was officially established in Rome and on close period, if not on the same date, the people of Lanuvio were granted with the Roman citizenship. In fact, Iuno Sospes and Lanuvio became Roman, and the Consuls had to celebrate a sacrifice to the goddess (Cicero, Pro Mur., 41, 90). It is not clear whether in addition to the sacrifice that was taking place in Rome during the Calends of February, they had to perform another sacrifice in Lanuvio. At the same time a special board of priests was appointed, the Sacerdotes Lanuvini. Members of the board belonged to the class of equites, with a flamen subjected to these priests. An integral part of the goddess cult was food offering to a snake that lived in a deep cave near the temple of Iuno. We have two largely overlapping descriptions of this rite. According to Propertius (4, 8, 3-14) every year young virgins were in charge of bringing food offerings to the snake. The girls had to descend into the cave alone, bringing the baskets containing the food offerings. Once the offering was delivered, the girls could go back to their families and their return would be greeted with jubilation by the farmers. Their return was a good omen for the fertility of the fields in the next agricultural year. However, in case the girl was not a virgin our source makes us understand that she would never come back to the family and next year crop would be disastrous. Our second source is Eliano (Perì zoon, XI, 16). He adds some details specifying that the broad and deep cave where the dragon (Drakon) lived, that is how Eliano calls the snake, was in a wood. During the established days for the ritual, the blindfolded consecrated virgins entered the wood, carrying flatbread in their hands. The girls were able to proceed as if they were not blind thanks to a divine breath that would lead them without stumbling directly to the pallet of the dragon. The dragon would accept the food as pure and convenient for an animal dear to the Gods only if they were real virgins. The dragon, says Eliano, was able to notice the corruption of the girls thanks to a prophetic spirit. If one of the girls was not a virgin the dragon would refuse the food and the flatbread would remain intact. Then, the ants would take care of crumbling the flatbread and transporting it out of the wood to purify the place. In this way, the lack of purity would be disclosed to the local people and the girl who dishonoured her virginity would be punished according to the law.
The flatbread
Thanks to Eliano we know the nature of the offering to the snake. The term used by the author, who writes in Greek, is maza. This word was used to describe different kinds of flatbread, normally prepared with crude cereal flours such as barley, spelt or legumes (peas and beans) mixed with either water, oil, honey or milk. maza was made of different mixtures depending on the event. It could be prepared in elaborate and refined variants suitable for the symposiums that followed the classic banquets. It could be eaten raw or cooked and it could have various forms from flatbread, to bread and crackers. maza was also used as a base for other food and thus considered to be among the ancestors of pizza, and sometimes as a real plate according to a tradition which is found also in later sources. In the Aeneid (VI, 420) Virgil describes a honey cake with drugs that Sibyl throws to Cerberus, and makes the harpy Celaeno predict that Aeneas and his men once arrived from Troy to Lazio will suffer of a terrible hunger and will even eat maza, a sort of spelt-made bun used as a plate to contain food.
The Lanuvio recipe
The sources and archaeological data in our possession may not certainly identify the ingredients of the Lanuvio maza. Archaeological investigations exposed alimentary remains related to cooked chickpeas and broad beans, as well as sheep and goat remains near the site identified as the snake cave. This food falls perfectly within the sacrificial offerings to the Gods and it is plausible, also in this case, that maza had the function of an edible dish to place meat and vegetables. Two maza recipes were realized. The first one, salty and without yeast, is certainly the closest to the flatbread offered to the snake and may be accompanied by seasoned olives, roasted meat and vegetables that dampen it with their flavours. The second one is a sweet and leavened maza used in banquets. Both are made with wholemeal spelt and/or barley flours.

Read more

Read less

Insights: the other sections

Scroll to top