This story starts in the Archaic Roman Age when the Capitoline hill was Rome’s citadel , defended by walls, and her religious center: here was in fact the Temple of Jupiter, the king of gods. But here was also another temple dedicated to Juno.
Juno Regina, the first Desperate Housewife
She was the queen (regina) of Roman gods such as sister AND wife of Jupiter. In fact they both were Saturn‘s sons (Ju-piter, Ju-no…it’s not a coincidence )
But Jupiter was a very bad guy and he had plenty of lovers: Roman mythology is teeming with stories about Jupiter’s loves and, of course, Juno’s jealousy …not so far from the modern soaps’ stories!
Anyway, Juno as queen was the female State protector and goddess of the female world, protecting all the most important events of a woman’s life such as marriage, childbirths and so on.
The Geese of the Capitoline Hill
The temple of Juno on the Capitoline hill was guarded by a gaggle, because geese were considered sacred to the goddess.
In 390 B.C., after a long siege, the Gauls tried to conquer the hill but it was saved by the geese.
This is Plutarch’s tale about that event:
“About midnight a large band of them (the Gauls) scaled the cliff and made their way upward in silence (…) Neither man nor dog were aware of their approach. But there were some sacred geese near the temple of Juno, which were usually fed without stint, but at that time, since provisions barely sufficed for the garrison alone, they were neglected and in evil plight. The creature is naturally sharp of hearing and afraid of every noise, and these, being specially wakeful and restless by reason of their hunger, perceived the approach of the Gauls, dashed at them with loud cries, and so waked all the garrison (…) The defenders, snatching up in haste whatever weapon came to hand, made the best shift they could. (…) So the Romans escaped out of their peril. ”
Juno became Moneta
Obviously the Romans, very religious people, thought it was the goddess who awaking the soldiers saved Rome, and gave her the epithet “Moneta”, from the Latin verb “Monere”, “to warn”.
Searching on the Internet you could read that according to tradition the temple of Juno Moneta was built in 344 BC after a war victory … How can it be possible if the episode of the Gauls happened in 390 BC? This appear to suggest the existence of an older temple, entirely rebuilt in 344 BC (and actually on the Capitoline Hill have been found some terracotta decorations of the temple dating at the 6-5th century BC and probably belonging to the older temple).
Anyway after the episode of the geese and the goddess’ new epithet this became known as the Temple of Juno Moneta.
And these are the few ruins still preserved belonging to the temple (believe me, they are!).
And finally the coins
In 296 BC Romans started to make coins and they needed a safe place to do it, hence they chose the temple of Juno Moneta (or a place immediately nearby), for two reasons: first it was in the citadel, so it was well protected by humans, second it was well protected by the goddess too, a kind of: “Don’t steal here or Juno’ll punish you!”.
Hence, because the mint was in the temple of Juno Moneta, the Romans began to call it the Moneta, and coins were named “moneta”after it … and this is the origin of the English words “mint” and of course “money”!
In Italian we also have the same word, “moneta”, that means “coin”, but the bizarre thing is that for “mint” we use the word “zecca”, from an Arabic word: at least English, in this case, is closer than Italian to ancient Romans and their legends!
- “The money shot” – CC BY-SA 2.0 – Jamie Beverly