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Selene, Moon Goddess

The ancient Romans, celebrated a feast on March 31st, in the Temple of Luna on the Aventine Hill to honor the Moon Goddess, a cult introduced at the time of King Titus Tatius. The temple on the Aventine to Diana Luna was consecrated under Servius Tullius. Servius Tullius was the legendary sixth king of Rome who reigned from 578 to 535 BC. The temple burned in the great fire during Nero's reign.

"It would not be easy to enter into a computation of the private mansions, the blocks of tenements, and of the temples, which were lost. Those with the oldest ceremonial, as that dedicated by Servius Tullius to Luna, the great altar and shrine raised by the Arcadian Evander to the visibly appearing Hercules, the temple of Jupiter the Stayer, which was vowed by Romulus, Numa's royal palace, and the sanctuary of Vesta, with the tutelary deities of the Roman people, were burnt."
-Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals, 15.41

Worship of the moon is much older than the Romans. Herodotus describes the Persians sacrificing to the moon:

"As to the customs of the Persians, I know them to be these. It is not their custom to make and set up statues and temples and altars, but those who do such things they think foolish, because, I suppose, they have never believed the gods to be like men, as the Greeks do; but they call the whole circuit of heaven Zeus, and to him they sacrifice on the highest peaks of the mountains; they sacrifice also to the sun and moon and earth and fire and water and winds. From the beginning, these are the only gods to whom they have ever sacrificed; they learned later to sacrifice to the “heavenly” Aphrodite from the Assyrians and Arabians. She is called by the Assyrians Mylitta, by the Arabians Alilat, by the Persians Mitra."
-Herodotus, The Histories, 1.131

In the ancient city of Ur, Babylonia, the moon god Nanna was worshiped (Nanna in Sumerian, was called Su'en or Sin in Akkadian). The ziggurat (temple tower) of Nanna at Ur survives today. It was built by king Ur-Namma of Ur who reigned circa 2112-2095 BCE) and founded the Ur III dynasty.

"The moon god was the tutelary deity of the city of Ur. His reach and importance, however, was far greater than just a city god, the moon god is clearly one of the most important deities in the wider pantheon of Mesopotamia."
-Adam Stone, 2016, 'Nanna/Suen/Sin (god)'

The moon god is often associated with the bull - the horns of the bull resembling the crescent moon.

The association of the bull and the moon becomes more evident during the Old Babylonian period: for example, on a number of cylinder seals and impressions, on an impression of Samas-ilum-dannum (dated c. 1765 B.C.E.) from Tell Leilan, on which the enthroned moon god recalls the mural from room 132 at Mari, and on a cylinder seal on which the enthroned moon god places his feet on a recumbent bull.
-Ornan, T. (2001). The Bull and its Two Masters

This Lydian coin shows Mên Axiottenos - a Lydian moon god with Indo-Iranian origins and related to Sin the Babylonian god. More information on this coin can be found here: Meis Axiottenos. Strabo describes the temple a temple of Mên shared with Selene. (Strabo, Geography XII p.557).

Saitta, Lydia, Pseudo-autonomous, AE17, 1/3 Assarion, time of Septimius Severus, 193-211 AD

Obv: Bust of Mên Axiottenos on crescent right, wearing Phrygian cap

Rev: CAITTHNΩN, Apollo standing facing, head to left, holding branch in his right hand and leaning left on bow set on ground

Size: 2.26g, 16.3mm

Ref: SNG von Aulock -; SNG Copenhagen -; BMC 17; Lindgren I 789; Asia Minor Coins Online AMCO #6106

The Kushan god Mao also a related moon god with crescent horns on his shoulders.

India, Kushan Empire, Kanishka I, circa CE 127-151, Æ Drachm (16mm, 3.8g, 12h), Kashmir mint

Obv: Kanishka standing left, holding goad and standard, sacrificing over altar; sam in Kharosthi to right

Rev: Mao standing left, lunar horns at shoulders, extending hand in benediction and holding hilt of sword; tamgha to left

Obv: MK 802; ANS Kushan 642-5; Donum Burns 195-8; Zeno –

Selene, was the Greek name for Luna, sister to Helios, the Sun, which explains the later association with Diana/Artemis by the Romans who also connected Apollo, brother of Diana, with Sol/Helios. This image of Selene is from a billion tetradrachm of Alexandria under Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, who ruled the Roman empire from Summer 177 to 31 December 192.

This coin issued in the 30th year of Marcus Aurelius' reign is a Tetradrachm of Alexandria Egypt:

Egypt, Alexandria, Commodus, 177-192, BI Tetradrachm (22 mm, 11.51g, 12 h), RY 30 of Marcus Aurelius = 189/90.

Obv: M A KOM ANTⲰ CЄB ЄY CЄB Laureate head of Commodus to right.

Rev: L Λ Bust of Selene to left, wearing taenia; to left, crescent.

Ref: Dattari (Savio) 3889. Emmett 2558.30

The first temple in Rome dedicated to the worship of the Moon and Sun is attributed to King Tatius (King of the Sabines and joint ruler for a few years with Romulus, the first king of Rome).

"Romulus & Tatius built temples also and consecrated altars to those gods to whom they had addressed their vows during their battles: Romulus to Jupiter Stator,​ near the Porta Mugonia, as it is called, which leads to the Palatine hill from the Sacred Way, because this god had heard his vows and had caused his army to stop in its flight and to renew the battle; and Tatius to the Sun and Moon, to Saturn and to Rhea, and, besides these, to Vesta, Vulcan, Diana, Enyalius, and to other gods whose names are difficult to be expressed in the Greek language; and in every curia he dedicated tables to Juno called Quiritis,​ which remain even to this day."
-Dionysius of Halicarnassus, The Roman Antiquities 50.3

Luna, Roman Selene, appears in biga (2 horse chariot) on the reverse of this coin from 139 BC with a moon on her forehead:

Roman Republican & Imperatorial, A. Spurilius, 139 BC. Denarius (Silver, 19 mm, 3.92 g, 6 h), Rome.

Obv: Roma to right, wearing winged helmet, pendant earring and pearl necklace; behind, X (mark of value).

Rev: A•SP VR I / ROMA (on raised tablet) Luna driving fast biga to right. Ref: Babelon (Spurilia) 1. Crawford 230/1. RBW 960. Sydenham 448.

Varro, writing about Rural Matters in 116–27 BC, describes the gods important to farmers (husbandmen):

And since, as told, the gods help those who call upon them, I will first invoke them — not the Muses, as Homer and Ennius do, but the twelve councillor-gods;​ and I do not mean those urban gods, whose images stand around the forum, bedecked with gold, six male and a like number female, but those twelve gods who are the special patrons of husbandmen. First, then, I invoke Jupiter and Tellus, who, by means of the sky and the earth, embrace all the fruits of agriculture; and hence, as we are told that they are the universal parents, Jupiter is called "the Father," and Tellus is called "Mother Earth." And second, Sol and Luna, whose courses are watched in all matters of planting and harvesting. Third, Ceres and Liber, because their fruits are most necessary for life; for it is by their favour that food and drink come from the farm.
-Varro, De Re Rustica, 1.4

A Cilician AE23 featuring Sol & Luna

Note the quiver and the shoulder of Celene, an attribute of Diana/Artemis. This pseudo anonymous coin, issued under Roman rule but without direct reference to the emperor, is from Cilicia where Selene, Artemis, and Hekate, goddess of magic, were all intertwined.

Roman Provincial, Domitian Æ (6.65g, 23mm, 12h) of Aegeae, Cilicia. Dated CY 135 = 88/9. Herakleon, magistrate.

Obv: Radiate head of Apollo-Phoibos (phoibos meaning shining or bright) with features of Domitian to right; laurel branch in right field

Rev: Draped bust of Artemis-Selene to left, crescent set on forehead, quiver over shoulder; ΑΙΓΕΑΙΩΝ behind, ΗΡΑΚΛΕΩΝΟϹ below, ЄΛΡ (date) in left field

Ref: RPC II 1776A (this coin specimen 3 of 3, additional coin-type added post publication); Haymann 24b. This coin is very rare.

I do not know who first attributed "features of Domitian" to this coin. Perhaps Florian Haymann in his 2015 book on the coins of Aigeai, Cilicia, which I have not accessed yet? I do wonder if we can see features of Domitian, why not features of Domitia in Selene - would it have made sense to allude to both the emperor and empress as gods? There are other coins of the imperial couple from Aegeae e.g. this coin from Roma Auction 29 in November 2023:

Sol and luna are paired up (obverse & reverse) on this denarius from the Roman Republic:

Man. Aquillius. 109-108 BC. AR Denarius. Rome mint.

Obv: Radiate head of Sol right; X (mark of value) below chin Rev: Luna driving galloping biga right; crescent moon and three stars above, one star below.

Julia Domna. Augusta, AD 193-217, AR Antoninianus (2.57g, 12h), Rome mint, Struck AD 215-217 under Caracalla

Obv: IVLIA PIA FELIX AVG, Draped bust right, wearing stephane, set on crescent

Rev: LVNA LVCIFERA, Luna, with fold of drapery floating around and above head, driving biga of horses left

Ref: RIC IV 379a (Caracalla); RSC 106

Julia Domna was associated with Luna Lucifera, the light bearing Moon, while Septimius Severus associated himself with Sol, god of the Sun.

The Sun & Moon certainly a long enduring theme and central to this modern print: "Half Human, Half Universe", by Jess Macy, color bloKC of Kansas City, MO, that also includes that planets named for gods Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus...

One of the more commonly cited myths about Selene is her love of Endymion who is either cursed or rewarded with eternal sleep during which he does not age. There are many forms of this story in which :

  • Endymion is a beautiful shepherd or king

  • He is punished by Zeus for an attempted relationship with Hera or granted a wish for immortality (granted as eternal sleep)

  • He is put to sleep by Selene so that she could admire his beauty undisturbed

Selene, in love with him, bears him 50 daughters during his eternal sleep.

For additional notes and coins from Aigeai see: Fish in Love with Goats.

Additional references:

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