The cult of goddess Ma was particularaly popular in the regions of Cappadocia and Pontus. The bulk of the information we have about the cult of the goddess derives from the Hellenistic period, but Ma's origin is apparently older. The wider region of Cappadocia was the land of the Hittites and Ma might have been one of the forms of the Hittite deity Hepat or “Sun Goddess of Arinna”.1
The Greeks identified her with Athena (Athena-Ma), Enyo, Selene, Artemis, Cybele, Gaia and Rhea,2 whereas the Romans with Bellona (Ma-Bellona).3 Coins of the era of Ariarathes IV (220-163 BC) found in Cappadocia, as well as others from the city of Pergamon depict Ma as Athena.4 Notwithstanding, however, any similarity, the primordial, local and multifaceted character of Ma does not allow for a precise identification with any Greek or Roman deity, which has caused a great amount of confusion among the ancient authors, even among 19th c. scholars.5
Due to its Hittite origin, the cult of Ma appears to have been influenced by many sources in the course of the centuries, the most important of which seems to have been the Persian one. Finds from Cappadocia indicate that her primordial worship practices, as well as the cult of many eastern and Iranian deities, were part of an open-air cult.
According to the geographer Strabo (64 BC-20 AD), Ma was worshipped at Komana of Pontus and, earlier, at Komana of Cappadocia6 in a similar manner. Twice a year processions would take place, during which the high priest wore a . The significance of the goddess can be deduced from the fact that her high priest was a general, second in rank to the king as with regard to the attribution of honours. The cities were dedicated to the goddess and were inhabited mainly by believers, servants and slaves to the temple. Priests governed the cities and held the financial control of the sanctuary, the land and the sacred slaves, although typically the highest authority was reserved for the king. Many elements, however, of the special cult of Ma in Cappadocia are unknown, since Komana of Cappadocia did not mint its own coins and the philhellene kings of the city had hellenized their iconography.7
Her cult was also diffused in Macedonia, where it was introduced after the campaign of Alexander the Great and was disseminated relatively easily, perhaps because the goddess had many similarities with the Mother of the Gods, Artemis and various local deities.8 During the First Mithridatic War, the Romans came into contact with the goddess worshipped in the Taurus' ravines and Sulla introduced her cult to Rome. Apparently the , in order to secure victory, accepted the cult and the priests of Ma, identifying her with Bellona. For this purpose a sanctuary of the goddess was located at the port of Ostia (Italy) with priests and priestesses from Cappadocia (fanatici, bellonari). An inscription from Sardis (c. 150 BC) forbids the torch-bearers of Zeus (Zeus Baradates) to participate in the cult of Ma. In the Imperial period, the cult of the goddess is adequately documented.9
Most information concerning the iconography of Ma derives from Hellenistic and Roman times and stresses the solar and warlike (military) features of the goddess. The known representations and inscriptions emphasize the common elements of Ma and Greco-Roman deities, but do not identify her with them.
The diadem with the solar beams appears to have been a distinctive iconographic element of Ma, as a sky-goddess. The attribute which set her apart, however, was her military outfit. The two eagles on her shoulders, which are attested as messengers of the Sun in the Hittite tradition, are reminiscent of the depiction of the deity between two animals, known as , a common theme in the East.10 On Imperial coins from Pontus the statue of the goddess is represented in front of a four-column temple where an eagle is fighting a serpent.11 Coins from Komana of Pontus represent the goddess with a club and a shield, whereas on Imperial issues the presence of the goddess is often indicated solely by a club.12 Komana of Cappadocia had no autonomous numismatic issues, but there we find the ones of the kingdom of Cappadocia, in which the goddess wears a helmet, holds a spear, has a shield on her feet and is supported by a Nike who is placing a wreath upon Ma's head. The aforementioned representation, as well as an inscription from Kataonia dating from the same time emphasize the victorious character of the goddess. Also, dogs must have been part of the cult of Ma in Cappadocia; their appearance in certain representations of the goddess indicates her chthonian nature which corresponds to her military attributes.13
1. Seyrig, H., “Une déesse anatoliénne”, AntK 13 (1970), p. 77, n. 6; Garstang, J., “The Sun Goddess of Arinna", Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 6 (1914), p. 115; Herzfeld, E., The Persian Empire. Studies in Geography and Ethnography of the Ancient Near East (Wiesbaden 1968), p. 110-112. See also Garelli, P., Les Assyriens en Cappadoce (Bibliothéque archéologie d’Istanbul de l’Institut francais d’archéologie d’Istanbul 19, Paris 1963), p. 108, 119, 211-212.
2. Plutarch, Sulla 9.4; Stephanus Byzantius, see «Μάσταυρα»; Pausanias 3.16.8; Head, B.V. – Hill, G.F. – MacDonald, G. – Wroth, W., Historia Numorum, A Manual of Greek Numismatics2 (Oxford 1911), p. 498.
3. CIL IV 490, 2232, 2233 ; Caes. Bell. Alex. 66 ; Dio Cassius, 42.26.2 ; Cumont, F., Les religions orientales dans le paganisme romaine4 (Paris 1929), p. 50 ; Planter, S.B. – Ashby, T., A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (London 1929), see “Bellona Pulvinensis Aedes”, “Bellona Rufilia Aedes” ; Guarducci, M., “Il santuario di Bellona e il circo di Flamino in un epigrama greco”, Bull.Com. 73 (1949-1950), p. 55-76 ; Dragojevic-Josifovska, B., “L’inscription de Scupi consacree a la déesse Bellona”, ZA 31 (1981), p. 181 (in Slavic Macedonian with abstract in French). Alfoldi, A., “Redeunt Saturnia regna. V: Zum Gottesgnadentum des Sulla”, Chiron 6 (1976), p. 149-156; Fischwick, D., “Hastiferi”, JRS 57 (1967), p. 142-160, especially p. 145, 152-154.
4. Mørkholm, O., Early Hellenistic Coinage from the accession of Alexaner to the peace of Apamea (336 - 188 B.C.) (Cambridge - New York 1997), p. 132 ; Rider, G. le, “Une tétradrachme d’Athéna Niképhoros”, Rev. Num. 15 (1973), p. 72, 77; Robert, L., Noms indigènes dans l’Asie Mineure gréco-romaine (Paris 1963), p. 494. Due to the Greek association, the local deity Ma, goddess of Victory, was identified with “Athena Nikephoros”. As a result, Ma became identified with Athena.
5. LGRM II, cols. 2215-2225, Ma. (Drexler); LGRM I, cols. 774-777, see Bellona (Prokisch); LGRM I, cols. 1251-1232, see Enyo (Stoll); Dict. des Antiquites I.1, see Bellona (Saglio); Reallex. Ant. Chr., see Bellona (Waszink); Robert, L., Noms indigènes dans l’Asie mineure gréco-romaine (Paris 1963), p. 502.
6. For a contrary view see Herzfeld, E., The Persian Empire (Wiesbaden 1968), p. 109-110.
7. Strabo 12.2.3, 12.3.32 ; Appianus, Mith. 114 ; Robert, L., Noms indigènes dans l’Asie mineure gréco-romaine (Paris 1963), p. 436, n. 7 ; Benveniste, E., Titres et noms propres en iranien ancien (1966), p. 51-65 (Le second après le roi) ; Waddington, W.H., “Inscriptions de Cataonie”, BCH 7 (1883), p. 128.
8. SEG XXXV 698, 702.
9. ILS 3804, 4180-4181b (Desseau) ; Dio Cassius, 42.26.2 ; Guarducci, M., “Una nuova dea a Naxos in Sicilia e gli antici legami fra la Naxos Siceliota e l’omonima isola delle Cicladi“, MEFRA 97 (1985), p. 7-34; Reinach, T., Mithridate Eupator (Paris 1890), p. 242; Robert, L., “Inscription grécque de Sardeis”, CRAI (1975), p. 306-330· SEG XXIX 1205; Briant, P., Histoire de l'empire perse: de Cyrus à Alexandre (Paris 1996), p. 696-697. See also SEG XXXVIII 1497. ΤΑΜ V.2 1305 (Μα Ανείκητος, Λυδία).
10. Seyrig, H., “Une déesse anatolienne”, AntK 13 (1970), p. 777.
11. Price, M.J. – Treel, B.L., Coins and their cities: architecture on the ancient coins of Greece, Rome and Palestine (London 1977), p. 95-99, fig. 176-177.
12. Waddington, W.H. – Babelon, E. – Reinach, Τ., Recueil général des monnaies grécques d’Asie Mineure 1.1 (Paris 1994), p. 79-80.
13. Waddington, W.H., “Inscriptions de Cataonie”, BCH 7 (1883), p. 127-128; Price, M.J. – Treel, B.L., Coins and their cities architecture on the ancient coins of Greece, Rome and Palestine (London 1977), p. 156, ph. 26; Proeva, N., “La deesse cappadocienne Ma et son culte en Macedoine d’après une plaque en bronze de Pretor au Musée de Resen”, ZAnt 33 (1983), p. 174-175. Cf. Petrovic, M.D., Les divinites et les démons du couleur noir chez les peuples anciens (Beograd 1940) (in Serbian-Croatian). Prieur, J., Les animaux sacrés dans l’antiquité (Ouest France 1988), p. 34-35,135; Farnell, L.R., The Cults of the Greek States2 (Oxford 1896), p. 507-508.