Cloacina is a very ancient Goddess of Rome Who was originally the Goddess of the stream called the Cloaca which ran through the early Roman Forum. In the earliest times the Forum area was a low marshy place prone to flooding by the Tiber and dotted with springs, and too swampy for human use except in times of drought. The Cloaca stream, which drained into the Tiber, was said to have seven tributary brooks that drained all the valleys of the Esquiline and Quirinal hills. In early times the stream was dredged out and lined with stone to make a drainage canal, most likely by the Tarquins, early Kings of Rome, and in time it was covered over to become the main drain of Rome. The course of the original waterway and tributary streams dictated the layout of the buildings and streets of the Forum, for the Romans were reluctant to alter its course in their conservative superstitious respect for the natural spirits or powers. The name Cloacina means "the Purifier", and the word cloaca became the word for "drain" or "sewer"; in time Cloacina became the Goddess of Sewers. Which sounds terribly unromantic; remember though that the Romans were a very practical people, and that the complex sewer and drainage system that Rome developed kept the city clean, funnelling refuse and rainwater out and away, as well as draining the potentially malaria-infested swamps of the Forum, all of which helped to keep the populace healthy.
The sewer system that grew out of this drainage scheme in the Forum was called the Cloaca Maxima ("the Great Sewer") and was eventually made up of great underground vaulted tunnels that were large enough for boats to journey in, and strong enough to withstand floods and great storms. Though much of it ran under the Forum, the Cloaca Maxima was sturdy enough to support the roads and buildings erected over it; even if a building burned (as occasionally happened) and collapsed the Cloaca Maxima held up. Parts of it were as wide as ten foot six inches, and as high as thirteen foot nine inches; or rather are, for it is still in use today in Rome, 2000+ years later.
Cloacina's name comes from the Latin verb cloare or cluere, meaning "to wash, clean or purify". At some later date Cloacina was assimilated to Venus, who was then called Venus Cloacina; one legend says that Venus was given this epithet after the Sabine wars, in which the early men of Rome, who had few women among them, raided the nearby Sabine people, kidnapping their women and forcing them to become their wives. The Sabine King Tatius attacked Rome for this, but was later reconciled to peace by the selfsame kidnapped women, who had either internalized their chattel status under the brutal and primitive patriarchy (oh yes, I do blame it) or had just gotten sick of all the damned fighting. At any rate, peace was brokered (though the women remained with the Romans), and the participants were purified with myrtle branches, a plant very sacred to Venus. To commemorate the occasion, a statue of Venus Cloacina was later put up at the spot. This Venus Cloacina was also credited with presiding over and purifying sexual intercourse within marriage, which perhaps indicates that the Roman men did acknowledge some guilt on their part, whose participation in the incident is after all famously known as "the Rape of the Sabine Women". Historically, the reality is that the Sabines and Romans were often at war, and in the 3rd century BCE the Sabines were finally defeated by Rome and were granted citizenship, eventually assimilating into and intermarrying with the Roman people.
In the Forum, just in front of the steps of the Aemilian Basilica on the Via Sacra ("the Sacred Way"), was located a small circular shrine dedicated to Cloacina. It was little more than a platform, not quite eight feet in diameter, but very, very old. As the Forum was paved and repaved over many years, the street level was slowly raised, and many successive layers of stone have been found at the base of Cloacina's shrine: evidently it had had to be remodeled or raised several times, which attests to its antiquity. This little shrine was located right over one of the main drains of the Cloaca Maxima, where two branches met up. Rectangular stairs led up to the platform on the north-western side; the platform itself was edged with a low openwork railing, and within this were two statues, not quite lifesize. They were of two draped Goddesses, either both Cloacina, or Cloacina and Venus, each with Her right hand on an incense-burner or small column; one of them held what was probably a flower in Her left hand, perhaps a sprig of myrtle, for Pliny says that before the shrine was built there had grown a myrtle-tree on the spot. As the little shrine was awfully old he may have been relating a belief that came about to connect Cloacina to Venus, for the myrtle is an ancient attribute of the love Goddess. Only the circular foundation of this shrine remains; but it was depicted on several coins of the first century BCE, so we know what it looked like.
Some consider the ancient association of Cloacina with Venus, the great Roman Goddess of love, beauty, and gardens, to be a bit of a puzzle, as it seems to have little basis. Venus, after all, although identified with the Greek Aphrodite, a Goddess of the sea and water as well as one of love and beauty, was not particularly associated with water Herself. But maybe Cloacina—who, like any Goddess of a specific stream or watercourse, was bound to its location, in this case the very heart of the Roman Empire, the Forum—was assimilated to Venus because She (Venus) was considered the divine ancestress of the Roman people, through Her son the hero Aeneas. Perhaps it was felt that adding Venus to Cloacina was a measure of Her importance, and honored the patroness of the drainage system that made the Forum possible.
Also called: Cluacina, Venus Cloacina.