ANCIENT ROMAN GODS & GODDESSES
At the founding of Rome, the gods were 'numina', divine manifestations, faceless, formless, but no less
powerful. The idea of gods as anthropomorphized beings came later, with the influence from Etruscans
and Greeks, which had human form. Some of the Roman Gods are at least as old as the founding of
The concept of numen continued to exist and it was related to any manifestation of the divine. For the
Romans, everything in Nature is thought to be inhabited by numina, which explains the big number of
deities in the Roman pantheon, as will be shown. Numina manifest the divine will by means of natural
phenomena, which the pious Roman constantly seeks to interpret. That's why great attention is paid to
omens and portents in every aspect of Roman daily life.
A groups of twelve Gods called Dii Consentes is especially honored by the Romans: Iuppiter, Iuno,
Minerva, Vesta, Ceres, Diana, Venus, Mars, Mercurius, Neptunus, Volcanus, and Apollo. These
are the ones listed by the Poet Ennius about the 3rd Century, B.C.E.. Their gilt statues stood in the
Forum, later apparently in the Porticus Deorum Consentium. As there were six male and six female, they
may well have been the twelve worshipped at the lectisternium of 217 BC.
A lectisternium is a banquet
of the gods, where the statues of the gods were put upon cushions, and where these statues were
offered meals. The number 12 was taken from the Etruscans, which also worshipped a main pantheon of
12 Gods. Nevertheless, the Dii Consentes were not identified with Etruscan deities but rather with the
Greek Olympian Gods (though the original character of the Roman Gods was different from the Greek,
having no myths traditionally associated). The twelve Dii Consentes are lead by the first three, which
form the Capitoline Triad. These are the three cornerstones of Roman religion, whose rites were
conducted in the Capitoleum Vetus on the Capitoline Hill.
But what better characterizes the traditional Roman Religion is the household or family cult of the Dii
Familiaris. In this cult, the Lar Familiaris (guardian spirit - Genius - of the family), the Lares Loci
(guardian spirits of the place where the house is built), the Genius of the paterfamilias (House-Father),
the Dii Penates (patron gods of the storeroom), the Dii Manes (spirits of the deceased) and a
multitude of other domestic deities are daily worshipped by the members of the family. The household
cult is so important that it even serves as the model for several practices of the state cult (e.g. there
were the Lar Praestites, Penates Publici, etc.. Even during the Empire, the Imperial cult came to be
based on the household cult, now interpreted as the cult of the Genius of the Emperor, paterfamilias of
the family of all the Romans).
Other important Gods are Ianus, Saturnus, Quirinus, Volturnus, Pales, Furrina, Flora, Carmenta,
Pomona, Portunus, Fontanus. There is also a group of mysterious deities formed by native tutelary
deities, river Gods or deified heroes from Latium which are collectively called Dii Indigites (e.g. deified
Aeneas, Faunus, Sol Indiges, Iuppiter Indiges, Numicus). A multitude of other deities is also
traditionally worshipped, which includes tutelary deities (e.g. Roma, Tiberinus), native Latin deities (e.g.
Bellus, Bellona, Liber, Libera), abstract deities such as Fortuna (Fate), Concordia (Concord), Pax
(Peace), Iustitia (Justice), etc..
Pre-Roman native italian deities mainly adopted from the Sabines and
Etruscans are also worshipped: Nerio (Sabine deity and the consort of Mars), Dius Fidius (Sabine as
well), etc. In fact, Quirinus and Vertumnus were also adopted respectively from the Sabines and
Etruscans. The Dii Inferi, Gods of the Underworld (Inferus) are Dis/Orcus and Proserpina, equated
to the Greek Gods Hades/Plouton (Pluto in Latin) and Persephone. These Gods symbolize the creative
power of the Earth which provide human beings the means for subsistence (Dis = wealth = Plouton in
greek). The Inferus is also traditionally regarded as the home for the spirits of the dead, though the
concept of afterlife was quite varied.
The pious spirit of the Romans consists of a constant wish to bring the favour of the divine upon him,
the family and the state. As such, the Roman is naturally willing to pay the deserved homage and
sacrifice to foreign deities, specially if he is in their land. In order to achieve victory in war, the Romans
often asked the favour of the Gods of their enemies, paying them sacrifices even greater than those
offered by their own people. This spirit joined by the affluence of foreigners which resulter either from
trade or conquest, brough new cults to Rome. These were as expected democratically adopted by
permitting the priests of these Gods to establish temples in Rome. Among the foreign deities, the Dii
Novensiles, are Apollo, Ceres (these were adopted as early as to allow them to become part of the
Dii Consentes), Bacchus/Dionysus, Sol Invictus Elagabalus, Isis, Serapis, Cybele, Attis, Mithras
and many others.
Roman and Greek God Comparisons
Apollo was the son of Jupiter and Latona. His twin sister was
Diana. He was the god of music, playing a golden lyre. The
Archer, far shooting with a silver bow. The god of healing who
taught man medicine. The god of light. The god of truth, who
can not speak a lie.
One of Apollo's more important daily tasks was to harness his
chariot with four horses an drive the Sun across the sky.
His tree was the laurel. The crow his bird. The dolphin his animal.
Ceres daughter of Saturn and Rhea. Wife-sister of Jupiter and mother of Prosperpina.
Ceres is the goddess of grain, growing plants and the love that a mother bears for
her child. Personified and celebrated by women in secret rituals at the festival of
Ambarvalia, held during the month of May.
Diana is the mother of wild animals and forests, and a moon
goddess. Oak groves are especially sacred to her. She is
praised for her strength, athletic grace, beauty and her hunting
skills. With two other deities she made up a trinity: Egeria the
water nymph, her servant and assistant midwife; and Virbius, the
Juno was the Queen of the Gods and Jupiter's wife. The Goddess of
heaven and of the moon Juno symbolized the matronly qualities
desired for in Roman women. She was the protector of woman during
childbirth, rearing, and their preparation for marriage. It was said that
she was prsent and watching during all marriage ceremonies.
Juno protected the City of Rome when the Gauls attacked. Before the
attack the sacred geese in the temple of Juno alerted the Romans of
the pending danger. This warning gave the Romans the opportunity to
attack and defeat the Gauls and save their city.
In addition to geesethe peacock was also a sacred sybol of Juno.
A daughter of Jupiter, Minerva, is born through magic. It was said she
came directly from the head of Jupiter , not needing the aid of Juno
for her birth. This turn of events caused Juno to feel jealousy. Angry,
Juno seeks a magic flower that is suppose to allow fertilization without
a man. Finding the rare flower juno uses it to become pregnant and
gives birth to Mars.
Juno is the Roman supreme goddess and is married to the ruling god, Jupiter. She is
believed to watch and protect all women. Every year, on the first of March, women
hold a festival in honor of Juno called the Matronalia. To this day, many people
consider the month of June, which is named after the goddess who is the patroness
of marriage, to be the most favorable time to marry. The peacock is sacred to Juno.
Jupiter the supreme ruling god. Considered god of the sky and weather, and guardian
of all property, oaths and treaties.
Jupiter is the king of the Roman gods. He has had many
different names because he was adapted to fit the Roman's
current needs. When the Roman Republic first appeared, he
was Jupiter Lucetius. Jupiter Lucetius was the god of sun and
moonlight. He also went by the names of Jupiter Elicius (god
of wind, rain, storms, thunder, and lightning), Jupiter Dapalis
(god of sowing), Jupiter Liber (god of creative forces), and
Jupiter Terminus(god of boundary stones of fields). These
incarnations of the god were caused by the fact that the early
republic was very agricultural.
As the Roman Republic turned
into the Roman Empire, Jupiter became known as a militant
god. He assumed names such as Jupitor Strator, Jupitor
Feretrius, and Jupiter Victor(warrior gods), Jupiter Optimus
Maximus(great god of the empire), Jupiter Conservator
Orbis(protector of the empire), and Jupitor Conservator Ator
Augustorum(protector of the emperor). His main temple,
Capitolum Vetus, was located on the Capitoline Hill. Jupiter is
often depicted as a bearded older man, probably to show that
he is wise.
His sacred animal is the eagle. The planet that
bears the name Jupiter, does so because it is the largest and
most majestic planet.
Mars was the consort of Rhea Sylvia and father of Romulus and Remus, and therefore
the father of the Roman people. He was the Roman god of war, the beginning and
ending of battles.
Mars was the god of young men and their activities, primarily
war. He was celebrated in March and October. His festival was
called the Quinquartus. It was five days of celebration during
the vernal equinox. Mars was the son of Juno and the father of
the twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The
planet Mars was named after the god because its red color
looked like blood.
Mercury was the Roman god of commerce. Merchants prayed
to him in order to get good buisness. Mercury was the son of
Jupiter and Maia. He was also the messenger of the gods. He
used the characteristic winged sandals to help him get around
faster. He was first worshipped in 495 B.C. when a temple was
dedicated to him near Circus Maximus. He was often depicted
with a money bag to indicate his work as god of commerce.
He was also said to have had a caduceus and a winged helmet.
His name comes from the Latin word "mercari". Mercari
means having to do with deal or trade. His sacred animal was
the chicken and he is sometimes depicted with it. His festival
is celebrated on May 15.
Minerva the daughter of Jupiter and Juno. Considered to be the virgin goddess of
warriors, poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, crafts, and inventor of music. Ovid
called her the "goddess of a thousand works." The Romans celebrated her worship
from March 19 to 23 during the Quinquatrus, the artisans' holiday.
Minerva, Goddess of wisdom and learning, meditation, inventiveness, accomplishments, the arts,
spinning and weaving, and commerce. Minerva was identified with Pallas Athene, bestower of victory,
when Pompey the Great built her temple with the proceeds from his eastern campaigns. Minerva and
Mars are honored Quinquatras, five days at the Spring equinox. But Minerva has many aspects,
attributes, names and epithets.
Neptune is the god of the sea. He is the son of Saturn, whom
he helped to overthrow, and the brother of Jupiter and Pluto.
His festival is celebrated on July 23. God of all the fresh water (from rivers, springs, etc.) and of equestrian accomplishments.
Equated to the Greek Poseidon, He is also the God of the sea. He had temples in the Circus Flaminius
and later on the Campus Martius. His festival, the Neptunalia is celebrated on July 23. But Neptunus has
many aspects, attributes, names and epithets.
Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld. He chose this
realm after he and his two brothers overthrew their father and
divided up the world. He was first thought to be a fierce and
cruel god who didn't listen to prayers and didn't care about
sacrifices. The later cults stressed the milder aspects of the
god. He was later believed to be the one that puts precious
metals and other treasures in the earth.
Proserpina is the counterpart of the Greek goddess,
Persephone. She was kidnapped by Pluto and taken to his
underworld and made queen of the dead.
Saturn was Jupiter's father. He was king of the gods and sky
before Jupiter and his brothers, Neptune and Pluto, decided
to fight the power of their father and overthrow him. They
divided up the world. Jupiter ruled the Earth and the sky,
Pluto ruled the underworld, and Neptune ruled the sea.
he was dethroned, he fled to Italy and ruled there during what
is known as the Golden Age, a time of peace and prosperity.
The Golden Age is restored every year for 7 days starting
December 17, during his festival, known as Saturnalia. During
this time everyone is happy and treated well. Saturn had other
children besides Jupiter, Pluto, and Neptune. His other
children were Juno(goddess of marriage) and Ceres(goddess
of the grain).
Saturn was an ancient Italian deity. It was
attempted to identify him with the Grecian god
Cronos, and fabled that after his dethronement
by Jupiter he fled to Italy, where he reigned
during what was called the Golden Age. In
memory of his beneficent dominion, the feast of
Saturnalia was held every year in the winter
season. Then all public business was suspended,
declarations of war and criminal executions were
postponed, friends made presents to one
another, and the slaves were indulged with
great liberties. A feast was given them at which
they sat at table, while their masters served
them, to show the natural equality of men, and
that all things belonged equally to all, in the
reign of Saturn.
Faunus,* the grandson of Saturn, was
worshipped as the god of fields and shepherds, and also as a prophetic god. His
name in the plural, Fauns, expressed a class of gamesome deities, like the Satyrs
of the Greeks.
Venus is the Roman goddess of love and sexual desire. She
was worshipped under many names in imperial times such as
Venus Genetrix(mother of Aeneas), Venus Felix(bringer of
good fortune), Venus Victrix(bringer of victory), and Venus
Verticordia(protector of feminine chastity). She was married
to the god Vulcan, but often cheated on him. She committed
adultery with many men, among them Mars, Adonis(a
shepherd), Anchises (father of Aeneas).
Cupid was Venus's son and the god of love.
Venus daughter of Jupiter and Dione, although sometimes
portayed as being created by Uranus from the foam of the sea
at the moment of his death. As the goddess of love, she is the
"queen of pleasure" and mother of the Roman people. She was
married to Vulcan, the lame god of the forge, and mother of
Cupid, Hymen, Priapus and Aeneas. She is also associated with
her lover, Mars the god of war. Considered a nature goddess,
associated with the arrival of spring. Venus is the bringer of joy to gods and humans.
Vulcan the son of Jupiter and Juno. Husband of Maia and Venus. God of fire and
volcanoes, and the manufacturer of art, arms and armor for gods and heroe
Janus was the porter of heaven. He opens the year, the first
month being named after him. He is the guardian deity of
gates, on which account he is commonly represented with
two heads, because every door looks two ways. His temples
at Rome were numerous. In war time the gates of the
principal one were always open. In peace they were closed;
but they were shut only once between the reign of Numa and
that of Augustus.
On of the most popular and mysterious goddesses of the Roman pantheon.
Vesta is the goddess of the hearth, equated with the Greek Hestia. There
is not much known of her origin, except that she was at first only
worshipped in Roman homes, a personal cult. Her cult eventually evolved to
a state cult.
One myth tells that her service was set up by king Numa
Pompilius (715-673 BC). In her temple on the Palatine Hill,
the sacred fire of the Roman state burned, which was
maintained by the Vestal Virgins. At the start of the new
Roman year, March 1, the fire was renewed. The sacred
fire burned until 394 AD. Vesta's temple was situated on
the Forum Romanum and was built in the third century BC.
None of her temples, however, contained a statue of the goddess. Her
festival is the Vestalia, which was observed from June 7 - 15. On the first
day of this festival, the 'penus Vestae', the inner sanctum of the Vesta
temple which was kept closed the entire year, was opened for women who
came to bring offerings bare-footed. The temple was ritually cleansed on
the last day.
The ass is Vesta's sacred animal, whose braying supposedly kept the
lascivious Priapus away. Vesta is portrayed as a stern woman, wearing a
long dress and with her head covered. Her right hand rests against her
side and in her left hand she holds a scepter.
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