Usually, when we think of mythology, Greek mythology comes to mind. The Greeks influenced other cultures including the Romans and their empire which stretched across Europe, parts of Asia and northern Africa. Roman Gods aren’t as famous as the Greek and people nowadays don’t know much about them. However, they are just as powerful and we will refer to the gods and goddesses which shaped the destiny of Rome and minds of the plebeians.
It is believed that Saturn was the ruler of the Earth during the “lost” Golden Age which epitomized the balance between peace, harmony, stability and prosperity. When we look at the Greek mythology, similar role belonged to Cronus, which means that Saturn can be perceived as the god of time. Stoic philosopher Quintus Lucilius Balbus said:
“By Saturn, they seek to represent that power which maintains the cyclic course of times and seasons. This is the sense that the Greek name of that god bears, for he is called Kronos, which is the same as Chronos or Time. Saturn for his part got his name because he was “sated” with years; the story that he regularly devoured his own children is explained by the fact that time devours the courses of the seasons and gorges itself “insatiably” on the years that are past. Saturn was enchained by Jupiter to ensure that his circuits did not get out of control, and to constrain him with the bonds of the stars.”
Jupiter is the Supreme deity among the roman gods and its equivalent in the Greek mythology is Zeus. Jupiter was seen as a bearded male who personified the light, thunder and sky. Speaking in the language of history, Jupiter was one of the personalized deities of the Etruscan kings, who made their ways to the triad of gods. The three gods – Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus were worshiped in the early Roman state. To show how much the citizens appreciated and respected Jupiter, the impressive Temple of Jupiter was risen on the Capitoline Hill.
Juno is a wife to Jupiter, the main god in the Roman mythology, which makes her just as important. She was given the title of Regina. When we look at the genealogy, Juno was the daughter of Saturn, which technically makes her the sister to Jupiter. Furthermore, she is the mother to other gods such as Mars, Juventas and Vulcan. In comparison with the Greeks, Juno is linked to Hera.
Neptune is Jupiter’s brother and he controls all the waters on this planet. Neptune belongs to the most powerful gods in the Roman mythology and he is associated to Poseidon from the Greek culture. Both gods carry a trident and artworks found in North Africa find them to be very similar. Furthermore, Neptune was also worshipped as the god of horses, just like it was the case with Poseidon.
Perhaps the best description of Minerva comes from Ovid. He said that she was the “goddess of thousand works” and she was indeed. Minerva was in charge of wisdom, poetry, medicine, art, crafts and commerce and there is only one equivalent in the Greek mythology – Athena. According to the legend, Minerva was created from Jupiter’s forehead after the supreme god swallowed her mother Metis. However, history tells it differently and Minerva has much older heritage, just like the other Roman gods and goddesses.
While Jupiter is considered the supreme god in the Roman mythology, Mars could be perceived as his right arm. He was the god of war and according to some agriculture. Although it is often compared to Ares from Greece, Mars is much more complex and able. Instead of being impulsive and chaotic like wars usually are, Mars is composed and he was the protector of the Roman way of life and its people. He defended the cities and state borders against its intruders and he was often portrayed as a father figure to Romulus and Remus.
The goddess of beauty, love, desire and sex was Venus whereas its equivalent in Greek mythology is Aphrodite. And just like it is the case with other Roman gods in comparison with its Greek counterparts, Venus is more complex than Aphrodite. She is also the goddess of victory and fertility while some assign her prostitution as well.
It comes to no surprise that she had many children with Mars and some of their names include Timor, Metus, Concordia and Cupids.
Apollo is the name for the God who was the entity of light, music, poetry, medicine, prophecy and archery. Interestingly enough, Apollo is one of few Roman gods who was directly translated from the Greek mythology. He is one of Jupiter sons and the first table that was established to honor this god dates back to the late 5th century BC.
Diana was the virgin goddess of hunt, wildlands, nature and Moon. She belonged to the triad of female Roman deities, including Minerva and Vesta and they were all maidens. Perhaps the best explanation of Diana comes from Quintus Lucilius Balbus who said:
“People regard Diana and the moon as one and the same. … the moon (luna) is so called from the verb to shine (lucere). Lucina is identified with it, which is why in our country they invoke Juno Lucina in childbirth, just as the Greeks call on Diana the Light-bearer. Diana also has the name Omnivaga (“wandering everywhere”), not because of her hunting but because she is numbered as one of the seven planets; her name Diana derives from the fact that she turns darkness into daylight (dies). She is invoked at childbirth because children are born occasionally after seven, or usually after nine, lunar revolutions…”
Vulcan is one of the oldest Roman gods and its origin is traced back to approximately 7th century BC. He was the god of fire and forges and his forged was believed to be located under the Mount Aetna in Sicily. Its equivalent in the Greek culture was Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalworking.
Vesta is the daughter of Saturn and sister of Jupiter and she is considered both the oldest and the youngest of Roman gods. Yes, it is a paradox, but according to the legend, she was the first to be swallowed by Saturn and the last to be released from the confines of his father. Even though she was beautiful, she rejected Apollo and Neptune who wanted her for their wife. Instead of marrying one of the gods, Vesta remained a maid and that is why she is the goddess of hearth, home and domestic scope. Her equivalent in Greek mythology is Hestia.
Mercury is one of the younger gods in Roman mythology and he represented wealth and trade as well as financial gains that go with it. He is often connected to the Greek counterpart Hermes also knowns as the messenger god. Even though Mercury was one of the “smaller” gods, he was extremely popular in Gaul and Britain, according to Julius Caesar.
Ceres was a beloved god that represented agriculture, crops, fertility and mother relationships. She was the daughter of Saturn and sister to Jupiter, however, often associated to this god is her daughter Proserpine. Their relationship is interesting and Ceres actually lost her daughter, who was kidnapped by Pluto, the god of the underworld. Proserpine could return to Earth only from spring to autumn and you can see how that corresponds with seasons. Her equivalent in Greek mythology is Demeter and her daughter Persephone.
Bacchus is the god wine and wine making and he is a copied version of Dionysus, from the Greek culture. The changes between the two gods are so small. Dionysus and therefore Bacchus, was famous for private ceremonies that were considered secret and during which people would get drunk and enter a different state of mind. You must be familiar with the term “bacchanalian” that means a “drunken feast”.
One god that originated in ancient Persia was called Mithra in their culture and Mithras in Greco-Roman mythology. This god had a solid number of followers and in its heydays this religion was one of the rivals to Christianity. It was mainly practiced by the members of the Roman military, but it originated among the upper classes and it was quite mysterious at the time.