Worshipping various Roman gods was the basis of the ancient Roman religion. Ancient Romans believed that the gods helped in founding Rome. Venus was regarded as the divine mother of the Roman people since she was considered the mother of Aeneas, who, according to legend, had built Rome.
The Romans showed royalty to their gods both in public and inside their homes. They used to adorn public buildings with images of the gods and goddesses. According to mythology, twelve major deities founded the Dei Consentes, the Council of 12. It consists of the 12 major gods in the Roman religion.
Greek mythology also affected Romans due to the direct contact between both ancient civilisations. The Roman government took control of many Greek territories, adapting different aspects of their culture. The major Roman gods actually came from ancient Greek deities but were given different names.
Here is a list of the major gods in ancient Rome and their significance in Roman history and mythology:
Jupiter was regarded as the foremost god by the Romans. Being the Roman god of the heavens and the sky, Jupiter is believed to have descended from the Greek god Zeus. He was the most revered and worshipped deity in the community.
Along with Juno and Minerva, he was the Roman state’s patron deity and was in charge of laws and social order. The Capitoline Triad, a collection of the three main gods in Roman religion, was led by Jupiter, who served as its primary member. He was not just the supreme protector but also a deity whose worship represented a particular moral philosophy. The oldest and most sacred marriages were performed by his priest, and he particularly represented oaths, agreements, and alliances.
The thunderbolt and the eagle are two of his most well-known emblems.
Jupiter was frequently represented by an eagle clutching a thunderbolt in its claws, using the two symbols together. His temple was located on one of Rome’s seven hills, Capitoline Hill. A festival used to be held on the anniversary of the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter’s founding on 13 September.
Jupiter, the giant planet in our solar system, was named after the Roman god. Interestingly, in English, the adjective “jovial” originates from Jupiter’s alternative name, “Jove.” It is still used today to describe jolly and optimistic people.
The three gods, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, shared jurisdiction over the ancient Roman world. It was determined that the angry and irascible Neptune would rule the sea. His character embodies the fury of the earthquakes and the ocean waters that make up his realm.
Neptune was lusty, just like his Greek counterpart Poseidon. The water nymph Amphitrite caught Neptune’s eye, and he was mesmerised by her beauty. She initially resisted getting married to him, but Neptune sent her a dolphin who persuaded her. As compensation, Neptune made the dolphin eternal. Neptune was occasionally worshipped in the form of a horse.
The Romans believed he was the reason for many victories, so they built two temples in his honour. They also brought him unique gifts to keep him in an excellent temper to maintain the sea favourable to the Romans. A festival used to be held in July in Neptune’s honour.
The ancient Romans were frightened to mention Pluto for fear of evoking the wrath of the god known as the judge of the dead. As the ruler of all the metals and valuables buried beneath the earth, Pluto was also a deity of wealth. Previously known as the dissipater or the father of gods, Pluto was more recognised for his role as the lord of the underworld and as the counterpart of the Greek god Hades.
When the Romans conquered Greece, the gods Hades and Pluto were united as the god of wealth, the dead, and agriculture. Pluto resided distant from the other gods at Mount Olympus in a palace in the underworld. He was responsible for claiming the souls that lived in his underground realm. Everyone who went in was doomed to remain there forever.
His gigantic three-headed dog Cerberus guarded the entrance to his kingdom. After the death of their mighty father, Saturn, the three sibling gods, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto, were given the responsibility of governing the world. Pluto occasionally made an appearance on earth for an encounter with the gods. Jupiter, the ruler of the gods, had a niece named Proserpina who watched the harvest. Everyone tried their best to maintain her happiness.
Proserpina was once noticed by her uncle Pluto while she was out in the fields gathering flowers. He instantly abducted her because he was mesmerised by her beauty and felt the need to possess her. Before anyone could notice any interference, he drove her to the underworld in his chariot. She remained unresponsive to Pluto, who fell head over heels for her, and she refused to eat since she was discouraged by the preservation of her fate.
The story goes that anyone who eats in the underworld will see their destiny and will never be able to depart. She hung on as long as possible, hoping someone would save her. After crying and going without food for a week, she finally gave in and ate six pomegranate seeds.
Proserpina consented to marry Pluto in exchange for living as the underworld’s queen for six months before returning to earth for another six months in the spring. Proserpina’s mother grew every flower as a greeting to her when she returned to the earth and then let all the crops wither until Proserpina returned from the underworld the following spring. That, according to legend, is the explanation behind the seasons of the year.
The Roman deity Apollo is credited for inspiring music, poetry, art, oracles, archery, the plague, medicine, the sun, light, and knowledge. He is among the most intricate and significant gods. The case of Apollo is peculiar since there was no direct Roman equivalent, so he was accepted as the same god by the Romans. According to the myth, he was Zeus’s and Leto’s son.
The god Apollo was responsible for making people aware of their guilt and purifying them of it. He also oversaw religious legislation and city constitutions. He shared his knowledge of the future and his father Zeus’s wishes with humans through prophets and oracles. He is often portrayed as young, athletic, and without a beard.
Apollo was adored by the Romans, who saw him as a protector against infectious diseases, a source of political stability, and a provider of medical knowledge. He was thus linked to medicine and healing, which were once believed to be handled by his son Asclepius occasionally. Apollo, though, was also able to bring a fatal disease and poor health.
Apollo was a skilled magician known for entertaining Olympus by playing music on his golden lyre. Hermes, the Greek god, created his lyre. At the drinking gatherings held on Olympus, Apollo played his cithara as the Muses led the dance. Being referred to as “shining” and “the sun,” he was occasionally pictured with light rays coming from his body. This light, literally and figuratively, stood for the illumination Apollo bestowed upon his followers.
The Campus Martius served as the site of Rome’s first significant temple to Apollo. After a plague demolished Rome in 433 BC, work on the temple was started. The temple’s initial construction was finished in 431 BCE, but it quickly fell into disrepair. It was restored multiple times over the years, most notably by Gaius Sosius in the first century BCE.
If you mention Cupid, most people will tell you that he is the God of Love. In Roman mythology, Cupid was the deity of lust, adoration, and passionate love. Cupido is a Roman name for Cupid, which means ‘desire.’ Another Latin name for Cupid is “Amor,” which comes from the verb (amo). Typically, he was portrayed as the child of Venus and Mars. He is regarded as the Roman counterpart of the Greek deity Eros. Eros was initially pictured in Greek mythology as a thin boy with wings.
However, throughout the Hellenistic era, Cupid was pictured as a chubby kid with a bow and arrows. It is the most widely recognised representation, particularly around Valentine’s Day. According to legend, he carried two arrows. If he shot the gold one, which had a sharp end, the woman’s heart was quickly overtaken by love and the desire to spend her entire life with a particular man.
Psyche is the subject of one of Cupid’s most well-known love stories. Venus, the mother of Cupid, was so envious of the lovely mortal Psyche to the point she instructed her son to make Psyche fall in love with a monster. Venus does, however, make a mistake, granting Psyche to Cupid. As Cupid falls in love with Psyche, she is unaware of her beauty’s impact on the God of Love. Psyche and Cupid married with the agreement that she would never be allowed to see his face. According to legend, Cupid and Psyche had a daughter they named Voluptas, Greek for “pleasure.”
Furious Mars was the Roman god of fury, ardour, havoc, and battle. He was a very significant deity in the Roman pantheon, second only to Jupiter. Unlike other Roman gods, Mars preferred the battlefield. He was Jupiter and Juno’s son and the counterpart of Ares in Greek mythology. Romulus and Remus, his offspring, are credited with founding Rome; the Romans referred to themselves as the sons of Mars.
Romans regarded him as a defender of frontiers and city limits and a guardian of Rome and the Roman way of life. He was revered before combat and was the protector god of soldiers. Before any battle, Roman army soldiers prayed to Mars, begging him to support them. Mars encouraged male bravery and love for blood in conflict. They held that Mars eventually decided who would prevail in any conflict.
Mars, the God of War, was represented by various emblems. His spear was one of the primary emblems that emphasised his masculinity and violence. His spear served as a tribute to his serenity. His sacred shield was the Ancile, a different symbol. This shield is said to have fallen from the sky during Pompilius’ reign. According to legend, Rome would be secure if the shield was still inside the city. A burning torch, a vulture, a hound, a woodpecker, an eagle, and an owl also represented the God of War.
He is often depicted as a young man with smooth cheeks, a beard, and curly hair, decked up in a cuirass, helm, and military cloak. In pursuit of corrupted centurions to kill, he sped across the sky on a chariot driven by fire-breathing horses. He also carried his trusted spear in his right hand, a potent weapon.
Mars was celebrated during a series of festivals in February, March, and October. The first day of the old Roman calendar was Martius, the month of Mars. On 1 March, the Romans used to dress in battle armour, danced to welcome the new year, and sacrificed rams and bulls to the mighty deity. On important occasions, Mars was honoured with suovetaurilia, a triple offering of sacrificial pig, ram, and bull. He was reportedly rumoured to have accepted horse sacrifices.
Saturn was the principal Roman deity who oversaw farming and crop harvesting, born to Terra, mother of the earth, and Caelus, the supreme sky god. Cronus was Saturn’s original Greek counterpart. Saturn is said to have fled from his furious father and travelled to Latium, where he taught the locals how to farm and grow grapes.
He established Saturnia as a city and exercised wise leadership. The inhabitants of this time lived in prosperity and harmony during this calm period. At this time, there were no social boundaries between classes, and it was believed that all people were created equal. According to Roman mythology, Saturn assisted the people of Latium in abandoning the “barbaric” way of life and embracing a civilised and moral ethic. He was seen as a harvest deity who oversaw agriculture, grain, and the natural world.
To prevent his children from overthrowing him, Saturn consumed all of the offspring by his wife, Ops, a fertility goddess, as soon as they were born. He swallowed five of his kids, but Ops kept Jupiter, her sixth child, alive. She gave Saturn a big stone in place of his son, wrapped in swaddling blankets. The stone was immediately devoured by Saturn, who had to disgorge each of his children out of his stomach to get rid of the stone. In the end, Jupiter overcame his father and raised his siblings from the dead before establishing himself as the new gods’ top monarch.
The Temple of Saturn once stood in the Roman Forum at the start of the route going up to Capitoline Hill. The temple’s construction began in the sixth century BCE, and in 497 BCE, it was completed. One of the ancient monuments in the Roman Forum, the temple’s ruins are still standing. It is known that throughout all of Roman history, the Roman Senate’s records and decrees were kept in the Temple of Saturn, which also served as the location of the Roman Treasury.
Romans worshipped many gods, some of which are prominent deities to learn about in the world’s history. Each god was responsible for specific duties. They built temples and offered sacrifices to show dedication and loyalty to them. As part of Roman culture, people held various festivals to celebrate these different gods depending on their roles and what they brought to the people of Rome. To really understand the Roman civilisation, a comprehensive understanding of its mythology is definitely needed. We hope we have shown you a glimpse of this rich culture.