In terms of religion, the Romans believed in a polytheistic faith; the people recognised and worshipped multiple gods and goddesses. These supernatural being experiences were moulded into short narratives known collectively as Roman mythology. Roman deities and their linked myths were vital to ancient society, they presented educational teachings including the obedience of moral expectations, the development of Roman law and the outcome of defying authority. Much of Roman mythology has been adapted and borrowed from the ancient Greek world due to the high level of influence held over the Roman empire.
Son of Saturn, promiscuous and all-powerful Jupiter controlled the Roman Divinities. God of the Sky and Overseer, Jupiter’s sacred animal was the eagle, the same symbol given to the Roman army. He had several titles including: patron of oaths and treaties, the punisher of perjurers, and the authority of the state. Relating to Greek Mythology Jupiter was equal to Zeus.
God of freshwater, the sea, storms and the wind, Neptune is linked with the Greek Poseidon. His icons consist of dolphins and a legendary trident. Amongst the Romans he is best known as the patron of horse riding. Branded as ill-tempered and violent, he portrays the harsh nature of the ocean. Neptune is depicted throughout Roman mythology demanding requests in return for safe passage across the seas. For instance, referring to the Tale of Aeneas once again, guidance to the Italian shore is given to Aeneas by trade of his captain, Noble Palinarus’s life.
Residing in the underworld, likewise to Greek Hades, Pluto was the God of mortality and riches. His subterranean domain involves control of the dead, and the expensive materials located below the ground such as ores, metals and gems. The symbols of a serpent, a cypress tree and his three headed dog Cerebus are significant to Pluto. Reciting the story of Proserpina and Pluto – otherwise largely recognised as Hades and Persephone – the Romanised concept describes the divine couple as a loving match fashioned by Cupid.
Son of Jupiter and Juno, Mars was the God of War, and more importantly the protector of the Roman way of life. He was a defender of Rome’s city borders and general frontiers. The emblem of Mars was that of a wolf’s head. Mars played a key role in the origins of Rome; he was the father of Romulus and Remus, the founding twins of Rome. Mars raped the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia starting a catalytic chain, with the eventual death of King Amulis and the construction of Rome. Akin to Ares, the Greek God of war and destruction.
Born of Jupiter and a female titan, Latona, Apollo held various titles. He was the patron of the city Delphi, the chief patron of prophets and the patron of doctors and shepherds. As the bringer of pestilence, he maintained social order and encouraged poetry, music and the arts. Twin brother to Goddess Diana of the Hunt, Apollo’s characterised items are presented as a set of silver arrows and the musical instrument termed lyre.
The origin story of Apollo and his twin sister comprises of Juno and her envy; Juno was intent on Latona’s demise after discovering Jupiter’s deceit. Guided by the unborn Apollo, Latona seeks refuge and births Diana, who in turn helps birth her twin. Apollo defeats the serpent Juno sent to end the family, creating a lyre from the remains.
Described to have been the ugliest of the gods, Juno threw Vulcan from the top of Mount Etna rejecting him moments after birth, his lame leg was a result of Juno’s carelessness. A band of nymphs raised Vulcan underneath the volcano, where he spent his time perfecting his craft. Vulcan was the god of fire and forge, and the patron of blacksmiths and artisans. Jupiter’s lightning bolts and Mercury’s winged helmet are but a couple of Vulcan’s creations. Hephaestus and Vulcan are intricately connected. The Goddess Venus was Vulcan’s wife, not by choice rather coercion, their marriage was loveless. Vulcan forged a contraption to trap Juno, after which he demanded the hand of Venus, Jupiter granted him this marriage.
Bought into being by Jupiter and Maia, Goddess of the plains, Mercury was the God of commerce, a peacekeeper and messenger. He guarded merchants and travellers, along with his duty of guiding the dead to the underworld. Mercury was described as cunning, pranking bystanders. Forever attached to his winged sandals and caduceus, Mercury is analogous to Hermes. A vital intervention of Mercury’s occurs during the Trojan Aeneas’s tale, it is his reminder that forces Aeneas to leave his beloved Dido and follow fate’s path.
Bacchus associated with the Greek Dionysus, was the Roman God of wine, madness and the ecstasy of intoxication. Personifying the spontaneous and uninhibited, Bacchus revelled in new ways of thinking and acting, free from social expectations through a drunken state. He is commonly illustrated with a hyrsus in hand.
In regards to mythology, Bacchus is declared to have been born not once but twice. His first life was led under the name ‘Liber’ until his death during the battle of Titanomachy. Jupiter, father of Bacchus, altered his remains into a potion that the mortal wife of King Thebes drank resulting in a pregnancy. Jupiter takes Bacchus from Semele with her untimely death and attached him to his own thigh where he continues to grow.
Commonly referred to in Ancient Greek myth as Cronos, Saturn was the offspring of Caelus and Terra; the sky god and mother earth goddess. He holds power over agriculture as the god of seeds, harvest and renewal. Saturn carries a scythe to remove crops from the ground. The origins of Saturn in Roman mythology begin with the famous story of the consumption of his children, followed by a rebellion and exile. Forced to leave Mount Olympia, Saturn travels to Latium, future Rome, and takes control teaching the citizens a civil and agricultural lifestyle.
One of the only true Roman gods with no Greek counterparts is Janus, the keeper of entrances and exits. He symbolised the beginning and the end, usually drawn with two faces; one bearded and one clean shaven. Janus is thought to have been simultaneously looking in the past and the future. Thereby he is associated with keys, considering he holds power over gateways in time and space. Janus participated in the protection of Rome during the kidnapping of the Sabine women, preventing Romulus’ enemy Titus Tatius from surmounting the city walls.
Birthed by Venus, Cupid was a winged boy characterised by his bow and arrow, his love entrapment device. God of desire, love, attraction and affection, Cupid would shoot overpowering surges of desire at unaware beings. A very playful god, Cupid is the direct ideal of Eros. Cupid once had a taste of his own medicine after shooting himself accidentally and falling in love with the beautiful princess Psyche.