Roman Gods and Goddesses
The Ancient Roman religion was based on a belief in different gods and goddesses, with each playing an essential role in other aspects of everyday life during Ancient Roman times. So while there were thousands of Roman gods, we’ll introduce you to the 12 major Roman gods and goddesses.
Many Roman gods and goddesses were derived from Ancient Greeks Gods. However, as the years went by, their agnostic religion started to decline when Christianity became more influential during the 4th century, and eventually, Christianity overtook the agnostic religion completely.
Who were the 12 Roman Gods and Goddesses?
- Jupiter – God of the Sky
- Juno – Queen of the Gods
- Saturn – God of Time
- Neptune – God of the Seas
- Pluto – God of the Underworld
- Venus – God of Love and Beauty
- Minerva – Goddess of Wisdom
- Mars – God of War
- Mercury – Messenger of the Gods
- Apollo – God of the Sun
- Diana – Goddess of the Hunt
- Ceres – Goddess of Agriculture and Familial Love
The Romans worshipped many Gods because they believed that everything from rivers to trees and cows to crops had a guardian spirit watching over it. Each god could be assigned one or more jobs – some of these jobs could be very important, like ensuring the sun rose each day or crops grew in the fields, whereas others were less important.
The people of Rome would pray to their gods at least once a day – the god they would pray to would depend on what they wanted or needed. As Rome expanded and its citizens interacted with people who worshipped other gods, they adopted more and more into their roster. The train of thought was that if the new people in Rome had been successful, the god they worshipped must have played a hand in their success. So the Romans decided to adopt gods from other religions. However, they would change their names to represent Roman names and aspects of their personality. The Romans particularly liked many Greek gods, so much so that they adopted many of them into their religion, combining them with the older Etruscan gods that the Romans worshipped before.
The Romans took the worship of their gods exceptionally seriously and dedicated much of their time to it. As well as prayer, sacrifices were also expected to be made to the gods. Almost everything that happened to a Roman citizen, good or bad, would be linked back to their worship, or in some cases, lack of it – to the gods.
Did you know: the Romans believed that blood sacrifices were the way to communicate with the gods and demonstrate their dedication. As a result, bulls, sheep, and pigs were common sacrifices.
Jupiter – King of the gods and the sky
Jupiter was regarded as the Roman equivalent of the Greek God – Zeus. Jupiter was the brother of Neptune and Pluto. He was the king of the gods, the sky god, or the great protector. He controlled the weather and the forces of nature, and he was known to send thunderbolts to warn the citizens of Rome.
Juno – Queen of the Roman gods
Based on the Greek goddess Hera, Juno was Jupiter’s wife. It is said that she was the Queen of the Heavens, as well as childbirth and fertility. The month of June is named after Juno.
Neptune – Roman god of the seas
Neptune is the Roman equivalent of Poseidon. First, he was the deity of the sea, although later, he was associated with rivers. In art, he is often shown with a trident and a dolphin.
Minerva – Roman goddess of wisdom and war
Minerva is the Roman name for Athena, most commonly known as the goddess of war. However, she was also the goddess of commerce, industry, and education. Legend has it that she sprung from Jupiter’s head.
Mars – God of war
Mars was the Roman version of Ares. He was the god of war and second in command to Jupiter. Mars was considered the father of Romulus and Remus, the mythical twin creators of Rome.
Venus – Roman goddess of love and beauty
Venus is based on the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. According to legend, Venus was born out of the foam of the sea. She is often depicted as rising out of the waves in a calm.
Diana – Roman goddess of the hunt
Diana is the Roman version of Artemis. She was the goddess of wild animals, the hunt, the moon, chastity, and childbirth. She was the twin sister of Apollo, and she was very popular with Romans who lived in rural areas.
Pluto – God of the underworld
Pluto was Jupiter and Neptune’s brother and the Underworld god. The Romans believed the Underworld to be the place people went after death.
Mercury – Messenger of the gods
is the Roman version of Hermes and is the god of translation, interpretation, and messenger of the gods. He was considered the cleverest of all the Olympian gods and a messenger for them. He also ruled over wealth, good fortune, and commerce.
Saturn – God of time
Saturn was the first king of the gods and was also known as the god of time. Saturn carries a scythe – a tool used to cut crops. Saturn’s festival, the Saturnalia, became one of the most famous Roman festivals. When Saturn died, the world was split between his sons, Neptune, Pluto, and Jupiter.
Ceres – goddess of agriculture
Ceres was the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Demeter. She was the goddess of grain and agriculture in Greece and Rome, so she was essential to farmers. She was credited with teaching people how to grow, preserve, and prepare grain and corn, as she was thought to be responsible for the fertility of the land. Unlike many gods, Ceres was believed to be active in daily life. She was also heavily associated with motherhood and motherly love due to her close relationship with her daughter Proserpine (or Persephone), the wife of Hades. The Romans believed that the seasons were caused because Ceres went into mourning for half the year when Proserpine was in the underworld with her husband during the winter months and would celebrate her return by making the earth fertile during the summer.
These are the 12 main gods and goddesses in Greek and Roman polytheism. However, as we mentioned before, there were other gods, too. Though they took a back seat in comparison to the main Olympian gods, you might recognize a few of them:
Vesta – god of the home and domestic life
Pax – the god of peace
Nemesis – the goddess of revenge
Cupid – the god of desire
Bacchus- the god of wine, drunkenness, madness, and revelry
Janus- the god of gates, doorways, and time
The Furies – the goddesses of vengeance
Some other gods were also commonly worshipped in the Roman empire after being adopted from different regions. Some stayed quite regional, surviving as local patron deities, whereas others rose to the status of different faiths worshipped instead of, or alongside, the core Roman pantheon. Here are some of the most well-known examples:
Mithras was a god who was very popular with soldiers all over the Roman empire. We don’t know precisely where Mithras came from, and indeed he may have been an amalgamation of a few other gods who were all bundled together to form a new faith. Still, historians and archaeologists believe that Mithras originated in modern-day Iran. He was commonly depicted slaying a bull and was associated with warfare and the sun.
Isis was originally an Egyptian goddess, heavily associated with magic, mysticism, and healing. She became very popular in Rome after Egypt was added to the Empire.
Cybele was a mother goddess, originally from what’s now modern Turkey. The Romans adopted her and renamed her ‘Magna Mater,’ using her to claim Trojan heritage (to which the Romans commonly tried to lay claim to giving themselves a more glorious mythic history). Her worship was originally quite heavily Romanized, but later it began to return to older traditions from Asia Minor, and many Romans saw worshippers of Cybele as effeminate and barbaric.
Sol Invictus was a Romanized version of a Syrian sun god, combined with an early Roman sun god Sol who had largely been forgotten when the Romans adopted the Greek pantheon. Nevertheless, the worship of this god was prevalent during the later years of the Roman empire before Constantine I’s conversion to Christianity.
Fun Facts About the Roman Gods and Goddesses
- It’s believed Jupiter held thunderbolts from his hands that gave him the ability to fly.
- Juno’s sacred animal was a Peacock.
- Mars’ symbol was a sacred shield.
- Mercury-ruled over good fortune.
- Neptune was seen holding a spear in he would use to catch fish.
- Venus was made an ancestress due to her importance.
- Minerva was born from Jupiter’s brain and didn’t have a mother. It’s believed she devoured her in an attempt to prevent her birth.
- Vulcan was the god of fire and was believed to be behind volcanic eruptions.
- Vesta is the goddess of the hearth fire and was represented by the fire in her temple.
- Neptune was known to be moody, so people who lived along the coast were terrified of him.
Rome and Christianity
As we said earlier, the answer to our question of what religion the Romans were, is multifaceted. This is because of the emergence of Christianity in the 4th Century.
It is widely known that Rome got more extensive as it conquered neighboring cities and took control of new land and the citizens that inhabited it. As a result, Romans would meet people with different religious beliefs, one of which was Christianity.
However, Rome didn’t become a Christian empire overnight, and at first, there was a lot of resistance from the Roman people. Jesus was said to be born in Palestine. At the time, Palestine made up part of the Roman Empire, and when Jesus began to teach Christianity around 29 A.D., he was crucified on the cross.
Unlike many other religions at the time, the teachings of Christianity were founded on forgiveness, peace, and unity. Was in stark contrast to the anger, jealousy, and punishment that many of the Roman deities seemed to encompass.
Despite its gentle teachings and messages of unity and forgiveness, followers of the Christian faith were ostracized, beaten, and blamed in Rome for a very long time.
It was not until Emperor Constantine was crowned that Christianity became truly accepted. The acceptance of the Christian faith is believed to have come about because of a dream – Emperor Constantine reported he was told to paint the Christian symbol on his soldiers’ shields in his dream. So he did, and his men won the battle.
As a token of gratitude, he decided that he would allow citizens of the Roman Empire to worship any religion freely, including Christianity. Not long after this, Emperor Constantine converted the temples of the Olympian gods into Christian ones. Polytheism didn’t evaporate, but eventually, it declined, and Christianity became the dominant religion.
It is said that one of the reasons Christianity was able to grow so widely and so quickly was because of the structure of the Roman Empire. For example, the Romans built excellent roads, making it easy for people to travel, and pass on the teachings from city to city.
The Roman Empire was also multi-lingual – they spoke Latin and Greek, making communicating and translating ideas to a bigger audience easier. The Roman Empire eventually became the Holy Roman Empire, and the Vatican, widely recognized as the heart of the Catholic Church, still stands in Rome to day.