Roman Gods and Goddesses
The ancient Romans rose to power as the Greeks’ star was waning. The Romans had old household and countryside gods and goddesses that were their own, but did not possess a grand mythology like the Greeks or the Egyptians. The Romans ended up borrowing the Greeks gods and using them and the stories for themselves. One difference is that the Romans worshiped Mars, the god of war, more than Jupiter the king of the gods. The Romans were warriors and they believed he could aid their conquests.
The Romans also had a great hero story of their own—the creation of the city of Rome. Romans took great pride in the city of Rome, the Roman people, and the Roman Empire. They created a story in which the ancestor of all the Roman people (those actually from Rome) was a great hero from the Trojan War—Aeneas.
Roman Gods and Goddesses
Here are the names of the Roman gods and goddesses with the Greek equivalent in parentheses. Unless changed, their attributes and their depictions are the same as the Greeks. You’ll also recognize many of the names as those of our planets.
- Saturn (Chronos)
- Jupiter, Jove (Zeus)
- Juno (Hera)
- Mars (Ares)—the god of war and the god of agriculture.
- Vesta (Hestia)—she became the patron goddess of Rome. She was adopted as guardian of the holy fire in Rome. There were no statues of Vesta, because she was represented as the fire. Her temple and the temple fire were tended by the Vestal Virgins.
- Ceres (sir-eez) (Demeter)—our word “cereal” comes from this goddess’s name.
- Minerva (Athena)—also the goddess of commerce.
- Neptune (Poseidon)
- Pluto (Hades)
- Mercury (Hermes) Venus (Aphrodite)
- Vulcan (Hephaestos)—our word “volcano” comes from this name.
- Diana (Artemis)
- Bacchus (bah-kus) (Dionysus)
- Cupid (Eros)
Other Roman Gods
The Romans had personal, family, and state gods. Each Roman family had its own special gods as did each town or city. Families had personal shrines to these gods set up in their houses and the Roman state had a temple and a sacred fire burning for the goddess Vesta. The fire was always kept burning.
- Janus—the god of beginnings, doorways, and public gates; also of departures and returns. Statues of Janus had two faces, one looked toward the rising sun and one towards the setting sun. Janus was often invoked when there was talk of change. We get our word January from the god Janus.
- Lares (lah-reez)—gods of the family. Lares were protective ancestral spirits who continued to guard their family. The family had a small shrine in the house and would pray each day to their Lares, offering them small gifts. Other Lares lived outside of the house in the surrounding fields.
- Penates (peh-nah-teez)—gods of the family. They were guardians of the hearth and storerooms. They would ensure a family’s welfare. There were also public Penates that would ensure the welfare of the Roman state. The Penates are associated with Vesta.
The Romans, like the Greeks, had gods and goddesses of the forest:
- Sylvanus—god of the forest. He watches over wild forests but also over the fields and the men who tend them. He protects the flocks and scares off wolves.
- Faunus—god of the forest. He is also a god of agriculture and cattle. He is a horned god similar to the Greek god Pan.
- Flora—goddess of flowers, fruits, and springtime. She wears a crown of flowers.
Roman Gods and Goddess from Other Cultures
The Romans imported gods and goddesses from other cultures as well. The Roman Empire spread far and wide, so it is no surprise that the people of Rome would be influenced and take up the worship of other gods and goddesses. These were called “cults,” and they were not the religion of the state but popular among the people. The two biggest cults:
- Isis—Isis is a goddess from Egypt. In the Roman world Isis was a favorite with women, because her story involved unfailing loyalty to her husband, Osiris, who had been killed. She is the mother of the god Horus. Isis became equated in Rome with the goddess Ceres.
- Mithras—Mithras is a god from Persia. In the Roman world Mithras was a favorite of men, especially soldiers, because in Persian mythology he battled demons and sorcerers. Not much is known about the “cult” of Mithras other than he was born from a rock and he killed a great bull. People who worshipped Mithras did so in underground caverns.