Roman Gods vs Greek Gods. Their Similarities and Origins
When discussing the mythologies of Rome and Greece, particularly the Roman Gods, it is often joked that the Romans copied the Greeks’ homework and only changed the names. A more accurate interpretation would be that the Romans appreciated the orderly ritual that went into worshiping the gods more than the gods themselves; the Greeks prayed to their gods in order to gain favor with the specific influence of a god’s portfolio while most Roman gods were reworked to give stability and reinforcement to the state.
Greek mythology is over one millennia older than Roman mythology, meaning that the Romans would just take a Greek deity that they liked and then assign them to something equivalently fitting to the culture of Rome.
While the specifics behind these Roman gods and their characteristics will be covered further in this article, we will now present many of the Greek god and other mythic figures followed by their Roman analogs.
- Aphrodite: Venus
- Apollo: Surprisingly unchanged, possibly because of how many different and disparate things he was god of; the Romans likely saw enough overlap with Greek sensibilities and their own that Apollo was deemed perfect for his job and without need for a “rebranding.”
- Ares: Mars
- Artemis: Diana
- Athena: Minerva
- Demeter: Ceres
- Dionysus: Bacchus
- Eris: Discordia
- Eros: Cupid
- Hades: Pluto
- Helios: Sol
- Hephaestus: Vulcan
- Hera: Juno
- Hermes: Mercury
- Hestia: Vesta
- Kronos: Saturn
- Moirae: Parcae
- Pan: Faunus
- Persephone: Proserpina
- Poseidon: Neptune
- Selene: Luna
- Tyche: Fortuna
- Zeus: Jupiter
Who were the Olympian Gods
The Olympian Gods are several major deities from the Greek pantheon. The term Olympian comes Mt. Olympus, the location where most of these gods lived and all of them would convene at to discuss mortal affairs.
Zeus lead the rebellion against the Olympian’s Titan forebears, serves as king of the gods and holds dominion over the skies and thunder. He was the child of the Titans Rhea and Kronos and father to dozens of children. After overthrowing the titans, Zeus was handed thunder and thunderbolts by the Cyclopes and then drew lots to determine where he and his two brothers would rule. The results of this last act placed Zeus as the ruler of the sky and the rest of the Greek pantheon.
Hera serves the Olympians as their queen and is both sister and wife to Zeus. Hera’s portfolio extended to marriage, women, the stars and the sky. This protection extended to visiting vengeance upon unfaithful husbands and sometimes also the offspring that resulted from cheating on a spouse.
Zeus’ brother was given dominion over the seas after the pulling of lots and is known for bearing a trident. Said trident was also the instrument by which he exerted his other divine influence-earthquakes. Poseidon was an extremely temperamental god who also produced many children.
Where Zeus rules the sky and Poseidon rules the sea, Hades rules the underworld and serves as god of the dead. Note that while Hades is the god of the dead, Thanatos is the god of death, the force that sends souls to Hades’ realm. Given his role in the world, most Greeks refused to refer to Hades directly by name for fear of gaining his attention and this natural unease also compelled him to remain within the underworld. While Poseidon has his trident and Zeus has thunderbolts, Hades possesses a cap of invisibility. Hades is married to his niece Persephone, the child of Demeter.
Hestia is the goddess of the hearth-the home. While characterized as the kindest of the Olympians, we have very few stories involving her exploits.
Hermes serves as messenger of the gods, is a patron of poetry and also serves as a psychopomp; a guide to the afterlife for the newly dead. As Hermes is both quick-witted and quick of foot, he is often characterized as a trickster in stories.
Hephaestus is the god of craftsmen and fire. He is a child of Hera and Zeus and was wed to Aphrodite so that the gods would not war over her. He is also deformed in some way and this deformation is what caused Hera to cast him down from Mt. Olympus; she could not stand giving birth to an ugly child.
Dionysus is the god of wine, fertility and theater. Unlike most gods, Dionysus was often regarded quite warmly by the human race.
Demeter serves the human race as the goddess of agriculture, harvest and fertility. Artwork featuring this goddess tends to have hear bearing a torch, likely so that she might find her daughter Persephone. Demeter’s sadness at being cut off from Persephone spending part of each year in the underworld is the explanation for winter in Greek mythology.
Athena is the goddess of art, courage and military tactics. While she is the daughter of Zeus, she was birthed from Zeus’s forehead, fully grown and clothed as an adult, after Zeus complained of a massive headache. Athena is widely regarded as Zeus’s favorite child and she alone has consent to wield her father’s thunderbolt and aegis shield. The owl and the aegis are considered her two most prolific icons. She was also the winner of a contest for Athens to choose its patron deity; Athena produced an olive tree, which was very useful, while Poseidon, the other contender, produced a salt water spring, something that was beautiful yet impractical.
Artemis is the goddess of the wilds, the hunt and the moon. She is also a twin, born at the same time as Apollo. She enjoys some overlap with Hera as she will also safeguard women and children.
The god of war is a child of Hera and Zeus, though Homer’s accounts characterize him as being despised by his parents and a bit of a coward. Where Athena was a goddess of warcraft and tactics, Ares’ approach to war was to win at any cost. He fathered the Amazons through his union with the nymph Harmony.
Apollo is the god of prophecy, music and the sun. He also taught humans how to make and use medicine, earning him the aspect “Apollo Acestor” (Apollo the Healer).
Aphrodite serves as the goddess of beauty, love, youth, and in her earliest forms, also war. While this goddess has two competing notions of how she came into being, it is commonly accepted that she came into the world in the form of an adult woman. While she is concerned with various forms of love, her child Eros was more concerned with fleeting moments of carnality. Her flightiness is what led to the Trojan War and she is also responsible for Jason falling in love with a princess.
The Roman Pantheon at a Glance
The Roman version of Apollo is a god with connections to music, poetry, truth, healing, the sun, victory, prosperity, and even archery.
Holy Symbol: Laurel.
This Roman divinity was concerned with medicine, health and renewal.
Holy Symbol: A single normal snake wrapped around a rod. While most Americans may think of a pair of winged snaked wrapped around a rod, likely as part of a hospital’s signage, that symbol was actually commonly used to represent liars, thieves, alchemical concepts and wisdom; the confusion arose from a litany of misunderstandings and mistakes regarding the Rod of Asclepius.
While Sol was the god of the solar disc and Luna was the goddess of the moon, Aurora is the goddess of dusk.
Bacchus is the god of wine, theater, horticulture and ambiguity.
Holy Symbols: Grapes and the vines they grow from.
Bellona is the consort of Mars and a goddess of war. She is almost always depicted with a helmet and often carrying a sword, spear and/or shield when on foot or a torch or whip when driving a chariot led by four horses.
Sometimes spelled Carda, this Roman goddess oversaw door hinges.
Holy Symbol: A door hinge.
Ceres serves the Roman people as their goddess of crops, the seasons and family.
Holy Symbol: Ears of corn.
Consus is an ancient Roman god of agriculture, often regarded as the oldest member of the pantheon.
Diana is basically the Roman goddess of the hunt, possessing dominion over archery, nature and the hunt.
Holy Symbol: A bow and arrows.
This deity, a child of Saturn and Opis, was initially associated with the earth, both in terms of its fecundity in growing crops and also the potential wealth stored within it. Understandably, this led to a considerable overlap with Pluto to the point that Dis also gained an affinity for the underworld.
This grandson of Saturn is a mixture of man and goat. His divine influence was that of wild and untamed nature. His name is where the word “fauna” originates.
Holy Symbol: Goat hooves.
This particular goddess was the personification of fate and luck, both bad and good. She was often depicted holding a wheel, representative of the wheel of fortune, a ship’s rudder and/or a cornucopia. One other note about this goddess was that she was always depicted wearing a blindfold in order to reinforce the notion that luck has no biases and is equally likely to be good or bad for everyone.
Holy Symbols: Cornucopias, globes, wheels and wreaths.
Much like Apollo from the Greek pantheon, Isis was adopted into the Roman pantheon from another culture, that of the Egyptians. Isis was venerated by the Romans as a goddess of fertility and of magic, often depicted as a hawk or an eagle-eyed woman.
Holy Symbols: A boat’s rudder and the cornucopia.
Janus is the (literally) two-faced god of beginnings, endings, doors and change. His name is where the word “janitor” comes from.
Holy Symbol: A head with two faces looking away from one other.
The wife and sister of Jupiter and queen of gods was known to the Roman world as its goddess of women, light and fertility.
Holy Symbols: Cows and peacocks.
The king of the gods holds dominion over the sky, including thunder and lightning.
Holy Symbols: Eagles and lightning bolts.
The lares were a class of minor deity tasked with safeguarding an individual home.
This child of Ceres has a great deal of overlap with Bacchus/Dionysus to the point that the two were worshiped at the same time. Indeed, the one major distinction in the two god’s portfolios is that Bacchus was invested in ambiguity while Liber was invested in freedom, especially after his devotees had partaken of the tongue-loosening liquid for which both he and Bacchus were known for.
This Roman goddess is the consort to Sol and oversaw the moon.
Maia is a bit confusing in that she was attributed as an individual goddess with influence over growth but her name also comes up in relation to other gods like Vulcan, Juno, Opis and Faunus.
Mars is a child of Jupiter and Juno and holds sway over war in all forms, including the crops necessary to keep an army at war. That’s right, Mars was also an agricultural deity; more specifically, he started out as an agricultural deity and warfare came afterward. Furthermore, Mars was known to father far more mortals than immortal beings and he is also known as the father to Romulus and Remus.
Holy Symbols: Horses, wolves and woodpeckers.
Mercury is the swift god of travelers and tradesmen. Basically anyone who had to regularly do travel or engage in commerce would pray for Mercury’s beneficence.
Holy Symbol: Winged shoes.
Minerva served the various eras of Romans well, serving as a font for wisdom, education, artistry and industry. She is always depicted in a full complement of armor.
Holy Symbol: Owl.
This god was traced back to Zoroastrianism and adopted as a patron of the military man. He had many mystery cults and was said to be a god of light, agriculture and solar influence. Common elements to veneration of Mithras entailed the following.
- Depictions of fighting a bull in a cavern, with wheat emerging from a wound inflicted upon the beast’s tail.
- A banquet held atop the bull’s hide and shared between Mithras and Sol Invictus.
- A strong connection to rocks, either as the place from which Mithras sprang forth or a stone globe he carries with him out into the world. Sometimes this globe is awash in jets of flame.
- Mithras wears a Phrygian cap.
- Mithras’ overall appearance is not entirely human. Many images depict a humanoid being with four wings, the head of a lion, a pair of snakes entwining his body and resting about his neck.
While we have much information that points to a sizable number of worshipers, that worship was focused within a mystery cult whose members were sworn to secrecy regarding what went on during gatherings.
Holy Symbols: Mithras had many holy symbols but what the specific symbols were depended entirely upon which of the 7 levels of membership within his cult you occupied.
This brother to Jupiter and Pluto holds dominion over the seas.
Holy Symbols: Horses and tridents.
Opis gave birth to Jupiter and is associated with riches, prosperity and abundance.
Holy Symbols: Lions, the tambourine, crowns, grains and the cornucopia.
The penates were minor deities that collaborated with the laretes. While the laretes looked after the safety and protection of a household, the penates were charged with looking after the safety and protection of that household’s members.
The brother to Jupiter and Neptune holds sway over the underworld and also material wealth. Because his dominion is below the land, this also means that Pluto is quite wealthy as gold and gemstones are found deep within the earth.
Holy Symbols: Thrones, scepters, horses and keys. While there are some depictions of Pluto wielding a bident, this is most likely artistic liberty in depicting his scepter.
This ancient god of Rome is synonymous with Romulus and thus, most depictions of him in art show a bearded man in his prime.
Holy Symbol: Myrtle.
Saturn is the father of Jupiter and several of the other Roman gods. He holds dominion over the flow of time and agriculture. This duality of time and the harvesting done in agricultural gives early notions of what can later been seen in depictions of the Grim Reaper and Father Time.
Holy Symbol: Sickle.
This deity was the Roman god of the solar disc.
Venus is the goddess of love and beauty. One of her aspects is Venus Genetrix and this specific “brand” frames her as the genesis of the Imperial line, beginning with Caesar. She is most iconically rendered in Leonardo DaVinci’s statue “Venus de Milo” and Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.”
Holy Symbols: Apple trees, myrtles, poppies and roses.
Vulcan was the god of smithing, deserts and volcanoes. As volcanoes were known to spew destructive fire, many commoner’s prayers to Vulcan were requests to prevent disastrous fires from springing up.
Holy Symbol: Blacksmith’s hammer.
Vesta is a virginal goddess who rules over the hearth and home in much the same way as her Greek forebear, Hestia. She is often depicted as a scepter-wielding woman. Her priestesses were known as Vestal virgins and they were tasked with observing rituals, maintaining the eternal flame and taking a 30-year vow of abstinence.
Holy Symbols: The hearth, fire and donkeys.
A Note on Aspect
Aspects are a sort of honorific or title that often came after certain deities names in both Greek and Roman Mythology. Their chief purpose was to point out the specific quality being addressed during a religious tribute or ceremony. Provided below is a breakdown of some of the more common aspects given to the gods, demigods, deified mortals and divinities of Roman mythology.
This gendered aspect means “elevated/august one” and was first bestowed to Octavian, successor to Julius Caesar, in recognition of his influence and deification. The first Augusta was Livia, Octavian’s wife, and it was later bestowed to goddesses like Ceres, Juno, Minerva, Ops and virtues like Pax and Victoria. To be clear, Emperors were deified and this title cemented that divinity.
This aspect means “the Good” and was added to abstract deities like Fortuna, Mens and Spes. The Roman Republic often applied it to Bona Dea, the “Good Goddess.” Bonus Eventus, meaning “Good Outcome,” was among Varro’s twelve agricultural divinities.
This aspect arose during the middle era of the Roman Empire and means “heavenly” or “celestial;” understandably, any goddess to bear this aspect was deemed to have some connection to a supreme goddess of the heavens. Deities to bear this aspect include Venus, Isis, Diana, Proserpina and Juno. Records also point to a masculine equivalent to this particular aspect in “Caelus,” which Jupiter has been known to go by (Caelus Aeternus Iuppiter).
This aspect, which means “unconquered” or “invincible,” starts to show up in the 3rd Centure BCE. Deities known to bear this aspect include Apollo, Hercules, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Mithras, Saturn, Silvanus, and Sol.
These terms mean “Mother” and “Father,” respectively. Mater was applied in respect to the maternal authority of a goddess without focusing on the concept of motherhood itself. One example of this would be Terra Mater, “Mother Earth.” Vesta, despite being a virginal goddess of chastity, has also been known by this aspect. Pater was given a similar credence to gods, with Dis, Jupiter, Liber and Mars all bearing it at various points in their prominence.
When Did Rome Convert to Christianity?
While Christianity had been a minor religion for centuries, the Roman attitude toward Christians was initially quite hostile. Emperor Nero famously captured and tortured Christians, possibly as a scapegoat for his involvement in the burning of Rome in 64 CE. Nero’s successors would not carry out the sort of pogroms their nefarious predecessor engaged in; Pliny the Younger’s remarks on Christianity were that its Asian believers should not be actively pursued but that any Roman Christian should be punished if they were publicly criticized and then refused to abandon their belief in the monotheistic religion.
The major shift toward Christianity’s acceptance within the Roman Empire began with Constantine’s Edict of Milan in 313 CE. This single edict decriminalized belief in the Christian faith and its practices. In less than a century’s time after the edict’s establishment, Emperors Theodosius I, Gratian and Valentinian II signed the Edict of Thessalonica in 380. This latter edict officially declared Nicene Orthodox Christianity as the state religion while simultaneously decrying non-Nicene denominations like Arianism; Arianism was the heretical belief that asserted Jesus, “the Son,” was a subordinate to the Father by coming into existence some amount of time after the Father.
How Turbulent Was Rome’s Transition to Christianity?
Constantine’s rise to Emperor marked the transition to Christianity, with the man becoming a major patron of the faith. He funded the church, ordered the construction of basilicas, bestowed special privileges to the clergy, elevated Christians to influential positions in his government, returned property that had been seized during Diocletian’s Great Persecution and even constructed a “New Rome” in Constantinople. This city would start out with a Christian emphasis to its architecture, featuring churches that were contained within the city walls but featured not a single temple dedicated to other gods or religions.
With the establishment of this pro-Christian city also came a toll for its non-Christian visitors and residents. Soon, temples to the Roman gods were shuttered due to a lack of funding; all the offertory coinage was going into the coffers of Christian endeavors. March 7th, 321 CE, was a momentous day as it was both the day of Jesus’ resurrection and also a holy day to Sol Invictus; this was considered an official holiday with no work to be done beyond farming and the release of slaves from bondage.
Legally, the capital punishment of crucifixion was abolished and hanging was chosen as its replacement. Prisoners were no longer kept in total darkness but allowed access to the outdoors and daylight. Condemned men could choose death in the arena but were only to be branded on the feet due to all visible elements of the human body considered made in God’s image. Public gladiatorial games were eliminated in 325 CE.
When Did The Christian Transition Reach Britain?
Records penned by Gildas the Wise in the 6th Century CE date the introduction of Christianity to Britain during the reign of Emperor Tiberius in the 1st Century CE. Other records point to a Christian presence among the Britons within the start of the 3rd Century CE. More thorough Christianization of Britain happened once Constantine the Great came to power and this surge only continued with his successors; Three Roman-British Bishops were accounted for at the Synod of Arles in 314 CE.
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