Top 10 Ancient Roman Gods

Although Roman gods have taken on the Olympian torch from Greek mythology, many are initially from Rome. As Rome further conquered and expanded, it annexed more land and deities, juxtaposing various gods into a mighty pantheon. 

In this list, I have prepared ten of the most important gods from Roman mythology. 

How did the Romans worship their gods?

Romans pleased their gods by observing religious rituals and setting up statutes at temples and altars. They offered their prayers and sacrifices. 

Are Greek and Roman gods the same?

Who was the most hated god?

Mars (Ares in Greek), the god of war, was most hated by all the gods. He is portrayed as a disgrace in Homeric poems. 

Who was the evilest god?

Apophis, the Egyptian god of Evil and Chaos, possessed a host of demons and could never be defeated entirely. 

10. Janus 

God of Beginnings and Transitions 

Statue of Roman God Janus
Statue of Roman God Janus
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Janus, the son of Apollo, is a deity in Roman mythology. Janus was born into the Salian region in Greece but left for the part of Lazio in current Italy. There he was welcomed by a mythical king, with whom he divided the power. 

He edified certain cities and, according to some Roman myths, Janus welcomed the god Saturn after his banishment from Greece by the hands of Jupiter. As gratitude for being received, the old god began the golden era of humanity. However, it was Cronus (the Greek equivalent of Saturn) who blessed Janus with the ability to see the past and the future. 

Janus, derived from Latin Ianus, came from the word ianua or door, meaning door or doorkeeper. He was the doorkeeper of heavens, signifying beginnings and transitions. His statue bears two heads on either side, implying both the past and the future. It means that he can see both inside and outside as well as forwards and backward in time. 

He was accountable for teaching men to use boats and also introduced them to coins. His countenance graces the cash with both heads turning either side. It is the reason for naming the month January, for it is the month of transition and comes between the past and the following year. 

After his end of life among the men, Janus became a deity, responsible for protecting the doorways (January) and archways (Jani). He was depicted as having a key in his hands, which holds power to unlock a new cycle. 

9. Cupid

God of Love

Statue of Roman God Cupid
Statue of Roman God Cupid
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Romanized version of Eros is Cupid with two Latin names that roughly translate to a similar meaning. One is Cupido, meaning desire, and the other is Amor, meaning love. Regardless of his differing words, he invariably evokes passion. The child of the beautiful goddess Venus and savage god Mars, Cupid is often perceived as clumsy.  

Eros, his Greek counterpart, was depicted as a slender and handsome young man, whereas after Rome invaded Greece, he was portrayed as a chubby winged child with a quiver of arrows and bow. He went around hitting his hands that would ignite love on anybody who got shot. In earlier times, he is also portrayed as blindfolded because, as a kid, he could be fickle. 

What is mainly hidden from the mainstream is that Cupid carried two arrows. One with a gold tip, and the other was lead and blunt. When the former arrow struck a woman’s heart, love would blossom and the desire to be with a man. But, on the other hand, a blunt needle made them want to end the relationship. 

Cupid falls in love with Psyche, meaning soul, and both of these lonely souls unite and live happily ever after. Venus was jealous of his kindling love towards Psyche and discouraged their relationship. However, Cupid and Psyche became a couple after Cupid struck her with a golden arrow. 

8. Vulcan

God of Fire and Forge

Statue of Roman God Vulcan
Statue of Roman God Vulcan
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Besides Vulcan being the god of fire and the member council of gods, he was also the ugliest known god. Juno wanted to have her baby, so she created Vulcan, and out came a red-faced crying baby. Juno then tossed him off of Mt. Olympia from where he landed to the sea. He was the Roman equivalent of Hephaestus. 

He was found by nymphs with broken legs and raised a limp child, unaware that he would be Roman pantheon. He wandered around the beaches, collecting seashells and coals. Eventually, he kindled fire from coals and learned to create beautiful jewelry out of shells and other knick-knacks. 

He became a blacksmith and jewelry-making virtuoso, making beautiful ornaments and weapons for the gods. A version of myth depicts Juno spotting a beautiful pearl necklace made by Vulcan and demanding one for herself. She later finds out that she made it, then abandoned her son and asked him to return to her. Vulcan refuses and instead sends her a gilded chair to entrap her.

He was married to Venus, but she was unfaithful to him. She had many lovers, including his brother Mars. According to the myth, Vulcan was livid and erupted as volcanoes anytime Venus had an affair. Thus, there are many volcanoes today. 

7. Mars

 God of War

Statue of Roman God Mars
Statue of Roman God Mars
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 The Roman equivalent of Ares, Mars was the son of Jupiter and Juno. His sons, Romulus and Remus, were the founders of Rome. This catapulted his popularity in Roman mythology and heralded him as the divine protector of Rome. 

Mars was initially the god of vegetation and the protector of cattle and fields. His association with war later transpired as Rome began expanding through military conquest. Much later, when the cultures of Rome and Greece synchronized, he became the counterpart of Ares, the Greek god of war. 

Since his sons founded Rome, all Romans believed that they were the descendants of Mars. Furthermore, he was associated with the Sabine deity and the Spirit of Romulus, Quirinus. In the expanded land of Northern Europe, he was equated with the Celtic god of war, a tribal healer, and protector, especially to the Roman British. 

Romans made sacrifices to Mars, who was believed to be accompanied by goddess Bellona in wartime. Bellona was a warrior goddess who is known for her bellows before a war. Either her or Nerio is considered to be his wife. Sometimes, Bellona is also identified as his sister or cousin or even his daughter. 

Festivals like Armilustrium were dedicated to him, where the soldiers’ weapons were purified and kept. Similarly, Suovetaurilia came every five years, when people sacrificed pigs, bulls, and sheep in his name. Bull sacrifice was exclusively reserved for Mars, along with Neptune and Apollo. 

6. Mercury

God of Commerce, Communication, and Travel 

Mercury Relief in Olomouc
Mercury Relief in Olomouc
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The chief messenger of gods, Mercury, was a trickster and the patron of thieves and merchants. Apart from conveying messages to gods, he also gave souls to the Underworld. Being the chief of messengers of gods, he used this to his advantage and was entirely responsible for the flow of information. 

His Greek counterpart is Hermes, whose quirks are in sync with that of Mercury. Mercury remained nude most of the time and had complete access to the Underworld, unlike all other gods. He had a helm of wings that Vulcan fashioned to keep him afloat and fly across different worlds. In addition, he possessed a wand wrapped with serpents that Apollo gifted. 

Although Mercury was the only son of Jupiter and nymph Maia, he had from his father, Jupiter. Minerva, Proserpina, and Vulcan were his half-sisters and brother. His relationship with the beautiful Venus produced Hermaphroditos. He also took male lovers such as Perseus. 

Even though his first temple had been established in the fifth century BCE, his previous incarnations and characteristics were unknown. He resembled the Etruscan god, Sethlans, or was instead a Romanized version of him. It was only in the third century BCE that he merged into Hermes. 

 Annually, March 15 was devoted to Mercury called Mercuralia by merchants and seamen. They hauled water from Mercury’s well at Porta Capena and sprinkled it to their cargoes and themselves. 

5. Apollo

God of the Sun and Light

Statue of Roman God Apollo
Statue of Roman God Apollo
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Apollo, the Romanized version of Apollo himself, is a master of many things such as the sun, light, music, arts, poetry, architecture, etc. He is the complete embodiment of a superior physical capacity and virtue. Moreover, he is the only god to retain the same Greek name.

The twin brother of Diana, Apollo, was the son of Leto and Jupiter. He avenged his father, Jupiter, for the death of his son Aesculapius, by killing Cyclops, who had forged thunderbolts. When Pluto complained that Aesculapius decreased deaths by curing the sick, Jupiter killed him. Thus, followed an exile from the heavens and many travails on earth.

 He made a lyre to salve his troubles. He is a youthful boy with a bow and arrows in one hand and a lyre on the other. A laurel wreathes his hair, and gold decorates his sandals and clothing. His temple was at Delphi and was frequently visited by Romans. It was called the oracle that made prophecies, and princes from many places saw it.

He went by the name of Phoebus and performed multiple functions, including that of a healer. When a contagious and deadly plague hit Rome in 433 BC, the people erected a temple in the name of Apollo Medicus or Apollo the Doctor. It was his first advancement into the Roman pantheon. Then, he was established as the most loved and influential god. 

4. Bacchus

God of Agriculture, Wine 

Statue of Roman God Bacchus
Statue of Roman God Bacchus
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although Bacchus was the son of Jupiter and Semele, he was raised by nymphs as Semele had burned after seeing Jupiter in his glory. After the death of Semele, Jupiter sewed him on his thigh till the day of his birth. Thus, we know him as the Romanized version of Dionysus.

Growing up, Bacchus was fascinated by vines and winemaking. He also preached the goodness and rituals of goddess Rhea far and wide. One version of mythology recounts that Bacchus was ordered for execution after he returned from his adventures. 

He tried to make a way out of the order by claiming to be a fisherman, but the king wouldn’t buy it. Finally, however, the prison doors flung open before he could be executed, and he vanished into thin air. His followers rejoiced in his mysterious escape. 

He appears like a man with a laurel of vines and grapes on his head. He carries wine in his hand, probably made by him. He is a bearded god, holding a staff with a pinecone on top of it. Apart from wine, he is also associated with rejoicing and celebration as he used to have a procession of flowers while making wine. 

He was also known as Eleutherios; he had a reputation for freeing people from conventional thinking methods. He mixed his wine state of drunkenness that induced out-of-the-box thinking, an ecstatic state or ‘union with god’. 

3. Pluto

God of Underworld

Statue of Roman God Pluto with Cerberus
Statue of Roman God Pluto with Cerberus
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Pluto was the Roman equivalent of Hades, the Greek god of the Underworld. He was also the lord of riches and jewels as underground bore much wealth. Hence, he was the wealthiest god in mythology. Therefore, the meaning of the name Pluto is ‘the wealthy one.’

When he and his brothers divided their dominions over the world, he won the Underworld. Barn owl, cypress tree, and serpents are his dominant symbols. Greek mythology also includes Cerberus, a three-headed dog guarding the doors to the Underworld. Although it is not a part of Roman mythology, the dog plays an important role. 

He was responsible for the abduction of Proserpina, the daughter of goddess Ceres after being enamored by her. He brought her to the Underworld, which angered Ceres and caused winter. Later, he gave her six pomegranate seeds to get her back for a few months and releases her. 

Some parts of his reign were ugly, while some were nice. It indeed depended on the dead men’s souls, and Pluto would accordingly punish or reward them. Souls did not always surround him as he would reincarnate and send them back to the mortal world. Nevertheless, he was a good ruler, and the Underworld was his home. 

2. Neptune

 God of Water and Sea

Statue of Roman God Neptune in Louvre
Statue of Roman God Neptune in Louvre
Source: Wikimedia Commons

 Depicted as bearing a trident and standing atop a horse, Neptune is the Roman equivalent of Poseidon. Along with his two other brothers, Jupiter and Pluto, he divided the world and ruled over each dominion. While Jupiter and Pluto presided over Sky and Underworld, respectively, Neptune was the god of the seas.

Neptune has a violent temper and rising sea levels as well as storms and cyclones. He had a reputation for rage, and consequently, he exerted earthquakes. He was the patron of horse racing as Neptunus Equester and helped goddess Minerva make a horse chariot. 

In some versions, he had a beard and sat on seashells while being drawn by sea horses. He saw Amphitrite, a water nymph, dancing in Naxos and fell for her. She refused his proposal, but he was adamant. So he sent a dolphin on his behalf to persuade her, which worked out successfully. He rewarded the dolphin by naming a constellation of his name, Dolphinus, and immortalizing it.

The peak of summer brought forth the festival of Neptune called Neptunalia, mainly celebrated in July. Circus Flaminius, the Roman race track, housed the only temple of Neptune. He was among the other three gods for whom bulls were sacrificed—the temple located to the south of Campus Martius since 206 BC.  

1. Jupiter 

God of Sky, Gods

Statue of Roman God Jupiter
Statue of Roman God Jupiter
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The son of Saturn and the supreme god, Jupiter, was the Roman equivalent of Zeus. He was also associated with lightning and storms. Besides that, he also formed a triad with Quirinus and Mars as the protective ancestral spirits of the Roman citizens. 

He was Jupiter Elicius, or the one who brings things forth. The advent of the Roman Republic corroborated it, and he was established as the greatest god in Rome. Soon, the two other members of the old triad were replaced by Juno, his wife, and Minerva, his daughter.

An Etruscan god in the previous years, Jupiter found a new identity and home in Republic. He had many titles such as Jupiter Invictus, the invincible, Jupiter Imperator, the imperative leader, Jupiter Triumphator, the winner, and the most famous all-Jupiter Optimus Maximus father of the gods. 

He was depicted as sitting atop a majestic throne and carrying an eagle on a wand. He had a long, white beard and would punish anyone with a thunderbolt.

He shared a beautiful temple with Minerva and Juno during 509 BC, where sacrifices were made for the god. Many festivals were celebrated in his name, a famous one being Ludi Romani. After his death, a cult was established by Emperor Augustus to worship the emperors instead.

Conclusion 

Roman gods presided over various natural elements and were responsible for all the natural phenomenon. They were perceived as the protectors of the civilians, who had to be pleased to make things work. They have changed the course of history and surpassed all measures of time. Famous names and pop culture and science projects still assume the same Roman gods’ names and themes even today. 

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