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The God Saturn in Roman Mythology

Updated on January 13, 2016
Colin Quartermain profile image

Having travelled through Italy, Greece and the Aegean in his youth, Colin quickly became interested in the ancient mythology of the region.

The Roman God Saturn

The stories of many Roman gods and goddesses are confusing, and the case of the Roman god Saturn is no exception. Roman gods and goddesses are today usually thought of in terms of their Greek equivalents, and generally speaking, Saturn was the Roman equivalent of the Greek Titan Cronus, but there is a divergence between the mythologies associated with the two gods.

In the earliest days of Rome there was only small number of gods and goddesses in their pantheon, but as the Roman Republic, and then the Roman Empire, expanded so the pantheon expanded. This expansion was due to the incorporation of other people’s gods and goddesses.

The Romans were loathe to ignore any deity in case it was angered, and so where possible Rome would look to link newly recognised gods with existing ones. So, when Rome incorporated the mythology associated with Ancient Greece, the mythology of Cronus was transposed on to Saturnus or Saturn.

Saturn Castrates Uranus

Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) PD-art-100
Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) PD-art-100 | Source

Saturn Devours One of His Sons

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) PD-art-100 | Source

The Greco-Roman Story of Saturn

By transposing the story of Cronus onto Saturn, the Romans made Saturn the son of Caelus (Ouranus) and Tellus (Gaia). Caelus was the supreme deity of the day, but was regarded as a tyrant. Thus Tellus cajoled Saturn into revolting against his father, and Saturn would therefore replaced Caelus as the supreme ruler of the cosmos.

Saturn would be married to Ops (Rhea), and to secure his own position, Saturn would swallow the children born to Ops. Only Jupiter (Zeus) would escape the imprisonment in the stomach of Saturn.

Eventually Jupiter would lead a revolt against Saturn, and the son would usurp his father, just as Saturn had done to Caelus.

The Roman Divergence in the Story of Saturn

In Greek mythology Cronus was said to have been subsequently imprisoned in Tartarus, but the punishment of Saturn was to see him exiled to Italy, where he would become venerated; and so the story of Saturn continues there in Roman mythology.

According to Roman mythology, Saturn would arrive in Latium, and was welcomed by Janus.

Saturn settled on the Capitoline Hill, and a settlement grew around him. Saturn brought with him extensive knowledge of agriculture and civilisation. Thus, the growing population were shown how to grow crops and how to live in an organised society.

Latium would flourish under the guidance of Saturn, and the time would be known as the “Golden Age”; the “Golden Age” in Greek mythology had occurred before Cronus had been deposed.

Saturn would subsequently be worshiped as an agricultural god, and Ops, Saturn’s wife’s name mean “abundance”. In Roman mythology, Ops was also a second wife of Saturn, for originally Saturn had been married to the goddess Lua, a goddess of destruction.

In original Roman mythology Saturnus was a mythical king who brought knowledge of agriculture to Italy, and was subsequently deified, possibly by Janus, and ascended into the heavens.

Capitoline Hill, Rome, seen from Aventine Hill

Jensens Released into PD
Jensens Released into PD | Source

The Worship of Saturn

In Roman mythology, the first alter dedicated to Saturn was said to have been constructed by Janus, as Saturn ascended into the heavens. Later, the Templum Saturni was constructed to continue the worship of the agricultural god.

The oldest physical evidence of a Temple of Saturn dates back to about 500BC, where construction was possibly undertaken upon the instruction of King Tarquinius Superbus. Remnants of later temples dedicated to Saturn can still be viewed in Rome today.

Connected to the Temple of Saturn was a festival, the festival of Saturnalia. The Saturnalia took place on December 17, but would eventually extend into a week of celebrations. The festival was one of change, when everyone was treated as equal, be they master or slave. It was also a time of merrymaking and debauchery, and one where presents were exchanged. Thus the level of veneration of Saturn was one which Cornus had not achieved in Ancient Greece.

Today, of course, Saturn is not necessarily a name associated with a Roman god, and most people will only think of the sixth planet in our solar system when they think of the name. The god Saturn though, in addition to giving his name to a planet, also gives his name to “Saturday”, and so the English language keeps the Roman god’s name alive.

Remnants of the Temple of Saturn

Sébastien Bertrand from Paris, France CC-BY-2.0
Sébastien Bertrand from Paris, France CC-BY-2.0 | Source

Comments

Submit a Comment

  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Thanks daydreamer, I love writing as I learn as I research as well.

  • daydreamer13 profile image

    daydreamer13 

    3 years ago

    Interesting. I learn from you. Thank you.

  • Colin Quartermain profile imageAUTHOR

    Colin Quartermain 

    3 years ago

    Many thanks Sarah for reading and commenting - I agree the Rubens hasn't exactly stayed in keeping with the thought of his children being swallowed whole. Colin.

  • SarahLMaguire profile image

    SarahLMaguire 

    3 years ago from UK

    Another interesting article - voted up. I love the horrible Rubens picture of Saturn devouring his infant.

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