Top 10 Gods and Goddesses of Roman Mythology
10. Bellona: Goddess of War, Conquest and Peace
Bellona's name; an obvious derivative from the Latin world "bellum" or "war", speaks of her domain. She was the goddess of War, believed to be paired with Mars; pending on the source she has been anything from his sister to his wife. She is portrayed in art as a woman clad in an ornate breast plate, soldier's helm, wielding a sword and shield; in heraldic crests she may appear as a goddess with feathered wings while wearing her helmet. Bellona is said to hold the "Horn of Victory and Defeat"; the sound of which can forecast the outcome of the battle the Romans currently are engaged in. It's said by Ammianus Marcellinus, in his description of the Roman defeat during the "Battle of Adrianople", "Bellona, blowing her mournful trumpet, was raging more fiercely than usual, to inflict disaster on the Romans." Any being able to control the outcome of a war by the bellowing of their horn, easily deserves a spot on our list.
9. Minerva: Goddess of Wisdom, Divine Council and Art
Born from the cracked skull of her father, Jupiter, after he had consumed her mother, the titaness Metis; Minerva is considered to be the Roman goddess of wisdom and art. Onwards from the 2nd century BC, the Romans would equate her with the Greek goddess Athena; mirroring her birth from her fathers head to her domain over such things as wisdom, weaving, poetry and medicine, often shown with her sacred animal, an owl, to symbolize her connection to wisdom. So vast was her reach, the Roman poet, Ovid, went on to describe her as being the "goddess of a thousand works". With her worship being spread throughout all of Italy, she would also be affiliated with war, after her equation to Athena; in Rome however, that aspect would not emphasize as prominently. To this day, many countries still use her likeness as she is displayed on the Medal of Honor, the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government, as well as being depicted alongside Mars on the cap badge of the Artists Rifles Territorial SAS Regiment of the British Army. If you're ever in need of a little wisdom and guidance, the last shrine to reside in its original placing can be found in Handbridge, Chester in the United Kingdom, sitting in a public park overlooking the River Dee.
8. Janus: God of Beginnings, Endings and Transition
According to ancient Roman myth, Janus was god over all transitions and beginnings; and in thus over doorways, passages and endings. Existing outside of time, Janus is said to be able to look to the future or the past; and is often depicted as having two faces. As dictator and ruler over both beginnings and endings, he presided over war and peace as well. During times of war, the doors to his temples would be left open, and closed during peace as a method of warning. Janus' presence in religious ceremonies was absolute and ubiquitous; he would be ritually invoked to denote the starting of said ceremonies; regardless of whichever main duty was to be honored. As god of transitions, he watched over all matters concerning travel, trade and shipping. It has been suggested by Leonhard Schmitz, that Janus was likely the most important god of the Roman archaic pantheon; as he was often evoked alongside Jupiter. Unlike the majority of Roman gods, both Greek and Roman scholars pertain only to the Romans; as the Greeks have no comparable deity.
7. Mercury: God of Commerce, Communication, and Thieves
Mercury, the Roman counterpart to the Greek Hermes, god of Commerce, communication, and thieves alike. Considered a major god of the Roman pantheon; governing over his domains, as well as guiding souls safely to the underworld. Though not an original deity of Rome, Mercury would appear shortly after Roman and Greek religion became synchronized during the time of the Roman Republic, gaining its start around 4th century BC. Mercury would closely relate to Hermes, having the same winded sandals and hat while also carrying the caduceus, you know... that staff with the entwined snakes? Archaeological proof would provide evidence from Pompeii, that Mercury was among the most popular of Roman gods. Mercury has influenced many things throughout scientific history; such as the planet and element. The word mercurial, used to refer to something as erratic derives from the tales of his swift flights as he ran messages for the gods.
6. Vulcan: God of Forge and Fire
Son to Jupiter and Juno, Vulcan was expected to be handsome. Born ugly upon his birth, his mother was so repulsed by his visage that she cast him from the top of Mt. Olympus. After falling for a day and a night, he would plummet then sink into the ocean depths; where he would be found by Thetis, the sea-nymph, and raised as her own. Later becoming the god of fire, forge and metalworking; Vulcan, would be often depicted with his blacksmith's hammer which is strong enough to sunder the skull of Jupiter. The name Vulcan is believed to be where the word volcano originates, instead of the other way around. The counterpart of the Greek god Hephaestus, Vulcan belongs to the most ancient stage of Roman religion; dating all the way back to king Titus Tatius, whom would have alters constructed to honor the deities, Vulcan included. Vulcan is associated with both the destructive and the fertilizing power of fire; said to be the smith of the gods and patron deity of any trade involving an oven from bakers to smiths. Vulcan is still honored in the tradition of erecting statues in his likeness, such as in Sheffield, an English city famous for its steel-making, where he sits proudly upon the town hall.
5. Vesta: Goddess of Home, Hearth and family, Patron of Rome
Symbolized by the sacred fire that burned at the hearths of her temples, Vesta was the virgin goddess of home and family, bearing close resemblance to that of her Greek counterpart, Hestia. Vesta's importance is indicated by the prestige of her devoted priesthood, the Vestal Virgins; the only full-time priests of Rome. Considered both the oldest and the youngest of the gods, she was very beautiful and garnered the attention of Apollo and Neptune both. She would, however, plead to Jupiter to be permitted to keep her virginity. When Jupiter agreed, she became overjoyed and took care of his home, and hearth, from hence forth; thusly establishing her roll in the pantheon. Vesta is always shown as a fully-clothed woman in the company of her favorite animal, the ass. She is often shown holding a kettle to represent the hearth, and cut flowers to symbolize domesticity. The protector of Rome's homestead, Vesta alone was granted the honor of full time clergy devoted solely to her rites.
4. Mars: God of War and Justice, Patron to the Roman Legions
Serving as the god of both war and agriculture; Mars was second in importance aside from Jupiter himself, and was the most prominent of all the military gods. Under the influences of Greek culture, Mars was identified with the Greek god of war, Ares, whose legend and myths were reinterpreted into Roman literature. Unlike that of his Greek counterpart, Mars would be looked upon with praise instead of contempt; his telling stories of his military prowess, considered the father of the Roman people, while Ares is that of a destructive force. In Greek myths, Ares is born to Zeus and Hera; Mars was the son of Juno alone in Roman tales. When Jupiter would give birth to Minerva, Juno wanted to restore the balance and sought advice from the goddess Flora. After obtaining a magical flower, Flora would perform a ritual that resulted in Juno's pregnancy with Mars. In Roman art, Mars is shown to be either a bearded and mature man, or a young, clean-shaven man; sometimes nude and often wearing a helmet, holding a shield and spear. A god of great worth to the people, he is honored in art and currency, appearing on some of the earliest Roman coinage in the late 4th and early 3rd century BC.
3. Neptune: God of the Seas, Patron Protector of Ships and Sailors
In the tradition similar to that of his Greek counterpart Poseidon, as he was brother to Zeus and Hades; Neptune was brother to Jupiter and Pluto, the king of gods and ruler of the underworld. Neptune has the reputation of having a violent temper, said to cause tempests and earthquakes and is depicted as a bearded muscular man holding a trident, while seated in a seashell chariot drawn by large seahorses. Though in Rome, Neptune was worshiped primarily by the Romans as a horse god, Neptune Equester. He had a temple near the Circus Flamminius race tracks in Rome, as well as one in the Campus Martius. His theology can only be reconstructed in part, since very early times he was identified with the Greek god Poseidon; his presence in the ancient Roman religion, lectisternium, of 399 BC bears testimony to that. Before this time, he was considered to be just a minor god, responsible for fresh water and irrigation; during this time, they still worshiped the deity Oceanus, god of the rivers, who was said to encircle the entire planter, which many today believe was a reference to the oceans.
2. Juno: Goddess of Women and Marriage, Protector and Counsellor of Rome, Queen of all Gods
Juno is an ancient Roman goddess and counterpart to the Greek goddess Hera, protector and counselor in the state; daughter of Saturn, sister and wife of the king god Jupiter, and the mother to both Mars and Vulcan. Depicted as a war like deity among the Romans; this is apparent in her attire as she is often pictured with a peacock, armed with a variety of weapons and wearing a goatskin cloak; much like the Aegis of Hera. Although her origins remain largely unknown, she was said to protect the entire nation as a whole, while also keeping a special watch over all aspects of a woman's life, and worshiped together with Jupiter and Minerva as one of the original trinity of gods on the Quirinal in Rome. Easily deserving our second place with all that she did to her people, especially for the women.
1. Jupiter: God of Weather, Justice and Governance, King of all the Gods
Jupiter is the supreme god of the Roman pantheon, also sometimes referred to as the "shinning father". He is a god of light and sky and protector of the state and its laws; son of Saturn and brother of Neptune and Juno. The Romans worshiped him, especially as Jupiter Optimus Maximus or "all-good, all-powerful". This name references not only to his absolute rulership over the universe, but also to his function as the god over laws. So important was he to the Roman people, his temple was not just the most important of the many sanctuaries of Rome; it was also the center of all political life. Official offerings were made here, as well as treaties and wars declared under his roof. The Romans regarded Jupiter as the equivalent of Greek Zeus, and in Latin literature and Roman art, the myths of Zeus are adapted under the name Iuppiter. It was believed once, that the Roman god Jupiter was in charge of cosmic justice, and in ancient Rome, people swore to Jove in the courts of law. Leading to the common expression, "By Jove" that is still used today.