Roman Gods are Not Greek Gods

ndminerva

It recently came to my attention that there are still people who think that Roman Gods are Greek Gods with Latin names. The following is what I wrote in the Fall 2018 issue of “Witches and Pagans.”

Are Roman Gods the same as Greek Ones?

This was a long held opinion by many religious historians until the 19th century. Then scholars began to see that the two were not the same. Of course, there is overlap since the Romans adopted Gods from everywhere. For example, Ceres and Apollo were adopted directly from the Greeks, and became included in di Consentes. For the Romans, They had different aspects. Apollo became a healer when He ended the plagues raging in Rome. Ceres guarded the grain supply with Liber and Libera (ancient Roman agricultural Gods). With Them, She became known as the Aventine Triad guarding the rights of the poor.

Because the world is filled with Numina (Holy Powers), The Roman pantheon has many Gods with specific attributes. For example, Comus is the God of the Nightlife and Revelry, whilst Febris wards off fevers. Familiar Gods such as Jupiter, who has more power, also have more aspects. Amongst Jupiter’s aspects are Iuppiter Capitolinus (Jupiter of the Capitol) and Iuppiter Lapis (Jupiter of Oaths).

Although people often regard Roman Gods as only Greek Gods with Latin names, there are Gods who are uniquely Roman. The two-headed Janus is one of them. As the Doorkeeper for the Gods, He guards the liminal space of the door. He acts as Janus Patulcius (Janus the Opener), and Janus Clusivus (Janus the Closer).

Di Consentes: the Twelve Gods
Jupiter (Iuppiter): Sovereignty
Juno (Iuno): Defense and Women
Minerva: Wisdom and the Arts
Vesta: Hearth and Home
Ceres: Agriculture
Diana: Moon and Wild Places
Mars: War and Defense
Mercury (Mercurius): Commerce
Neptune (Neptunus): Water
Vulcan (Volcanus): Raging Fire
Apollo: Good Order, Prophecy

Other Gods and Goddesses

Fortuna: Chance
Bona Dea: Healing
Silvanus: The Wild Land
Faunus: The Borders of Cultivated Land
Consus: The Granary
Ops: Abundance

Suggested Reading:
Lecouteux, Claude, “Demons and Spirits of the Land.” Rochester (VT): Inner Traditions. 2015.
“The Tradition of Household Spirits.” 2013.

Scheid, John, “An Introduction to Roman Religion.” Indianapolis: Indiana University. 2003.

Triarius, L. Vitellius, “Religio Romana Handbook.” Charleston (SC): self-published. 2014.

Turcan, Robert, “The Gods of Ancient Rome.” New York: Routledge. 2001.

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9 thoughts on “Roman Gods are Not Greek Gods

  1. Informative post as usual. Thank you. When you say Holy, it implies a goodness or righteousness. Hard to find those characteristics among the capricious. Is there a Greek or Roman god, or any other for that matter, that were just and kind?

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    • One thing I’ve learned as a polytheist is that the myths may be the best known sources of information about the gods, but they are not the definitive source. The ancient philosophers and the gods’ liturgical cults both affirm that they are just and good. The myths were closer to HBO than to Holy Scripture.

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      • I am so used to Christianity double talk, god is love, god is just, god is merciful, but it appears to be just the opposite in the text, and in the means of historical conversion. Forgive my ignorance on this, but are those again only words to appease a tyrant as I am used to, or do you have any examples of the gods interfering for the good of an individual or a group? From my viewpoint, I’ve never seen anything like that. Christians will thank god for saving one life, while 300,000 others drown in a tsunami, and as I write this 5 children just died of starvation. Comment?

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      • I’m not sure I can answer your question in the terms in which it’s posed. Christianity posits its god as all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, and thus raises the problem of evil: Why does evil exist if divinity is all three of those things? But non-monotheistic religions don’t posit the gods as all-powerful or all-knowing or all-good. They are immensely wiser than humans and immensely more powerful, and on the whole, they have good will toward humanity, but they are not in absolute control of the comos. To a Tibetan Buddhist, an enlightened human is a greater being than a mere god. In traditional Greek belief, Zeus was all-seeing because he was a sky god, enthroned on a mountain, but Hermes, Dionysus, Athena, other deities did not necessarily share his knowledge. Greek and Roman myths talk of the gods intervening in human affairs for good and ill, but the philosophers speak of fate, destiny, and necessity as forces to which even the greatest gods are subject.

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    • Holy implies sacredness. Christianity did a lot of redefining of religious terms such as piety. Under Christian thinking =holy = goodness. However, in Polytheism, holy=sacred=separate from the world. There are just and kind Gods and unkind Gods. However, it depends on your perspective. Take Mars, He is often thought of as the God of War and Destruction. But, He is also the Protector of the Fields and Defender of the State, and was once the Protector of Rome.

      In Roman Polytheism, people have agency with the Gods. We form a contract that both sides fulfill. We can stop honoring that particular God if They do not honor their side of the contract. And, no we won’t get zapped for walking away.

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      • I actually like that. Imagine if Christ had to fulfill promises by contract! There would be zero Christians. But all the fulfilling is after your dead. Thanks for clarifying.

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    • In response to your follow-up question, we don’t see it as a vast spiritual battlefield of good vrs evil. It is chaos and order. Sometime chaos rules, sometimes not. Great awful things happen randomly with no divine plan or intervention. The Gods have no control over all things.

      Neptune is the God of the Waters. Did He cause the tsunami? I haven’t a clue. I do believe that local Gods of the Seas and Lands in SE Asia have more agency then He does. I also believe that some of what happens is a part of their nature. Hurrican, of the Caribs, causes hurricanes in the Atlantic. That is what He does. There is no divine plan of saving one group and killing another group.

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  2. I thought Faunus and Silvanus were the other way around–god of the wild and god of the wild/cultivated borderland respectively?

    As someone whose pantheon is primarily Roman, I spend a lot of time thinking about how the Roman and Greek gods relate. I feel that there’s a lot of overlap between some of the deities in the two pantheons, but there are some deities who are specifically Greek, many more who are exclusively Roman. I think I can affirm that Hermes and Mercury are (almost) the same being without denying each of them his uniqueness and agency, because they’re gods and thus their individuality is not identical to human individuality.

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    • Silvanus is of the wilderness, Faunus is more the woods. It gets confusing since Silvanus also acts as a protector of boundaries.
      I think your approach is a good one since Romans did borrow from many pantheons. Where does that God end and the Roman one begin. I also follow Babylonian Gods, and that presents a similar problem.

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