The Roman deities most familiar today are those the Romans identified with Greek counterparts (see interpretatio graeca), integrating Greek myths, iconography, and sometimes religious practices into Roman culture, including Latin literature, Roman art, and religious life as it was experienced throughout the Empire. Many of the Romans' own gods remain obscure, known only by name and sometimes function, through inscriptions and texts that are often fragmentary. This is particularly true of those gods belonging to the archaic religion of the Romans dating back to the era of kings, the so-called "religion of Numa", which was perpetuated or revived over the centuries. Some archaic deities have Italic or Etruscan counterparts, as identified both by ancient sources and by modern scholars. Throughout the Empire, the deities of peoples in the provinces were given new theological interpretations in light of functions or attributes they shared with Roman deities.
Certain honorifics and titles could be shared by different gods, divine personifications, demi-gods and divi (deified mortals).
Augustus and Augusta
Augustus, "the elevated or august one" (masculine form) is an honorific and title awarded to Octavian in recognition of his unique status, the extraordinary range of his powers, and the apparent divine approval of his principate. After his death and deification, the title was awarded to each of his successors. It also became a near ubiquitous title or honour for various minor local deities, including the Lares Augusti of local communities, and obscure provincial deities such as the North AfricanMarazgu Augustus. This extension of an Imperial honorific to major and minor deities of Rome and her provinces is considered a ground-level feature of Imperial cult.
Augusta, the feminine form, is an honorific and title associated with the development and dissemination of Imperial cult as applied to Roman Empresses, whether living, deceased or deified as divae. The first Augusta was Livia, wife of Octavian, and the title is then shared by various state goddesses including Bona Dea, Ceres, Juno, Minerva, and Ops; by many minor or local goddesses; and by the female personifications of Imperial virtues such as Pax and Victoria.
Bonus and Bona
The epithetBonus, "the Good," is used in Imperial ideology with abstract deities such as Bona Fortuna ("Good Fortune"), Bona Mens ("Good Thinking" or "Sound Mind"), and Bona Spes ("Valid Hope," perhaps to be translated as "Optimism"). During the Republic, the epithet may be most prominent with Bona Dea, "the Good Goddess" whose rites were celebrated by women. Bonus Eventus, "Good Outcome", was one of Varro's twelve agricultural deities, and later represented success in general.
Roman Isis in black and white marble, from the time of Apuleius
Grammatically, the form Caelestis can also be a masculine word, but the equivalent function for a male deity is usually expressed through syncretization with Caelus, as in Caelus Aeternus Iuppiter, "Jupiter the Eternal Sky."
Invictus ("Unconquered, Invincible") was in use as a divine epithet by the early 3rd century BC. In the Imperial period, it expressed the invincibility of deities embraced officially, such as Jupiter, Mars, Hercules, and Sol. On coins, calendars, and other inscriptions, Mercury, Saturn, Silvanus, Fons, Serapis, Sabazius, Apollo, and the Genius are also found as Invictus. Cicero considers it a normal epithet for Jupiter, in regard to whom it is probably a synonym for Omnipotens. It is also used in the Mithraic mysteries.
Mater and Pater
Mater ("Mother") was an honorific that respected a goddess's maternal authority and functions, and not necessarily "motherhood" per se. Early examples included Terra Mater (Mother Earth) and the Mater Larum (Mother of the Lares). Vesta, a goddess of chastity usually conceived of as a virgin, was honored as Mater. A goddess known as Stata Mater was a compital deity credited with preventing fires in the city.
From the middle Imperial era, the reigning Empress becomes Mater castrorum et senatus et patriae, the symbolic Mother of military camps, the senate, and the fatherland. The Gallic and Germanic cavalry (auxilia) of the Roman Imperial army regularly set up altars to the "Mothers of the Field" (Campestres, from campus, "field," with the title Matres or Matronae). See also Magna Mater (Great Mother) following.
Gods were called Pater ("Father") to signify their preeminence and paternal care, and the filial respect owed to them. Pater was found as an epithet of Dis, Jupiter, Mars, and Liber, among others.
"The Great Mother" was a title given to Cybele in her Roman cult. Some Roman literary sources accord the same title to Maia and other goddesses.
Even in invocations, which generally required precise naming, the Romans sometimes spoke of gods as groups or collectives rather than naming them as individuals. Some groups, such as the Camenae and Parcae, were thought of as a limited number of individual deities, even though the number of these might not be given consistently in all periods and all texts. The following groups, however, are numberless collectives.
Varro grouped the gods broadly into three divisions of heaven, earth, and underworld:
di superi, the gods above or heavenly gods, whose altars were designated as altaria.
di terrestres, "terrestrial gods," whose altars were designated as arae.
di inferi, the gods below, that is, the gods of the underworld, infernal or chthonic gods, whose altars were foci, fire pits or specially constructed hearths.
More common is a dualistic contrast between superi and inferi.
Di indigetes and novensiles
The di indigetes were thought by Georg Wissowa to be Rome's indigenous deities, in contrast to the di novensides or novensiles, "newcomer gods". No ancient source, however, poses this dichotomy, which is not generally accepted among scholars of the 21st century. The meaning of the epithet indiges (singular) has no scholarly consensus, and noven may mean "nine" (novem) rather than "new".
A lectisternium is a banquet for the gods, at which they appear as images seated on couches, as if present and participating. In describing the lectisternium of the Twelve Great gods in 217 BC, the AugustanhistorianLivy places the deities in gender-balanced pairs:
Divine male-female complements such as these, as well as the anthropomorphic influence of Greek mythology, contributed to a tendency in Latin literature to represent the gods as "married" couples or (as in the case of Venus and Mars) lovers.
Di Consentes on an altar
Varro uses the name Dii Consentes for twelve deities whose gilded images stood in the forum. These were also placed in six male-female pairs. Although individual names are not listed, they are assumed to be the deities of the lectisternium. A fragment from Ennius, within whose lifetime the lectisternium occurred, lists the same twelve deities by name, though in a different order from that of Livy: Juno, Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, Diana, Venus, Mars, Mercurius, Jove, Neptunus, Vulcanus, Apollo.
The Dii Consentes are sometimes seen as the Roman equivalent of the Greek Olympians. The meaning of Consentes is subject to interpretation, but is usually taken to mean that they form a council or consensus of deities.
The three Roman deities cultivated by major flamens
Elsewhere, Varro claims Sol Indiges, who had a sacred grove at Lavinium, as Sabine but at the same time equates him with Apollo. Of those listed, he writes, "several names have their roots in both languages, as trees that grow on a property line creep into both fields. Saturn, for instance, can be said to have another origin here, and so too Diana." Varro makes various claims for Sabine origins throughout his works, some more plausible than others, and his list should not be taken at face value. But the importance of the Sabines in the early cultural formation of Rome is evidenced, for instance, by the bride abduction of the Sabine women by Romulus's men, and in the Sabine ethnicity of Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome, to whom are attributed many of Rome's religious and legal institutions. Varro, however, says that the altars to most of these gods were established at Rome by King Tatius as the result of a vow (votum).
The indigitamenta are deities known only or primarily as a name; they may be minor entities, or epithets of major gods. Lists of deities were kept by the College of Pontiffs to assure that the correct names were invoked for public prayers. The books of the Pontiffs are lost, known only through scattered passages in Latin literature. The most extensive lists are provided by the Church Fathers who sought systematically to debunk Roman religion while drawing on the theological works of Varro, also surviving only in quoted or referenced fragments. W.H. Roscher collated the standard modern list of indigitamenta, though other scholars may differ with him on some points.
Alernus or Elernus (possibly Helernus), an archaic god whose sacred grove (lucus) was near the Tiber river. He is named definitively only by Ovid. The grove was the birthplace of the nymph Cranea, and despite the obscurity of the god, the state priests still carried out sacred rites (sacra) there in the time of Augustus. Alernus may have been a chthonic god, if a black ox was the correct sacrificial offering to him, since dark victims were offered to underworld gods.Dumézil wanted to make him a god of beans.
Angerona, goddess who relieved people from pain and sorrow.
Mefitis or Mephitis, goddess and personification of poisonous gases and volcanic vapours.
Mellona or Mellonia, goddess of bees and bee-keeping.
Mena or Mene, goddess of fertility and menstruation.
Mercury, messenger of the gods and bearer of souls to the underworld, and one of the Dii Consentes. Roman counterpart of the Greek god Hermes.
Minerva, goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industries and trades, and one of the Dii Consentes. Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Athena.
Mithras, god worshipped in the Roman empire; popular with soldiers.
Molae, daughters of Mars, probably goddesses of grinding of the grain.
Moneta, minor goddess of memory, equivalent to the Greek Mnemosyne. Also used as an epithet of Juno.
Mors, personification of death and equivalent of the Greek Thanatos.
Morta, minor goddess of death and one of the Parcae (Roman equivalent of the Moirai). The cutter of the thread of life, her Greek equivalent was Atropos.
Murcia or Murtia, a little-known goddess who was associated with the myrtle, and in other sources was called a goddess of sloth and laziness (both interpretations arising from false etymologies of her name). Later equated with Venus in the form of Venus Murcia.
Quirinus, Sabine god identified with Mars; Romulus, the founder of Rome, was deified as Quirinus after his death. Quirinus was a war god and a god of the Roman people and state, and was assigned a flamen maior; he was one of the Archaic Triad gods.
Quiritis, goddess of motherhood. Originally Sabine or pre-Roman, she was later equated with Juno.
Robigo or Robigus, a god or goddess who personified grain disease and protected crops.
Venti, the winds, equivalent to the Greek Anemoi: North wind Aquilo(n) or Septentrio (Greek Boreas); South wind Auster (Greek Notus); East wind Vulturnus (Eurus); West wind Favonius (Zephyrus); Northwest wind Caurus or Corus (see minor winds).
^Robert Schilling, "Roman Gods," Roman and European Mythologies (University of Chicago Press, 1992, from the French edition of 1981), pp. 75 online and 77 (note 49). Unless otherwise noted, citations of primary sources are Schilling's.
^Hendrik H.J. Brouwer, Bona Dea: The Sources and a Description of the Cult pp. 245–246.
^Varro, De re rustica 1.1.4: "eos urbanos, quorum imagines ad forum auratae stant, sex mares et feminae totidem.
^Ennius, Annales frg. 62, in J. Vahlen, Ennianae Poesis Reliquiae (Leipzig, 1903, 2nd ed.). Ennius's list appears in poetic form, and the word order may be dictated by the metrical constraints of dactylic hexameter.
^For Fides, see also Semo Sancus or Dius Fidius; Roger D. Woodard, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult p. 184.
^Varro, De lingua latina 5.10; Paul Rehak, Imperium and Cosmos: Augustus and the Northern Campus Martius (University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), p. 94.
^e quis nonnulla nomina in utraque lingua habent radices, ut arbores quae in confinio natae in utroque agro serpunt: potest enim Saturnus hic de alia causa esse dictus atque in Sabinis, et sic Diana.
^Anna Clark, Divine Qualities: Cult and Community in Republican Rome (Oxford University Press, 2007) pp. 37–38; Emma Dench, Romulus' Asylum: Roman Identities from the Age of Alexander to the Age of Hadrian (Oxford University Press, 2005), pp. 317–318.
^This depends on a proposed emendation of Aternus to Alernus in an entry from Festus, p. 83 in the edition of Lindsay. At Fasti 2.67, a reading of Avernus, though possible, makes no geographical sense. See discussion of this deity by Matthew Robinson, A Commentary on Ovid's Fasti, Book 2 (Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 100–101.
^As noted by Robinson, Commentary, p. 101; Georges Dumézil, Fêtes romaines d'été et d'automne (1975), pp. 225ff., taking the name as Helernus in association with Latin holus, holera, "vegetables." The risks and "excessive fluidity" inherent in Dumézil's reconstructions of lost mythologies were noted by Robert Schilling, "The Religion of the Roman Republic: A Review of Recent Studies," in Roman and European Mythologies, pp. 87–88, and specifically in regard to the myth of Carna as a context for the supposed Helernus.
^Marko Marinčič, "Roman Archaeology in Vergil's Arcadia (Vergil Eclogue 4; Aeneid 8; Livy 1.7), in Clio and the Poets: Augustan Poetry and the Traditions of Ancient Historiography (Brill, 2002), p. 158.