Most of the 12 major Roman gods identified with their Greek counterparts, they had many similarities and were drawn from Greek iconography, myths and religious practices. For example, the Roman god Mars was similar to the Greek god Ares, while the Roman goddess Juno was similar to the Greek goddess Hera.
These Greek similarities then found their way into the Roman culture and hence many Greek and Roman gods have a lot in common. The 12 major Romans gods were called the Dii Consentes and their statues stood in the Roman Forum. The Dii Consentes consisted of 6 gods and 6 goddesses.
Let’s take a look at the 12 major Roman gods.
1) Juno- The patron goddess of Rome.
Juno is the Roman goddess of fertility and the patron goddess of ancient Rome. Additionally, she was one of the 3 gods of the Capitoline Triad, the primary state gods of Rome. She is the wife of the Roman god Jupiter and the mother of Vulcan, Mars, Juventas and Bellona. Juno was associated with all aspects of a woman’s life, most particularly marriage. The Fasti of Ovid depicts her as a jealous woman. When the illegitimate Minerva burst out of Jupiter’s head, Juno sought to do the same thing. Juno went to Flora, who in turn gave her a herb. In this way, Juno gave birth to Mars.
Juno also became the female guardian and the month of June is named after her. As she is the patron goddess of marriage as well, June is considered a favourable time to marry. Juno has a complex history and she held many epithets, each for a different aspect of human life. The goddess Juno is depicted in many forms but Juno’s most popular form is wearing a warlike attire with a goatskin coat.
2) Jupiter- The Roman god of the sky
Jupiter, also known as Jove is the Roman deity of the sky. He was the king of gods and the chief deity of the ancient Roman Empire before Christianity became dominant. His sacred animal is the eagle which also became the symbol of the Roman army. His identifying instrument is the thunderbolt. A combination of the two that is the eagle carrying a thunderbolt was often seen on Roman coins. He is also one of the 3 gods of the Capitoline Triad. The other two being his wife Juno and goddess Minerva. The Romans believed that Jupiter favoured them most and granted them supremacy. This belief emerged from the fact that they worshipped him most.
3) Minerva- The Roman goddess of wisdom
Minerva is the goddess of wisdom, strategy, craft and trade. Unlike the god of war Mars, she is solely the goddess of defensive war. Minerva is one of the 3 Roman gods of the Capitoline Triad. She is often portrayed with an owl, known as the ‘Owl of Minerva’. The owl symbolises her wisdom and knowledge.
Her father, Jupiter had swallowed the Titaness Metis, and in turn, he was left with a splitting headache. The Roman God Vulcan then cracked open Jupiter’s head to relieve him of the pain. Subsequently out emerged Minerva, a full-size adult clad in armour. Additionally, the goddess is depicted with a muscular build, adorning an armour and carrying a sword.
4) Neptune- The Roman God of the sea
Neptune is the deity of freshwater and the sea. He is the sibling of Jupiter and Pluto. The three brothers rule over the realms of the Earth, Heaven and the Underworld respectively. Neptune was also the ancient Roman patron god of horses and horse-racing. It was he and Roman goddess Minerva who invented the chariot. His consort is the goddess of seawater Salacia. The Romans celebrated the festival of Neptunalia on July 23 every year, a two day festival in the god’s honour. Additionally, the blue planet Neptune is named after him.
5) Mars- The Roman God of war
Mars is the Roman god of war and agriculture, two very important aspects of the early Roman civilisation. He is the son of the Roman gods Jupiter and Juno and played a prominent role in the Roman army. He was also the father of the twins Romulus and Remus. Mars also symbolically represented military power as a way to secure peace. Most of Mars’ celebrations and festivities were held in the month of March. The sacred animals to him were the bear, wolf and the woodpecker.
Mars’ affair with the Roman goddess Venus is one of the most famous love affairs. Roman couples often had themselves painted as the passionate divine couple Mars and Venus. The month of March and the planet Mars are named after him. The deity Mars is often depicted as clean-shaven or with a beard, carrying a spear and adorning a helmet, these elements show his warrior nature.
6) Venus- The Roman goddess of love
Venus is the Roman deity of love and all things beautiful. As she is one of the 12 major Roman gods, she has numerous epithets which refer to her various roles and aspects. The first temple built in her name was the Venus Obsequens, and it was supposedly built from the fines Roman women paid for sexual misconducts. Venus was married to the Roman god Vulcan. Additionally, she was the ancestor of the Roman people through her son Aeneas. The Roman emperor Julius Caesar also claimed her as an ancestor. The planet Venus is named after her as well.
7) Apollo- The Roman god of Sun
Apollo is the Roman and the Greek god of the Sun. In both Greek and Roman religions, he has the same symbolic value. He was a fearsome and powerful god and even his fellow gods feared him. Like other major gods, he had many epithets. He was also worshipped as an agriculture god and fended off diseases which might affect animals, earning him the name Nomios, meaning ‘herdsman’. His alternate name Phoebus means ‘bright’. An additional title of Apollo is Alexikakos which means ‘averter of evil’.
8) Diana- The Roman goddess of the hunters
Diana is the twin sister of Apollo. She is the Roman patron goddess of the countryside, the moon and the hunters. Her aspect as a triple goddess was known as Diana Triformis, which included herself, and the goddesses Luna and Hecate. The goddess is also associated with fertility and childbirth. She is also the protector of women during labour. This earned her the name Juno Lucina because her domain overlapped with the Roman goddess Juno.
9) Vulcan- The Roman god of Volcanoes and forging
Vulcan is another one of the 12 major Roman gods. He is the Roman god of Volcanoes and forging. He is the son of the Roman goddess Juno. The Romans held the Volcanalia festival annually on August 23 in his honour. He belonged to a very ancient state of the Roman religion called the Varro. Vulcan’s oldest shrine was located at the Forum Romanum and dated back to the times of the Roman kings. He is the husband of Venus and is often depicted carrying a hammer.
10) Ceres- The goddess of agriculture
In Roman religion, Ceres was the deity of agriculture, fertility and motherly relations. The goddess is credited for the discovery of ploughing, sowing and nurturing of seeds, the spelt wheat and has bestowed upon the gift of agriculture on humans. The Romans annually celebrated a 7-day festival in her honour known as Cerealia.
11) Mercury- The god of financial gain
Mercury is the Roman god of financial gain, communication, travellers, merchants, trickery and thieves. Mercury is the messenger of the Roman deities. Additionally, he is the Roman god who leads the deceased souls of humans to the afterlife. As one of the 12 major Roman gods, Mercury also had various names and epithets. On May 15, the festival Mercuralia was celebrated annually in his honour.
12) Vesta- The goddess of the hearth
Vesta is the Roman deity of hearth and home. She is rarely shown in her human form and is depicted as fire. Her temple at the Forum Romanum was off-limits to all except her priestesses called the Vestal Virgins. Vesta’s temple had a sacred fire inside and the Vestal Virgins tended to it and saw to it that it never went out. Vesta was also the guardian of the Roman people. The Romans honoured her at the festival of Vestalia, which was one of the most important Roman holidays.
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