While a perceptible scope of the ancient Roman deities had its roots in native Roman traditions, a significant part of the institution, prior to Christianity, was highly inspired by the Greek mythology, partially caused by the proximity of the Greek colonies in both Sicily and Italy. That’s why, both Greek and Roman mythology often had the same deities but with different names for Roman gods were essentially borrowed from Greek mythology, often with distinctive traits as well. Gods and goddesses were classified in various ways in the ancient Roman pantheon, it was all narrowed down into the 20 main deities called the Di Select, and the 12 principal gods called Di Consentes. However, we will specifically dive deeper into the list of Roman goddesses for they held just as substantial a role as their male god counterparts. Here are 10 most worshipped Roman goddesses you should know about.
Let’s start off with the Roman goddess who held significant and powerful role among the deities as well as the people of Rome. Juno was the daughter of the god Saturn and married to Jupiter (god of thunder and sky) who was her own twin brother. While Jupiter was often referred to as the King of Gods, it made sense that Juno would later be known as the Queen of Gods. Juno was one of the three original Roman deities, along with Jupiter and Minerva. There was a great temple built in their honor at the Capitoline, which also happens to be one of the seven hills of Rome symbolizing eternity. As the Queen of Gods, Juno held many roles including the protector of the Roman people. However, she was most known for presiding over the aspects of women’s lives, which is similar to her Greek goddess counterpart, Hera.
Juno was depicted more warrior-like in nature and wearing a goatskin coat while carrying a shield and a spear. Other stories portray her wearing a crown featuring roses and lilies, riding in a golden chariot pulled by peacocks and carrying a scepter. In some depictions, she was even pictured giving off a grave and majestic appearance with a matronly air, as befitting her regal station. Her most important role among many was being the goddess of childbirth and marriage. Juno was revered for her attention to the Roman women, especially married women. Furthermore, being Jupiter’s wife, she was also known to be fiercely loyal but vindictive and jealous too, just like Hera. When Jupiter seized her role as a mother and gave birth to Minerva from his head (in which he tapped his forehead and Minerva was conceived from his mind), Juno seeks out Flora’s help and gave birth to Mars on her own.
Not only famous for being the Roman goddess of Wisdom, but the daughter of Jupiter also held a significant role as the goddess of the arts, trade, and strategy in war. Her domains revolved around poetry, medicine, and handicrafts. Minerva was in charge of so many things that Ovid referred to her as the “goddess of a thousand works”. In Greek mythology, Minerva was highly influenced by Athena. She was even portrayed wearing an ancient Greek garment called chiton and a helmet. All of her statues even portray her holding a spear and a shield to symbolize her interest in war. However, she was often found offering an olive branch to the defeated. She was known to be a gracious winner in battles, who had sympathy for the beaten enemies.
Due to her various roles, she had many titles including Minerva Armipotens (patron of strategy and powerful in arms), Minerva Luscinia (meaning ‘nightingale for she invented the flute), Minerva Castitis (patron of olive trees) and Minerva Medica (patron of doctors). Despite being equated with the Greek goddess Athena, Minerva was originated from the Etrsucans (people who lived in the same place as Romans did but prior to the existence of Rome). Only she was called Meneswa, meaning ‘she who measures’. Other stories believe that she was born out of Jupiter’s head after he swallowed Metis, fearing that the prophecy would be true in which Metis’ child would one day overthrow him. The Romans regarded her highly and placed such importance on her. She was also one of the three virgin Roman goddesses along with Diana and Vesta. These goddesses vowed to never marry but rather dedicated their lives to their works.
The Roman goddess of blossoming and flowering plants was Flora, particularly of wheat among other crops. She was the twin sister to Fauna who was the goddess of animals and wildlife herself. Her Greek goddess counterpart would be Chloris. In the botanical field, her name refers to the plant life in a certain region. Her role mostly revolved around helping the ancient Roman citizens. That’s why they showed big amounts of appreciation to her. Flora had the power to make crops stronger and bigger. However, those who disobeyed could experience her wrath. Furthermore, victims were also given to her as a way to please her. These victims would be brought to the cave of Arvalian brothers.
Furthermore, her ability to renew old things made her the goddess of blossoming, renewal, and spring. On top of that, since childbirth represented the renewal of life, she was considered to be the goddess of fertility as well. Despite having many roles, her presence wasn’t that important among other Roman deities. However, the ancient Romans placed such importance on her particularly because crops in that period symbolized the survival as well as continuity of life. Her biggest enemy was Robigus who was the Roman god of destruction. His main power was to kill crops and make them wither.
Considered to be the equivalent of the Greek goddess Hestia, Vesta was a virgin goddess that represented domesticity, architecture, and family. Vesta was the daughter of Saturn and was the sister of Jupiter. This particular Roman goddess was rarely portrayed in human form though for she was depicted as the fire of her temples. Only Vestas, priestesses, were allowed to enter her temple. Of all the three virgin Roman goddesses, she was the most virgin and clean but interestingly was addressed as the mother who granted fertility. Nevertheless, her identity is seen as ambiguous due to her contradictory association with the phallus.
Her role was considered to be significant for the hearth was a very important part of the ancient Roman home. They swore to protect the fire at her altar and to keep it burning. They also believed the extinction of the fire could cause terrible luck and misfortune to the empire. Her lovely and beautiful appearance attracted the lustful attention of many male gods. Both Neptune and Apollo proposed to her but she refused them both. She appealed to Jupiter to remain virgin for good.
She is the equivalent of the Greek Aphrodite. This particular Roman goddess represented love, beauty, fertility, prosperity, desire, and sex. Given the overtones of fertility and sexuality, it should come as no surprise that Venus gave birth to many children. For instance, her illicit affair with Mars produced Metus and Timor, the personification of terror and fear respectively, Concordia, and Cupids. Another myth has it that one of her sons, Aeneas, fled to Italy from Troy and then became the ancestor of Romulus and Remus, who established Rome. That being said, it’s accurate to say that she was the mother of Rome. The ancient Romans adopted many of Aphrodite’s symbols, such as myrtle and roses to represent Venus. Other symbols associated with her include dolphins, doves, scallop shell, pomegranates, mirrors, pearls, and girdles. Many of these represented Aphrodite as well. Venus’ origin story even adopted her Greek goddess counterpart in which she was born of seafoam.
Venus married Vulcan who happened to be notoriously ugly. However, he loved her so much that he gave her a golden carriage drawn by doves to pull her around. Venus was so important to the citizens of ancient Rome that many regarded themselves as her descendants. Her importance is represented from her many titles, such as Venus Genetrix (represented her role as a mother), Venus Cloacina (the Purifier), Venus Verticordia (the Changes of Hearts), Venus Felix (the Lucky), Venus Victrix (goddess of victory) and Venus Murcia (Myrtle). Another interesting fact is that she gained much more important when the Roman Empire reigned to the point she got her own festivals every August 12 and October 9. This is due to the fact Julius Caesar claimed Venus as his ancestor.
She was the only agriculture goddess who belonged to the Di Consentes or the A-Team of the Roman deities. Ceres was also the goddess of the common people. Not only did she govern over agriculture but she was also responsible for fertility in general. Her concern pretty much revolved around the daily lives of the common people such as having children or getting married. She was also an official custodian of marriage laws. Therefore, violation of these laws was considered an affront to her. Her counterpart in the Greek pantheon is Demeter.
Ceres was depicted as a human woman donning robes. She was not young nor beautiful, but rather motherly and handsome. She was always depicted holding a sheath of grain and sometimes her breasts were bared as a symbol of motherhood. She was the daughter of Ops and Saturn. Her only daughter was Proserpine. As the goddess of agriculture, a lot of agricultural blessings were associated with her, such as the discovery of spelled wheat or the benefit of oxen as plow fields. Her famous story revolved around her daughter just like Demeter in her search of Persephone. When Pluto (Hades in the Greek pantheons) captured Proserpina and took her to the underworld, Ceres became distraught in her pursuit to find her. Consequently, she forgot all about making the world nutritious and fertile, thus people were suffering. Pluto finally conceded to return her daughter. However, Prosepine had to spend six months in the underworld every year as a bargain.
Diana was primarily associated with hunting but she was also revered as the goddess of childbirth and children, woods, fertility, and the moon. Furthermore, being one of the three virgin Roman goddesses, she was also called the goddess of fertility. However, many ancient Roman women prayed to her who wanted easy childbirth. That’s why, she also had quite the reputation for protecting children and mothers, causing her to be referred to as Lucina. Ancient Romans believed she possessed the power to talk to woodland animals and even control their behavior and movements. She’s portrayed to have born fully grown, just like other Roman deities, and was depicted to be beautiful, tall, and youthful in appearance. Diana was also praised for her intelligence as well. She was said to have displaced the initial Roman moon goddess, Luna. Diana was represented as directing the movements of the moon from her chariot, thus she was thought of as the goddess of light.
Despite being seen as pure, smart, and talented, Diana was also said to be vengeful at times and had a very unpredictable nature. One myth has it that a mortal named Actaeon stumbled upon her while bathing in a river. Feeling upset that he had seen her undressed, Diana turned him into a stag and set his hounds after him. Due to her strong connections to woodland creatures, the moon, and hunting, she was also referred to as the Triple Goddess in which the Romans portrayed her having three heads; a horse, a boar, and a dog. Furthermore, she was also part of another trinity. She lived with Egeria (a nymph) and Virbuis (her servant). In Rome, she was also considered as a protector of the plebeians and slaves. Many slaves sought refuge in her temples. Bottom line, she was a complex goddess with many layers of characteristics.
Salacia represented the female divinity of the sea in the Roman pantheons. She was also the wife of Neptune. Salacia was identified with Amphitrite in Greek mythology. Initially, Salacia refused Neptune’s proposal for she was in great awe of her distinguished suitor and to vow to chastity. She managed to glide out of his sight with celerity and grace and hid from him in the Atlantic Ocean. The grief-stricken Neptune sent a dolphin to seek her and persuade the fair nymph to share his throne. Salacia eventually relented and Neptune was so overjoyed that the dolphin was awarded a place in the heavens.
Salacia was depicted as a beautiful nymph with a seaweed crown and enthroned beside Neptune or driving in a pearl shell chariot drawn by dolphins or seahorses with him. She donned queenly robes and had nets in her hair. The goddess of saltwater was the embodiment of the sunlit and calm aspect of the sea. Her name actually denoted the wide, open sea, derived from the Latin word sal which meant salt. She had three children with Neptune and the most celebrated one was Triton who had a half man and half fish body.
Luna was the feminine personification of the moon. Her power revolved around the cycles of life which included birth and death. She was equated with the Greek goddess Selene, and to some extent, even Hekate. The ancient Romans believed she regulated the months and seasons and was associated with the first day of the waning moon. Her symbol was, without a doubt, a crescent moon. The depiction of Luna was of a beautiful maiden, armed with a bow and a quiver full of arrows at her side, clad in a short hunting dress, and a crescent on her well-poised head. Thus, she was also portrayed as a hunter, accompanied by hunting dogs and a boar head at her side. She was depicted to have a beautiful pale face and long, lustrous dark hair. Luna was often presented as the female complement of Sol, the Sun.
She was often portrayed driving a biga which was a two-yoke chariot, drawn by oxen or horses. In her big, she was an element of Mithraic iconography, typically in the context of the tauroctony. Add to that she also held the additional distinctive quality of being a protector of charioteers. She was often depicted riding a bull or horse as well, clad in robes and carrying a torch. Her temples were situated on Aventine Hill and were built on the 6th B.C.E. however, it was destroyed during Emperor Nero’s reign.
Last on the list of Roman goddesses is Fortuna. Being the firstborn of Jupiter, she was extremely popular in ancient Rome. She was often depicted carrying a cornucopia known as Horn of Plenty in which unlimited amounts of riches would pour out of it. She was also known as Fortuna Primegenia, meaning ‘the first mother’, for she also helped pregnant women. Given that she was the goddess of fate, she ruled the wheel of fortune. Frequently, Fortuna was an oracular Roman deity consulted in various ways in terms of the future. No one knew where they would ‘drop’ when Fortuna spun the wheel. Their luck depended on her, for better or worse, while Fortuna herself was seated behind the wheel. That’s why she was regarded as the bearer of prosperity as well as increase. Her association with the bounty of the soil along with the fruitfulness of women made her the epitome of fertility as well.
In Greek mythology, she was similar to Tyche who was the ruler of luck. Despite being the representation of luck, Fortuna could be represented blind and veiled. Nevertheless, she was worshipped all over the Roman world at a great number of shrines under many titles that were applied to her according to the countless circumstances of life in which her influence was hoped to bring a positive impact. Among her numerous nicknames, she was also referred to as Fortuna Dubia (doubtful) or even Fortuna Mala (evil).
It’s clear that these Roman goddesses fulfilled different functions that corresponded to numerous aspects of life. It’s also obvious that the ancient Roman mythology is similar to other pagan faiths in which success in life was equated with having a good relationship with the deities.
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