The Roman Pantheon of Gods

The Romans believed in many different gods and goddesses. For everything imaginable they had a god or goddess in charge. Mars for example was the god of war. This meant he was good at fighting and it meant that he had most of all the soldiers at heart. A Roman soldier would hence most likely pray to Mars for strength in battle.

But Minerva was the goddess of wisdom, intelligence and learning. Not many soldiers would ask her for help. But perhaps a schoolboy would ask her to help him learn his grammar or understand his maths better ! Or the emperor would ask her to give him wisdom so that he might rule the country wisely. And so, the Romans indeed had hundreds of different gods. This entire collection of all their gods was called the Pantheon.

The Romans gods were from a strange mixture of influences. Before Rome became a big city, the area around it, called Latium, was settled my superstitious villagers, the Latins, who believed in many gods and spirits. As Rome grew into a city and began to become more powerful it came into contact with the Greeks, who had a complex Pantheon of their own. It seems that the Roman gods were a mix of those two main influences; Latin and Greek. In many cases the Romans found there was a Latin and a Greek god for one and the same thing. They tended to take the two and make them one. So for example, Vulcan, was the old Latin god of fire. But the Greeks had a god called Hephaistos, who was very similar. And so the Romans just mixed the two together and made them one. Paintings or statues of Vulcan generally showed him as a blacksmith, like the Greek Hephaistos, but his name still was the Latin Vulcan.

Mythical personification of the annual food supply
ApolloGreekGood of healing and prophecy
AsclepiusGreekGod of healing
AttisPhrygianBeloved of Cybele
BacchusGreek as DionysosGod of wine
Goddess of War
Bona Dea
The ‘Good Goddess’; unnamed spirit whose rites were attended only by women
Household goddess of door hinges
Castor & Pollux (Dioscuri)GreekTwo legendary heroes
CeresGreek as DemeterGoddess of agriculture
God of the granary
CybelePhrygianSee ‘Magna Mater’
DianaGreek as ArtemisGoddess of light, also unity of peoples
DisGreek as PlutoGod of the underworld
FaunusGreek as PanGod of fertility
Goddess of fertility and flowers
Household god of doors
Fortuna (also Fors, Fors Fortuna)
Goddess of good luck
Male spirit of the Roman family
A sea God
HerculesGreek as HeraklesGod of victory and commercial enterprise
See Mercury
IsisEgyptianGoddess of the earth
God of doorways
JunoGreek as HeraGoddess of women
Jupiter (English Jove)Greek as ZeusGod of the heavens
Goddess of fountains
Lar (plural Lares)
a Spirit of the household
Larvae (or Lemures)
mischievous spirits of the dead
God of fertility and vine growing
Goddess of the dead
Household god of the threshold
Magna MaterPhrygian as CybeleThe ‘Great Mother’, goddess of nature
Spirits of the dead
God of war
MercuryGreek as HermesGod of merchants
MinervaGreek as AthenaGoddess of crafts and industry
MithrasPersian as MithraGod of the sun
NeptuneGreek as PoseidonGod of the sea
Presiding Goddess at the purification and naming of children
God of of the wealth of the harvest
OsirisEgyptianConsort of Isis
God/Goddess of shepherd
Household spirits of the store cupboard
Picumnus & Pilumnus
Agricultural gods associated with childbirth
Goddess of fruit
God of harbours
God of fertility in gardens and flocks
State god under whose name Romulus was worshipped
God of mildew
Goddess of Rome
SabaziusPhrygianGod of vegetation
God of health
SerapisEgyptianGod of the sky
SaturnGreek as ChronosGod of sowing
God of woods and fields
SolHeliosGod of the sun
Goddess of earth
God of property boundaries
VenusGreek as AphroditeGoddess of love
Vertumnus (also Vortumnus)
God of orchards
VestaGreek as HestiaGoddess of the hearth
God of the Tiber river
VulcanGreek as HephaistosGod of fire

With the vast size of the empire, there was of course many new gods from distant civilizations which the Romans learnt about. Romans didn’t tend to think that only their gods were the right ones. If they heard of other peoples’ gods (such as Isis, Pan, or Mithras) they would think that these were real gods who watched over other parts of the world and whom they had simply not yet heard about. And so as they learned about these new gods, new temples were built to these new arrivals in the Roman pantheon.

In the year AD 312 something very important happened, something which should change Roman religion forever. The emperor Constantine the Great said he had had a sign from the god of the Christians in a dream in the night before he had an important battle. Emperor Constantine won this battle and thereafter showed his gratitude to the Christian god by turning his entire empire over to this new religion.
So, successful was emperor Constantine at this conversion that the Roman empire remained Christian forever. If the countries of the western world are largely Christian today, then it is because of emperor Constantine’s decision.