Roman Mythology is made up of many traditional stories related to the history and religion of ancient Rome. Many of the stories are represented as visual art and literature from ancient Rome, right up to the more modern day works. The Greek religions and myths also had some influence on Roman mythology and stories from Greek mythology were often retold in Roman mythology using the names of the Roman gods. The Roman mythology was more focused on humans with the occasional godly intervention, usually related to destiny.
Some of the main sources of the knowledge we have of Roman mythology today comes from Vergil’s Aeneid, Dionysius’s Roman Antiquities, Ovid’s Fasti, Propertius’s elegies and the first few books of Livy’s history. Other sources include paintings, sculptures and reliefs, wall paintings and even coins.
The Founding of Rome
One myth that is related to the founding of Rome is the tale of how the Trojan prince Aeneas arrived in Italy after fleeing the sacked city of Troy. They have some interesting adventures and eventually make landfall in an area southwest of where Rome stands today. Aeneas marries Lavinia, King Latinus’s daughter and this starts a war as she had been engaged to Turnus prior to Aeneas’s arrival. Turnus is killed by Aeneas and Aeneas’s line forms the start of the Alban Kings. From this line Numitor is born, who is eventually Rhea Silva’s father. Rhea Silva is forced to become a Vestal virgin priestess, but is eventually the mother to Romulus and Remus.
The most famous story related to the founding of Rome was the story of Romulus and Remus, the twins brought up by a wolf. They were said to be the sons of Rhea Silva and either the hero Hercules (demi-god) or the war god Mars. They were abandoned, raised by a wolf and eventually found and tamed by a shepherd. As adults they killed their great-uncle who had ordered them killed as infants. They decided to establish a city (Rome), but had a fight and Remus was killed by Romulus.
Gods and goddesses
The original gods were Mars, Jupiter and Quirinus as well as Janus and Vesta. Mars and Quirinus were later replaced by Juno and Minerva. Many of the other gods and goddesses were given rites and rituals based on daily life with them being invoked or given offerings to bring success the carrying out of the duties. This was clearly seen in the specific gods and goddesses being honored for particular tasks such as : Ceres to attain good grain growth, Janus to guard doors and gates, Vesta to guard the hearth and family, Pomona watched over the growth of fruit, Saturn was called upon when sowing seed, Pales took care of the pasture, while Ops and Consus were called upon during harvesting. The main god Jupiter was often honored to improve rains over the fields. Mars was the god of war originally while Quirinus looked after the military during times of peace. Faunus was the god of nature and also protector of crops (and the origin of the word fauna). Jaturna was the goddess of water and springs although each water source also had its own specific deity such as Tiberius who was god of the Tiber River.
As the Romans were exposed to new cultures and new religions, they often incorporated many of the gods, goddesses and heroes of the conquered neighbors and settlers in to their own religions. These included gods such as Venus, Minerva, Diana and the tales of Hercules and Castor and Pollux. Cybele was a cult object that was also incorporated in to Roman religion although looked upon with disapproval by many of the religious leaders. The Romans also used to use ceremonies inviting their enemy’s gods to take up residence in Rome, to shift the balance of power. Slaves and foreign communities in Rome also brought with them their own gods, such as Mithras, who was very popular among the Roman military.
Many of the myths and legends of early Rome were actually based on historical facts such as the Rape of the Sabine women, which details how the Sabines were involved in some of the early formation of the Roman culture as well as showing the propensity of war and alliances being used to grow the Roman Empire. Numa Pompilius took over as ruler of Rome after Romulus and was said to have had a relationship with a nymph, Egeria as well as being counseled by the Muses. Numa Pompilius is said to be the founder of many of the religious and legal institutions in Rome. Servius Tullius, who was the 6th King of Rome was said to have been a lover of the goddess Fortuna and is credited with building temples to Diana and Fortuna. He features in many myths and legends of the time period, including one claiming his mother was impregnated by a disembodied phallus, potentially belonging to the god Vulcan or the god Lar. Many other myths of the time also tell tales of morality, divine intervention and the importance of heroism and valor.
The myth of Horatius Cocles focuses on his bravery, along with two other officers, when he allowed his own troops to pass while holding off the enemy and preventing them from crossing the bridge. He remained there, shielded by the slain until the bridge had been broken up by his troops, preventing further crossing, then jumped in to the river, with his armaments and by divine intervention swam across and exited the river, without having lost any of his weaponry. The tale is one of heroism and protection from the gods.
Gaius Mucius Scaevola is a myth about a young Roman who volunteers as an assassin sent to kill an invading Clusian King known as Lars Porsena. He was captured and demonstrates his bravery by burning his right hand in a fire without showing fear or pain. Impressed, Porsena released the youngster and later sued for peace with Rome. The myth is possibly based on fact and is told to demonstrate bravery under duress.
During the Gallic siege of Rome, Marcus Manlius held the Roman citadel for months, along with a small garrison, while the rest of the city was evacuated. The myth tells of him being woken by his geese when the Gauls attack and killing the first assailants. Marcus Manlius was also involved in social reform and lost his life due to his outspokenness against the Senate and corruption.
Roman myths such as these embellish truths and half-truths to tell tales of aspiration, inspiration, divine intervention and warnings.
In this section are descriptions of Roman Mythologies, gods, goddesses and mythological beings described in the encyclopedia. This new section is being constructed.