Saturn was an ancient god of agriculture, or vegetation god, and was associated with the sowing of the seed and with plenty. Some say he was an Italian corn god. His name may have been derived from sator (a sower) or with satur (stuffed or gouged).

In early times his cult partner, or consort, was the fire-goddess, Lua (lues, plague or destruction). Later, for obscure reasons, he was associated with Cronus and Rhea, but he appeared to have more in common with Demeter.

Saturn is usually depicted with a sickle or ears of corn. The planet Saturn was named after him as well as Saturday.

His temple, which stood on Capitoline Hill, contained the treasury as well as the standards of the legions when they were not campaigning. The stature of Saturn had woolen bands about its feet so he would not run away. An unusual feature of the Saturn cult was that worshippers with uncovered heads sacrificed to him.

The greatest festival dedicated to him was the Saturnalia, which took place in December and lasted seven days, and was perhaps associated with the winter sowing.

Originally it was a rural event but gradually began to be celebrated in the cities too. During the celebration all government, commercial, and private business was stopped. Slaves were freed, and allowed to say and do what they pleased.

Gifts, especially those of clay or wax dolls, were exchanged, and citizens sat all day at tables feasting and drinking. Some see the festive Christmas season as a dim survival of this festival. The custom of electing a king for a day perhaps came from Greece or the Near East. A.G.H.


Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1980, p. 156
Grimal, Pierre, Larousse World Mythology, Secaucus, New Jersey, Chartwell Books, 1965, p. 180
Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 230