Archive for October, 2012

When I say “Unknown Deities”, I’m talking about three different things: first, those deities whose names are known but whose functions and attributes have been lost; second, those deities to whom temples and altars were dedicated, even though the dedicator didn’t have any idea to whom s/he was giving the offering; and third, the “Hidden Gods”, the Dii involuti.

The first category is what Varro called the Dii incerti, or “deities whose function is unknown”.  Probably the most well-known example of this type is Furrina: not only did she have her own festival, the Furrinalia, but she also was assigned her own Flamen – so she was a very important deity to the early Romans. And, unfortunately, all we know besides this is that she had a sacred spring in Rome.  We have no idea what people would have given her offerings or prayed to her for.

The next category doesn’t really have a name.

These are deities whose functions are known, but whose name is not.  So, for an example, take the deity Aius Locutius – the Spoken Voice.

Warning – detour for history ahead!

According to legend, in about 391 BCE a Roman plebeian by the name of Marcus Caedicius heard a voice that had called out to him from an area near the temple of Vesta.  The voice warned him that the Gauls were marching south, and that the Romans should prepare themselves for an attack.  Caedicius immediately went to the tribunes to warn them.

However, because he was a plebeian – and one who had reportedly fallen on hard times – his warning was ignored.   In another city outside of Rome the Gauls met with Roman ambassadors to make peace terms – but the Romans, a group of three hot-headed young brothers, violated the oath of neutrality they had taken as ambassadors: the oldest brother, Quintus Fabius, killed one of the Gauls.  After several more slights, the Gauls decided to march on Rome.

They succeeded in capturing the city, and the remaining Roman citizens (some had fled earlier) barred themselves behind a blockade on the Capitoline Hill.  After a long time, during which many of the Gauls had died due to poor hygiene and unsanitary conditions, an exiled Roman general by the name of Marcus Furius Camillus received a message that he was needed to save Rome.  He arrived in Rome during an infamous negotiation, in which the Gallic chieftain Brennus was cheating the Romans out of their gold (the Romans had agreed to pay Brennus 1,000 pounds of gold to get him and his Gauls outside the city, but Brennus was using heavier weights in order to procure more gold).

Camillus threw his sword down upon the weights, yelling either “vae victis!” (“Woe to the vanquished”), or “It is not gold, but steel that will redeem the native land!”  In any case, the Romans won the day and the Gauls went back to the Apennines.

/end history

Anyway.  The Romans, deeply embarrassed that a voice had warned them but they had paid no heed, built a temple to that voice.  But they didn’t know which deity had warned them, and didn’t want to offend any gods by dedicating a temple to the wrong one, so they dedicated the temple to the anonymous Aius Locutius.

Another aspect of this category is used in both ancient and modern worship.  If a deity helps you, and you don’t know which deity it was (having not asked for help from a specific deity), offerings are commonly given with the expression “Si deus, si dea”, which means “if god or goddess”.  Just to be on the safe side.

The final category is one that I’ve touched on previously, though only briefly.  This is the category of the Dii involuti, the Hidden Gods.  These deities are above even Iuppiter – in fact, under certain circumstances, he must gain their approval before undertaking a task or throwing a certain type of thunderbolt.  They are supposedly hidden behind the clouds, and no cult has every been ascribed to them.

It is speculated that the Di involuti include the Fates (the Fata) or gods of favor.  However, no one really knows who they are – not even their number, gender, or forms.



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Tellus, known as Terra Mater (literally “Mother Earth”) in the Imperial age, is the principle goddess who is associated with earth, i.e. the ground.  Fitting since her name comes from the Latin noun tellus, which means earth, land, or territory.

Originally, Tellus received homage in the early Republic and was listed by the antiquarian Varro as one of the 20 Di selecti, the main deities of ancient Rome.  By the time that Imperial Rome came around, she was commonly known as Terra Mater.

Her attributes are the cornucopia – a sign of plenty and bountiful harvests, which makes sense as she is a deity of the earth – and bunches of flowers and fruits.  She is usually depicted reclining on the ground.

Tellus, the central figure in this panel from the Ara Pacis. Photo courtesy vroma.

Most often she is paired with Caelus, the sky, though Tellumo is recorded by St. Augustine as being her male counterpart.  She is also associated with Ceres, goddess of grain, agriculture, and fertility (among other things).  In fact, both goddesses share several festivals: the Sementivae, and the Fordicidia, which takes place during the Cerealia (a festival dedicated to Ceres).

Tellus did not have her own priest: instead, public offerings were given to her by the Flamen Cerealis, the priest of Ceres.  She did, however, have her own temple, which was located in the Carinae neighborhood on the Oppian Hill and dedicated on December 13th, 268 BCE.  According to Cicero, within the temple was stored an object called the magmentarium, as well as a representation of Italy which hung on a wall.

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This post…I have typed and retyped it over and over again, and it still doesn’t seem quite right.  But I’m rolling with it.

If there is one sure-fire way to raise the hackles of a Roman Reconstructionist, it is to state that the Romans stole the Greek gods for their own use and gave them Roman names, because, before the Greeks, they had no pantheon of their own.

Every once in a while I’ll come across a post on a forum that suggests this.  And then I fly into a frenzy worthy of the Bacchantes.

Well, not really.  But I do get a little peeved.

I’m bringing this up because yesterday, while I was on Reddit, I came across a post with this title:

“Who did the Romans worship before they conquered Greece?”

Oh no, I thought.  Are they asking what I think they’re asking?

They were.

The poster went on to ask “It’s pretty widely known that the Romans copied the Greek gods, changed their names and slightly changed their attributes. So who did they worship before Jupiter, Mars, etc? Did they believe in a singular god or did they have other gods?”


(bolded part for my own emphasis)

This is kind of a problem, and is widely thought to be the truth.  I mean, it is what is taught in schools nowadays.

How many times have your teachers or professors used Roman and Greek deities’ names interchangeably, saying in one sentence that “Aphrodite did this”, and then in the next sentence saying “Venus did this”?  Or even blatantly telling students that the Romans stole the Greek gods, and then give a list of Greek and Roman deities as exact equivalents of one another?

I’m going to come out right now and say that this is more than a little irritating.  I know, I know, it shouldn’t be – honestly, people are not at fault for going on assumptions that they’re taught in school, or that most people wouldn’t give a second glance at after learning.  But it still bothers me, nonetheless.

But this post isn’t a rant.

…Well, maybe a little.

See, the Romans never stole gods.   They weren’t godless heathens running around the lands waging war on everyone in sight – well, the war part, yeah, but they had their own gods, long before they came into contact with the Greek pantheon.

And I would like to add that Rome was never a pure society unaffected by other cultures.  In its very beginnings, Rome was a lovely little melting pot – lots of tribes of people got together to live there, and their religious practices and beliefs all meshed together until, further down the line, it became the “religion and beliefs of Rome.”

I’m not trying to say that they didn’t take any Greek gods, or ascribe to their own gods the myths of the Greeks.  The Roman Apollo is very clearly the Greek god Apollon, Aesculapius is Asklepios, and, in my opinion, the Roman Bacchus is the Greek Dionysos.  Though I know others have their own UPG that states that Bacchus and Dionysos are different deities, and I totally respect that.

Some names and their corresponding attributes are suspiciously Etruscan.  Minerva looks like (and has the same attributes as) the Etruscan goddess Menrva, Iuno looks like Uni, Neptunus like Nethuns, Ianus like Ani, Satres like Saturnus…(or did the Etruscans latch onto those deities,  and they were actually Latin deities originally, as I literally just read?)

Yeah.  Lots of names.

And you know what?  The pattern continues.

Semo Sancus and Quirinus were originally Sabine deities.  Angitia was Oscan.  Feronia was Umbrian.

But the Greeks are a special case, because it’s only the Greeks and Romans that anyone ever learns about in classics courses in school, and they are taught that the Greeks came first and the Romans were so unimaginative that they had to steal everything from them.

When the Romans came into contact with the Greeks, they adopted the myths of the Greeks and some of the attributes of the Greek deities and attached them to their own (by this time fully Roman) Roman deities.  This was called syncretization, and it was done so that the Romans could understand the deities of other peoples.  As an example, Venus was originally a goddess of fertility – the only deity of love was Amor, the personified Love.

But when the Romans saw the Greeks, they were like, “I don’t get it.  They have no Venus.  Which deity is the closest to Her attributes?  …Aphrodite?  Alright then.  Their equivalent is Aphrodite.  We can roll with that.”

It was never “Oh, Aphrodite is cool.  Let’s take her.  We’ll call her Venus.”  Or “Hey, that Zeus is a suave fellow.  We’ll grab him for ourselves and name him Iuppiter.”

Some people like to say that the Romans did, in fact, copy other deities – but then so did the Greeks.  And every other culture since the days of the single, Indo-European culture and religion of waaaaaaay back when.  Zeus and Iuppiter seem to come from the word “Dyeus”, or “Diu-Piter”, which was apparently an Indo-European deity.

But the point is, the Romans never stole the Greek gods and gave them Roman names.  And I wish more people knew this.

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I’ve noticed that most Reconstructionist religions have lists of virtues that can serve as guidelines for the behavior of the individual practitioner (and, in some cases, the community as a whole).  Asatru has the Nine Noble Virtues, Hellenismos has the Delphic Maxims and Tenets of Solon, Kemetics have principles of upholding Ma’at…I think I can add Wicca into the mix as well, though it’s not (always? really?) reconstructionism – but they have the Rede.

And the Religio Romana has, of course, Roman virtues.

Before I dive into this, I want to add a little disclaimer.

Well, alright, it’s not really a little disclaimer.  The thing is, the virtues are by no means of the same ilk as the Ten Commandments and stuff like that.  By that, I mean that if you aren’t as virtuous in one or more aspects, Iuppiter won’t come down out of the sky and smite you, and you will not go to Hell.

I’m not saying that the virtues aren’t important: only that if you don’t follow them well, you won’t be called a sinner.  So I hope that clears the way for what’s coming a little later.

And there’s the issue of if we as recons really need to follow a list of virtues.  There seems to be, like with all things, a mixed bag of opinions: some think that it’s ridiculous that we have lists of things to follow when these things should be common sense, some think the whole thing is BS, and how dare a modern list tell them how to behave, others are of the opinion that the lists are good guidelines to have, even if they are more modern inventions, and still others believe that the virtues have their roots in (and in some cases their practice is able to be proven in) ancient beliefs and sources, and that regardless of if they are modern inventions or not are still good things to follow.

I’m sure that I’m missing out on some opinions, here, so I apologize if yours isn’t represented.  Or if it’s misrepresented.

In any case, I guess I’d fall into the latter category.

There’s plenty of evidence that the Romans thought that there were many virtues that an individual should ascribe to have.  Cicero, for example, remarks that good people have Mind/Mens, Courage/Virtus, Piety/Pietas, and Faith/Fides.  In modern day Roman Reconstructionism, the group Nova Roma has put forth a really nice, albeit long, list of Roman virtues and their most basic definitions, breaking it up into private virtues for individuals and public virtues for the community.  These are:


  • Auctoritas/Spiritual Authority
  • Clementia/Mercy
  • Comitas/Humor
  • Dignitas/Dignity
  • Firmitas/Tenacity
  • Frugalitas/Frugality
  • Gravitas/Gravity
  • Honestas/Respectability
  • Humanitas/Refinement
  • Industria/Industriousness
  • Pietas/Loyalty, duty, and reverence to one’s family, gods, and community
  • Prudentia/Prudence
  • Salubritas/Health and cleanliness
  • Severitas/Sternness
  • Veritas/Truthfulness



  • Abundantia/Abundance
  • Aequitas/Equity
  • Bonus Eventus/Good Fortune
  • Clementia/Mercy
  • Concordia/Harmony
  • Felicitas/Happiness
  • Fides/Confidence
  • Fortuna/Fortune
  • Genius/Spirit of Rome
  • Hilaritas/Mirth
  • Iustitia/Justice
  • Laetitia/Joy
  • Liberalitas/Generosity
  • Nobilitas/Nobility
  • Ops/Wealth
  • Patientia/Endurance
  • Pax/Peace
  • Pietas/Loyalty, duty, and reverence to one’s family, gods, and community
  • Providentia/Providence
  • Pudicitia/Modesty (traditionally a virtue ascribed to women)
  • Salus/Health
  • Securitas/Security or safety
  • Spes/Hope
  • Uberitas/Fertility
  • Virtus/Courage


Phew.  That’s quite a list.

And guess what?  Following along with the theme of the Romans having a deity for everything, all of these virtues are also personified deities.  Yeah.

I guess my aim with this post was for it to be an introduction into Roman virtues.  I think that on Wednesdays from now on (maybe not every Wednesday, but pretty darn near close) I’ll take a virtue and pick it apart, starting with the private virtues and then moving onto the public virtues.  This is…kind of an ambitious thing.  I mean, just look at all those virtues.  Uffda.

(oops, my Midwesterner is showing)

And I think I’ll label these posts as VW, for…Virtus Wednesdays.  Kind of funny when you pronounce it, because the “V” in Virtus would be pronounced as a W.  So you get something like…Wirtus Wednesdays.



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