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?
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.