Here’s Your Free Ticket to the Olympic Games of the Roman Gods…
The Roman Empire believed its civilization was founded by the gods — but these deities weren’t buried in the past. The Romans felt their presence in everyday living, family life, faith, and politics. Even when something good or bad happened, they linked it to a certain god’s mood.
This close relationship crafted a detailed mythology — but let’s give credit where it’s due. The Romans used the Greek god pantheon as a foundation for its own sacred crowd.
The Greeks invented the Olympics, and, because of that, you are invited to a special event today. Some of the most important gods and goddesses of Roman mythology will compete in their very own special Olympic Games.
Just sit back and enjoy the weirdness. You’ll soon learn more about who they are and the skills that make them so great.
The Referee Is the Best Athlete of Them All
Realms: Light, storms, thunder, and lightning
Family: Son of Saturn; husband of Juno; father of Minerva
Fun Fact: His supreme title was Jupiter Optimus Maximus, meaning the “Best and Greatest”
Yup. If this referee ever got off the sideline and competed, there would be no competition. But why would Jupiter be the sole god standing on the podium each time? As it happens, this is the supreme god of the Romans and he’s unconquered in battle. And table tennis.
Jupiter stepped back to allow the rest of the Roman pantheon a shot at the gold. But he also dons his striped jersey and whistle for another reason.
Gods fighting over laurel wreaths need a firm leader who can give them direction in the confusion. Indeed, the ancient Romans viewed Jupiter as the god who gave victory in battle and protected those who were defeated. In other words, the athletes can forget about cheating or kicking the losers.
Back in the day, this god was also the choice of Roman generals, because he symbolized a fearless army. Indeed, Jupiter was the stuff of warfare — he was the patron god of violence and treaties. He was also a political deity and the Senate would ask his blessing to declare war.
Mars Broke the Martial Arts Arena
Family: Son of Jupiter and Juno
Fun Fact: Mars was seriously unpopular with the other gods (probably because he liked the bloody side of life a little too much)
Rank-wise, the Roman god Mars was very important — he was second only to his father, Jupiter. Similar to Dad, Mars was also revered by the Roman military. But in his case, the god was more often worshiped by the soldiers.
His thing was standing for fighting power, as well as the hair-raising sounds and blood spraying everywhere in battle. Not a cute god, by any means, but anti-adorable deities have their purposes.
He protected the city of Rome, brought victory in their battles, and crushed rebellions among the nations they had already conquered. Mars was even the bodyguard of the Emperor (though he failed a bit with Julius Caesar).
As popular as Mars was among mortals, the Roman pantheon disliked his nature. His love of disaster and death was epic — which pretty much sums up why he semi-murdered every competitor in the Olympic martial arts events and literally brought down the house.
Nobody Can Separate Souls Like Pluto
Realms: The underworld
Family: Son of Saturn and Ops; husband of Proserpine
Fun Fact: Pluto’s wardrobe includes a helmet of invisibility
In mythology, the underworld isn’t exactly the Ritz Hotel. But the Romans weren’t like other ancient civilizations who feared the depths beneath their feet and filled it with phantasms — their underworld also reflected the good that came from the earth; like precious metals and the growing seeds that provided food. The god that ruled this realm was Pluto.
Most of the time, he lived in a palace and loved his wife. He was one of the few gods who remained faithful to his spouse. Outside of the home, Pluto collected the freshly deceased who arrived in the underworld via the River Styx.
He would then separate them into two groups — those who had lived good lives spent eternity in the wonderful Elysian Fields, and those who had mucked up were forever tormented in the realm of Tartarus.
Since Pluto has thousands of years’ experience, he won the Sweet & Sour Soul Separator event. Again.
The Opening Ceremony Was a Bit Overgrown
Family: Father of Jupiter and Pluto
Fun Fact: Saturday is named after this god
Hey, nobody’s complaining — if anything, the ceremony was entertaining. Who doesn’t secretly appreciate seeing these perfect gods tripped up by plants?
Indeed, Saturn — the god of agriculture — overused his realm to decorate the stadium for the march of the athletes. He might be incurring the wrath of those struggling to wade with dignity through fields of wheat and peppers, but Saturn knows how to organize a festival.
After all, one of the most popular Roman festivals was held in his honour. During Saturnalia, people celebrated wildly and exchanged gifts for days. Kind of like Christmas on caffeine.
Saturn was also said to have had a direct influence on humans. He was the god who taught people how to behave with civility, how to farm and grow vineyards. According to Roman mythology, he also ruled Latium for a while — the settlement that pre-dated Rome and stood where the city would be built in the future.
The Patent Office Is an Extreme Sport
Realms: Metalwork, blacksmiths
Family: Son of Jupiter and Juno; husband of Venus
Fun Fact: His mother abandoned him at birth because he was an ugly baby
At the Godly Inventions Arena, the competition is tight. The gods and goddesses of the Roman pantheon try to outdo each other with their creative abilities. But in the end, Vulcan is the clear winner.
According to Roman mythology, he invented a golden net that could entrap cheating spouses. He caught his wife and her lover, Mars, that way. As the most gifted blacksmith among the gods, he made jewelry desired by important goddesses like Juno, a golden slave-girl and from clay, and the more famous Pandora.
For those who only want to catch one person, they can also buy Vulcan’s golden chair with mother-of-pearl inlays. It kept his own mother captive for days, so, you know, it works.
The ancient Romans linked Vulcan with Mount Etna. Whenever the volcano lost its top, it was said that Vulcan discovered Venus was having another affair and that he vented his anger in his workshop underneath the mountain.
Neptune Is the Kid-Dropping Champion
Realms: The ocean, horse racing
Family: Son of Saturn and Ops
Fun Fact: In Latin, Neptune’s name means “Moist”
Unlike Pluto, Neptune didn’t honour his marriage vows. He had a respectable three kids with his wife and then fathered a legion of offspring with other ladies.
The most famous of his brood was the flying horse Pegasus. But if this bizarre sport wasn’t in the God Games — and if Mars wasn’t so strong — then Neptune would’ve won all the martial arts medals. This sea-dwelling god has a mean temper.
The ancient Romans thought that storms at sea and earthquakes happened when Neptune had a fit of rage. They also believed that he decided on the outcome of all their maritime battles. So, to keep him sweet, the Romans built temples in his honour and filled them with special gifts.
Interestingly, this god is linked with horse racing. This stems from the earliest art showing Neptune enjoying a horse-drawn chariot ride across the waves, where later art had the chariot removed and the surrounding waves filled with creatures such as dolphins and fish.
Sol Slam Dunks Another Generation of Confused Scholars
Realms: The Sun
Family: Father of Circe, a woman who lived near Rome
Fun Fact: The cult of Sol’s festival on December 25th might have influenced the origins of Christmas
The Roman Sun god is a sticky wicket. Most scholars agree that his name was Sol, however, the origins and number of appearances of this god in Roman mythology are far from settled.
Some say that the Romans worshipped two solar deities. They weren’t adored at the same time, though — Sol Invictus followed the Sol Indiges after the latter faded from favor. Invictus was apparently the heavyweight with the most fans.
But many modern researchers believe that the cult of Sol never had two gods and that, actually, the different names never existed either. It was just Sol.
At least Roman sources can add some weight as to when the Sun god became important. Apparently, Titus Tatius introduced Sol worship right after Rome was founded. Some of Sol’s temples remained in use for centuries.
Festivals and sacrifices were also made, testifying just how much the deity meant to Roman civilization. Which is a little weird, because personal facts about this fiery character are hard to come by.
Mercury Stole All the Medals (But Jupiter Is Okay With It)
Realms: Thieves, cheats, travelers, commerce, shepherds, and messages
Family: Son of Jupiter and Maia
Fun Fact: Mercury has a bad habit of stealing cattle
Mercury’s day job is to take the dead to Pluto’s underworld. He’s also tasked with protecting travelers, merchants, and taking a few messages between the gods. Once he clocks off for the day, though, Mercury has a darker side to him.
This Roman god likes to steal things. In fact, he’s such a master thief that his realm specifically protects those with sticky fingers. Cheaters are welcome, too.
Since the gods tend to punish such characters, it makes sense that Mercury is also the mediator between the pantheon and humans. He even has a special wand called the “caduceus” to resolve conflicts. It certainly came in handy after he swiped the small tower of laurel crowns from Mars’ head, after the last competition.
Venus Won the Decorate-Yourself Event (Because Nobody Else Entered)
Realms: Goddess of love, fertility, beauty, victory, and prosperity
Family: Mother of Cupid; married to Vulcan
Fun Fact: Two of her stranger symbols are mirrors and girdles
Contestants in the DIY-worship event can decorate their own statues with myrtle — the best arrangement wins a myrtle crown.
The other goddesses knew they’d never beat the beauty queen, Venus, so they took the decorations, made their own crowns and left. At least history treated Venus more respectfully.
The Roman goddess was exceptionally important. Leaders like Julius Caesar claimed her as an ancestor and mythology often depicts her as the mother of Rome. People sought a direct way of being with this goddess, and that’s why statues of Venus received special treatment.
During her festivals, her carvings and worshippers both wore wreaths of myrtle — an important symbol associated with her. Husbands and wives asked Venus for advice about relationships. Her temples were also important to new brides; they would offer the goddess of love their childhood toys before getting married.
In a way, Venus was also a political goddess. After Julius Caesar said she was his great-great-great-grandmother-twice-removed, other politicians followed suit. But not all of them claimed to be her descendants. Instead, they went all out to curry her favor with grand gestures.
One of the biggest was a brand-new temple in 217 BC. That year, the Roman army had their butts handed to them in a critical battle. They were convinced the reason wasn’t their fighting skills — it was because Venus liked the enemy more. Most other deities would’ve been ditched, but the temple was an attempt to win her back; Venus was that important to Roman culture.
Juno’s Minting Business Made the Prizes
Realms: Women, childbirth, guardian of the Roman people
Family: Married to Jupiter; mother of Vulcan and Mars
Fun Fact: Her husband was also her twin brother
Another important Roman goddess is Juno — the queen of the gods and Jupiter’s wife. She was known for two things. In the past, the Romans saw her as their personal protector but she was particularly involved in the affairs of women.
Just to be clear, not the Venus-cheating-on-Vulcan kind of affairs. Nope. Juno ruled over the realms of childbirth, motherhood, marriage, and pregnancy.
This goddess was also the guardian of funds. The first Roman coins were forged at her Temple of Juno Moneta and the mint operated for 400 years. That’s more successful than most businesses these days. This history won her company — Goddesses Be Like Printing Stuff Inc. — the contract to produce the wreaths and trophies for the Olympic Games.
Just don’t join the gossip that Juno got the deal because she’s married to the most powerful Roman god. Her war-like nature might surface and make her charge at you with her peacock-drawn chariot. It’s deadlier than it sounds. Juno’s got a spear and she’s not afraid to use it.
Do You Want to Win a Bundle? Fix Your Bets With Cupid
Realms: God of love
Family: Son of Venus and Mars
Fun Fact: He resurrected his dead love interest, Psyche, by shooting her with an arrow
Just like Mercury, Cupid moonlights on the side. But while Jupiter is lenient with Mercury’s thieving ways — it’s his realm, after all — the king of the Roman gods would surely smite Cupid if his betting business comes to light. It’s true, if you pay Cupid enough, he’ll swing the odds of a match in your favor.
You see, his arrows can either make people fall madly in love or push them apart — golden-tipped brings a fevered obsession (in this case, helping to win that race at all costs) while lead-tipped makes someone bail on a relationship (or a competition).
Thus far, he’s been getting away with it because darn it, he’s chubby and cute, and nobody’s suspects that the star of Valentine’s Day is an accomplished criminal during the Games (to be fair, he only goes gangsta every four years or so).
The Top Winner Is Minerva and Everyone’s Suspicious
Realms: Goddess of wisdom, olive trees, poetry, crafts, medicine, the arts, trade, and warfare
Family: Daughter of Jupiter and Metis
Fun Fact: She once turned a woman into a spider for daring the goddess to a weaving contest
Jupiter is so suspicious of this Roman goddess that he pulled her aside once or twice for a drug test.
Minerva won most of her events, especially when they involved the arts, writing, fighting, and olive trees. That last one saw her handing out the most branches to losers in battle, one of her tasks in Roman mythology. But in the end, she passed all the blood tests, which was a huge relief to Jupiter.
He already had to vaporize a couple of investigative journalists who questioned Juno’s awards contract. If his daughter Minerva was hopped up on performance juice, the family would look really bad.
As it turns out, this goddess is just talented in many realms. Indeed, Ovid called her the “goddess of a thousand works.” In the past, Minerva was also among the three most important deities worshipped by the Romans, the other two being Jupiter and Juno. Interestingly, she was a rare Roman goddess in the sense that she wasn’t borrowed from Greek mythology — the original Minerva was an Etruscan deity called Meneswa.
Diana Is Creeping Everyone Out With Her Hunting Party
Realms: Hunting, wildlife, the woods, chastity, the Moon, fertility, children, childbirth, mothers, light
Family: Daughter of Jupiter and Latona; twin sister of Apollo
Fun Fact: She was one of three Roman goddesses who vowed never to marry
Diana might’ve lost her mind a little. As the goddess of the hunt, her killer instinct is triggered by movement and rustling foliage. Unfortunately, the Roman pantheon swished a lot of plant matter when they struggled through overgrown fields during the opening ceremony. That’s when Diana vanished. Now she’s hunting everyone with her bow and arrows.
With her is Orion, a companion she once accidentally killed in mythology; as a way to say “oops” she turned him into the famous constellation. Her party also includes maidens, hounds, and deer. Diana controls woodland animals, so if anyone can set killer deer on their fellow deities, it’s this goddess.
Also stalking through the arenas looking for prey is Virbius. To be fair, she’s not likely to harm anyone. Virbius is a midwife and a close friend of Diana’s.
There’s a good reason why the goddess is associated with this nurse — she might be an active hunter and ender of lives, but she also stands at the point where life begins. Roman wives prayed to Diana when they wished to conceive. She also kept pregnant ladies, mothers, and their offspring safe.
Diana is the moon deity. Together, with her realms of hunting and wild animals, this earned her the ancient title of the Triple Goddess. Interestingly, one of her other realms involved something you don’t see every day with sacred pantheons — she was the protector of slaves.
This aspect of her was so honored during ancient times that one of her temples only employed a former runaway slave as the high priest. In fact, all temples honoring this goddess provided sanctuary to any slave who needed protection.
Vesta and Her Virgins Maintain the Olympic Village
Realms: Domestic life, domestic bliss, the home, the hearth, protector of Rome
Family: Eldest sister of Jupiter; daughter of Saturn
Fun Fact: She’s considered as both the youngest and the oldest of the gods
Elite athletes need a comfy place to stay and a matronly figure to look after them. The best Roman goddess for this task is Vesta. She tended to Jupiter’s home as a favour after he got rid of all her unwanted suitors and this arrangement set the tone for her realms. But she was nobody’s doormat.
The goddess Vesta was highly revered by the Roman people. Just to give you an idea of her worth — she was the only deity in the Roman pantheon who had her own full-time clergy in Rome. They were devoted solely to the rituals and rites that honored her.
The ancient Romans believed that fire burned only because Vesta willed the flames to stay active in the hearth. The latter brought warmth to the house, provided hot water and food, and marked the most important room in the home where fire sacrifices often happened. Since every dwelling had one, the poor and rich alike felt the presence of Vesta.
Another aspect that made Vesta so unique was an order called the Vestal Virgins. These women worked at the shrine of Vesta inside the Roman Forum, and they famously tended to a fire that wasn’t allowed to snuff out. While these ladies held an honorable position, their job came with a dangerous caveat — they were expected to stay celibate.
The punishment for breaking this vow was death. Not a quick smash to the skull, either. Nope. A Vestal Virgin found guilty of being unchaste was buried alive. Even worse, one horrifying historical account tells of a woman who had molten lead poured down her throat.
Ceres Is the Best Multi-Champion Bread Blackmailer
Realms: Goddess of motherly love, grain, and agriculture
Family: Daughter of Saturn and Ops; sister of Jupiter; mother of Proserpine
Fun Fact: This goddess inspired a common saying. When the Romans thought something was fantastic, they would say it was “Fit for Ceres”
No, the goddess Ceres doesn’t threaten anyone with a loaf of bread — that would just be weird. But when she’s ticked off, she might take the bread away. And the harvest it came from. While she’s at it, she can make everything stop growing, so… no breadsticks at the restaurant. No food, either.
And presto! Just like that, whatever she was blackmailing the hungry masses for would be given to her gladly. Hey, she’s a nice goddess. No, seriously — the ancient Romans adored Ceres. She was the only deity who cared enough about them to stay involved in the most ordinary parts of their lives.
Other gods mingled with mortals when it suited them or when they felt one person was “special.” But Ceres was like a mother to humanity. She was also revered for the priceless gifts she was said to have given mankind, including fertile soil, harvests, and teaching the first farmers.
According to Roman mythology, the bond between Ceres and her daughter is responsible for the seasons. After Proserpine was kidnapped by Pluto and taken to the underworld, Ceres was ticked right off. She was angry because Proserpine’s father, Jupiter, had given Pluto permission to abduct their daughter. But she knew how to get even.
Ceres went to live between men and disguised herself as an elderly woman. During that time, she stunted the growth of all harvests and famine consumed the lands. Jupiter relented and ordered the release of Proserpine. However, this was a bit complicated — she had nibbled on some underworld food and that linked her to Pluto forever.
So, every year, for a few months, she must return to him. Proserpine did actually grow to love him eventually, but whenever she’s gone, her mother ceases to feel charitable with nature (basically, we can blame Stockholm Syndrome for autumn and winter). When her daughter returns, Ceres is so overjoyed that spring flowers again across the land.
This Clown Determines Who Wins or Loses
Realms: The goddess of fortune, chance, destiny, and prophecy
Fun Fact: Even though her name is not among the more well-known Roman gods today, Fortuna was once widely worshipped in Italy
At the Olympic Games, the other deities don’t know what to make of Fortuna. She’s a little weird. Whenever a race is about to begin, or boxers line up to fight, she stands on a ball while holding a ship’s rudder and a cornucopia.
Fine, this girl’s a clown — her face paint makes that much clear. But her behavior isn’t purely an act to provide the crowd with entertainment at half time. She’s the one who sprinkles competitors with good or bad luck. In other words, Fortuna could give you the laurel crown or just as easily hand it over to the other guy.
She balances on a ball to show the precarious nature of chance. You can stay on top of things or fall flat on your face. The rudder symbolizes her control over destiny, steering it like a ship through the stormy seas of life. The cornucopia shows that she’s the giver of abundance — which could be the reason why some thought Fortuna was also a fertility goddess. You know, abundant crops and kids. Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t.
On top of all that, Fortuna was an oracle deity. People consulted her in various ways to get a handle on whatever disaster or blessing might’ve awaited them. Fortuna wasn’t some two-bit fortune teller, either. At Antium and Praeneste, this Roman goddess had two famous shrines that served as oracular seats.
The Athletes (And Their Assistants) Are Gone but Never Forgotten
The worshipping of the Roman pantheon lasted a long time. But the gods stopped dwelling in the people’s hearts and minds when the Roman Empire crumbled in the fifth century AD. Christianity grew stronger and believers eventually extended to emperors.
One of them, Theodosius I, put his shoulder behind the effort to rid the Romans of their gods. He closed the temples, banned any admiration for the old pantheon, and disbanded the Vestal Virgins. That last one is a little sad if you consider the fact that their order kept Vesta’s fire alive for almost a thousand years.
But oh, happy day — the most draconian efforts couldn’t wipe Roman mythology off the map. The legends of the gods and goddesses survived through the purge and the centuries that followed.
Even today, they have a strong influence on modern culture — especially in astronomy. Mars, Jupiter, Neptune, Venus, and Mercury all gave their names to planets in our solar system.
You haven’t met all the Roman gods and goddesses today. Plenty more swish around the internet, books, and even as characters in movies. Hopefully, their rich legends and lives have whetted your appetite to hunt down the rest — just imagine that you’re Diana with her bow. Go plonk arrows in a few gods out there! But if you accidentally kill one of them, then, uhm, you never received any hunting advice here.