From its earliest days as a small town through the rule of Emperor Julian II and the Roman Empire, the religion of Rome stood for the best in man, for Roman ideals and values. Religio Romana is the modern renewal of this proud and honourable tradition. Religio Romana is "dedicated to the study and preservation of the ancient Roman culture and religion". It is a reflection of the tolerance, purity, and honour that marked the true Roman religion.
The principle shrine was located in the peristylium (a colonnaded garden open to the sky located in the centre of the house), but other shrines could be located in the atrium or in any room of the house or villa. The most important of all the spirits was Vesta, the goddess of the hearth and home. Vesta's shrine was located by the hearth.
Another shrine would be for the house spirits. They looked after the family and household, which included the slaves.
Meanwhile, the state priests to the individual official state gods, performed specific rites in the grand temples of Rome on behave of the population of Rome, Italy, and the Empire. The exception was the goddess Vesta and her sacred Vestal Virgins whose duty was to tend the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta.
Roman religion was under the governance of the College of Pontiffs, which was lead by the Pontifex Maximus. The Flamens supervised the service of the various gods, while the augurs were entrusted with the taking of the auspices, which interrupted the desires of the gods.
Jupiter Optimus Maximus et Soter
or Iupiter (In Latin the name is spelt and pronounced as an "i" and not a "j") "The Supreme, The Great, and Our Saviour," is the King of the Gods, and the most revered of all the gods. As the Sky God, Jupiter controls the forces of nature, notably the weather. Jupiter was the patron of the City of Rome and lord protector of the Roman Empire. Jupiter is also known commonly as Jove and his symbol is the thunderbolt.
Jupiter was one of the Capitoline Triad along with Juno and Minerva, and He was worshipped in the main sanctuary of the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus on the Capitoline Hill, overlooking the Forum Romanum. The Temple of Jupiter was the most important temple in Rome. State functions took place there as well as worship and other state religious practices.
Apollo is one of the most powerful and beloved of the Olympian gods. Apollo is most correctly depicted as a winsome, handsome, beardless teenager or young man- the very essence of purity and eternal youth. He was the most adored god of ancient Greece and later, of Rome. Apollo was intrinsically the god of many of the higher cultural aspects that mark the noble qualities of civilisation. As such, besides being an ancient war god, Apollo came to be the overseer of the fine arts, music, philosophy, law, medical healing and physicians, truth, knowledge and enlightenment, light, poetry, prophecy, and god-protector of man from evil.
Although a Greek god, Apollo was readily accepted by Roman society. His first temple in Rome, Temple of Apollo Sosianus, dates from 430s BCE and was on the Flaminian fields. But as a "foreign" god he could not have a temple near the Forum Romanum and was at first not considered a part of the official state religion.
That changed under Emperor Augustus Caesar. Augustus considered himself under the protection of Apollo, as evidenced by several of Augustus' military victories. Apollo's status was thus elevated and he became one of the most important and powerful gods in Rome.
Augustus built a magnificent temple to his patron god, Apollo on the Palatine Hill; by its location inside the pomerium (the ancient border of the city) Augustus effectively elevated Apollo to the Roman pantheon. He dedicated the temple in 28 BCE. Within the grand ivory doors of the Temple of Apollo Palatinus (of the Palatine Apollo) stood a large collection of some of the most magnificent statues in the Rome world. This included the famous statue of Apollo Citharoedus (Apollo with his cithara or lyre), that is believed to be by Scopas and most likely from the Temple of Apollo in Attica; Timotheo's statue of Diana; Cephisodotus' statue of Latona; and many more fine works of art.
The temple also contained an imposing library that also contained notable statuary and other works of art. Augustus' residence was next to the temple and there was a private walkway from Augustus' residence directly to the terrace of the temple.
Diana is an ancient goddess believed to predate Rome. Diana is the Goddess of the Moon, wild beasts, the hunt, and the countryside. She is associated with the woodlands where she talks to and interacts with the wild animals. Oak groves are sacred to the goddess. Diana was also seen as a protector of women during childbirth. The goddess was held in high esteem and with great reverence; She was patroness of plebeians, the Roman working-class citizens. Diana's temples provided asylum to escaped slaves. Her primary temple in Rome was located on the Aventine Hill, outside the boundary of the original city, indicating a lack of full official recognition, or it may have been located outside the boundary of the original city specifically to show that the goddess is common to all people and not just Romans.
Diana had a large following in Roman England; and perhaps her largest temple in Europe was in London, on the land presently occupied by St. Paul's Cathedral.
Unlike most other Roman gods, Bacchus is the very same as the Greek god, Dionysus, brother of Apollo. I will refer to this god as Dionysus. Dionysus is the god of wine and wine production; obviously, a very popular god in Rome, indeed. He is also the god of ritual frenzy, fertility, the theatre, religious ecstasy, and epiphany. Dionysus is the protector god of those that do not conform to the standards of conventional society.
He was most significantly known by the epithet, Eleutherios (the liberator), that refers to the wine, music, and passionate dance that freed his followers from self-consciousness and oppressive social restraints. Dionysus is that which is adventurous and enjoyable but unsafe, dangerous, unexpected, and the unforeseeable actions of the gods. Ultimately, Dionysus is the guardian of personal freedom. He had many local cults that were very active in overindulging in wild parties with wine, dance, and sex.
The Dionysian cults were periodically condemned as violating public morals by elected Censors and thus periodically banned by the Roman Senate. But Censors held office for 18 months out of every five years, so like the similarly expelled fortune-tellers, assorted mystics, and other less desirables, Dionysian cult leaders would inevitably return after the Censor left office.
Bacchus is the name for Dionysus adopted by the Romans; it comes from the word, bakkheia, or frenzy, a reference to his cult's wild activities. Dionysus is typically seen as a youthful, sensuous, androgynous male; and has been described as a womanly man-child. Dionysus is always depicted with grapes and often with a cup of wine. He is the youngest of the gods in both the Greek and Roman pantheons. As with most of Greek and Roman society, all the gods and goddesses were bi-sexual.
Dionysusis had many colourful epithets, including: Acratophorus (the giver of unmixed wine- meaning wine without water), Adoneus (ruler, of Latin cults), Enorches (with balls), Pseudanor (false man, in reference to his feminine nature), Oeneus (god of the wine press), and Lyaeus (he who unties, meaning to untie from anxiety), among others.
Dionysus is credited as the driving force behind the growth of Greek theatre.
Mars, in his capacity as Mars the Avenger, Mars was the god of war and the second most important god in the Roman pantheon. Mars was protector of Rome and the Roman frontiers. Farmers often served as infantry, especially in the period of the Old Republic, so Mars was also one of the gods of agriculture.
Sister of Jupiter, Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, home, and domestic tranquillity, and she was a protector of Rome. It was thought that she literally "kept the home fires burning". She was the most important Roman goddess.
Vesta's cloistered order, the Vestal Virgins where sworn to celibacy for a period of 30 years. The Vestal Virgins, as guardians of the perpetual flame at the public Hearth of Rome, had to carry out sacred rites including their primary duty of keeping Vesta's sacred flame constantly burning. The sacred hearth was located in the atrium of the Temple of Vesta, by the Forum Romanum at the foot of the Palatine Hill.
As the wife and sister of Jupiter, Juno Regina was the supreme goddess of the Roman Pantheon and Her temple was on Esquiline Hill. Juno embodied all of the high virtues of the Roman matron and was the goddess of women; as Juno Lucina she was the goddess of fertility and childbirth.
Juno was one of the Capitoline Triad along with Jupiter and Minerva, and she was worshipped in the left chapel within the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
The goddess of wisdom, strategy, commerce, craftsmen and their guilds, education, and magic. As Minerva Medica, she was the goddess of medical doctors.
Minerva was one of the Capitoline Triad along with Jupiter and Juno, and she was worshipped in the right chapel within the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.
The goddess of fertility, love, and beauty, Venus was also a nature goddess especially associated with spring. In her capacity as Venus Felix (Venus, the lucky), she brought good fortune. As Venus Victrix (Venus, the Victor), she brought military victory. As Venus Verticordia (Venus, the changer of hearts), she was the protector of feminine chastity. As Venus Genetrix (Venus, the mother), she was revered as the ancestor and founder of the Roman people. Julius Caesar believed her to be his ancestor. He built a temple to Venus on the Capitoline Hill that Caesar dedicated during his triumph celebration on September 26, 46 BCE. The Temple of Venus on Capitoline Hill was reserved for the aristocratic class.
Brother of Jupiter and Pluto, Neptune was the progenitor god of the Faliscans, an ancient Latin people. As Neptune Oceanus (Neptune of the sea), he was the god of the high seas, of seafaring, inland streams, and of naval military victories. However, ironically, he was not especially popular among Roman sailors.
Neptune is the god of horses and is credited with giving the first horses to man. Horse racing was extremely popular in ancient Rome and as Neptune Equester (Neptune, the horseback rider), he was far better known among common Roman citizens as the highly regarded patron of horse-racing.
Neptune had two temples in Rome: the first was near the Circus Flaminius race track that had the famous maritime sculpture by Scopas Minor, later destroyed by the Christians, and the Basilica Neptuni complex in the southern part of the Campus Martius between the Pantheon and the baths.
Neptune is usually depicted on the open sea seated while holding his trident spear, surfing on a huge sea shell pulled by either horses or mythical seahorse-type creatures (Hippocamps) and at times accompanied by dolphins, which were sacred to Neptune, and various nudes, other gods, angels, and cherubs.
Ceres, the Earth Goddess, is the goddess of agriculture and abundance; she was also the goddess of fertility and motherly relationships- especially the protection of girls in transition to womanhood. She was celebrated by women in various secret rituals in the month of May, but no details have survived. Ceres was helped in her duties as goddess of agriculture by 12 minor gods each responsible for a specific task in farming. Ceres was patron and protector of the plebeians (the working class). Her temple in Rome was near the Circus Maximus on Aventine Hill; and it was considered the centre for the working class. Ceres' symbol is a bundle of grain that she carries, and the horn of plenty.
Mercury was the messenger of the gods, and the god of business, tradesmen, poetry, boundaries, and travellers. Mercury is often depicted with wings on his sandals and his helmet to facilitate speedy delivery. The Temple of Mercury in Rome was in the Circus Maximus, between the Aventine and Palatine Hills. It's location was seen as fitting for a god of swift travel and of commerce, since the Circus Maximus was a major commercial centre.
Saturn, considered a lesser god, was the father of Jupiter. He was the old Sun God and god of wealth and agriculture. Saturday was named after him and is his Holy Day. The Temple of Saturn was located on the Forum Romanum next to the Capitoline Hill. The Temple housed the government treasury.
Saturn is best known for the Roman festival of light, Saturnalia (see article), which took place yearly, usually beginning on the 17th of December, and ending on the the winter solstice, usually 25th of December on the older Julian calendar.
It is commonly believed by many scholars that Christianity "absconded" with many Saturnian practices and customs and even the date for the end of the holiday, December 25th, for their own new December Christ Mass holiday. After they took it all, the Roman bishops then forbade the observance of Saturnalia. Convenient.
There are, of course, many others gods and goddesses. These are only a few of the more important.