The ancient Romans honored a wide variety of gods, and many are still worshipped today by Roman reconstruction groups. For the Romans, much like many other ancient cultures, the deities were a part of daily life, not merely something to be chatted with in times of need. Here are some of the best-known gods and goddesses of the ancient Romans.
Bacchus earned the title of "party god" among the ancient Romans. In fact, a drunken orgy is still called a bacchanalia, and for good reason. Devotees of Bacchus whipped themselves into a frenzy of intoxication, and in the spring Roman women attended secret ceremonies in his name. Bacchus was associated with fertility, wine and grapes, as well as sexual free-for-alls.
Bona Dea was a goddess of fertility. In an interesting paradox, she was also a goddess of chastity and virginity. Honored originally as an earth goddess, she was an agricultural deity, and was often invoked to protect the area from earthquakes. Unlike many Roman goddesses, Bona Dea seems to have been particularly honored by the lower social classes. Slaves and plebian women who were trying to conceive a child might make offerings to her in hopes of being granted a fertile womb.
Cupid was the Roman version of Eros, the god of love. As Eros, he was dark and full of lust and desire. Eventually, though, he evolved into the image we have today of a chubby cherub, flitting about zapping people with his arrows. In particular, he enjoyed matching people up with odd partners, and this eventually ended up being his own undoing.
Cybele, a mother goddess of Rome, was at the center of a rather bloody Phrygian cult, and was sometimes known as Magna Mater, or "great goddess." As part of their worship, priests performed mysterious rites in her honor. Of particular note was the sacrifice of a bull performed as part of an initiation into Cybele's cult.
Much like the Greek Artemis, Diana began as a goddess of the hunt who later evolved into a lunar goddess. Honored by the ancient Romans, Diana was a huntress, and stood as a guardian of the forest and of the animals who resided within. Despite her virginal status, Diana later became known as a protector of women in childbirth.
Janus was the god of new beginnings. He was associated with doors and gates, and the first steps of a journey. The month of January -- of course, falling at the beginning of the new year -- is named in his honor. He is often invoked together with Jupiter, and is considered a high-ranking god. Janus is associated with powers of prophecy, in addition to gates and doors.
Pomona was a Roman goddess who was the keeper of orchards and fruit trees. Unlike many other agricultural deities, Pomona is not associated with the harvest itself, but with the flourishing of fruit trees. She is usually portrayed bearing a cornucopia or a tray of blossoming fruit. She doesn’t appear to have had any Greek counterpart at all, and is uniquely Roman.
Venus was a goddess of love and beauty. Originally, she was believed to be associated with gardens and fruitfulness, but later took on all the aspects of Aphrodite from the Greek traditions. She is considered by many to be the ancestor of the Roman people, and was the lover of the god Vulcan. The cult of Venus was based in the city of Lavinium, and her temple there became the home of a festival known as the Vinalia Rustica.
Vesta was a Roman goddess who guarded virginity. Sacred to women, she was a protector of marital fidelity. Her festival, the Vestalia, was celebrated every year in June, and was a time in which the inner sanctum of the Vestal Temple was opened for all women to visit and make offerings to the goddess. The Vestales, or Vestal Virgins, guarded a sacred flame at the temple, and swore thirty-year vows of chastity.