When in Rome … part 3
This section will focus on general Roman based deities not previously covered and their importance to the Roman citizen.
A vast number of ancient Roman deities are known by name. The most familiar today are those the Romans identified with Greek counterparts, integrating Greek myths, iconography, and sometimes religious practices into Roman culture, including Latin literature, Roman art, and religious life as it was experienced throughout the Empire.
Janus is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, passages, and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. It is conventionally thought that the month of January is named for Janus. January 1 was new year day: the day was consecrated to Janus since it was the first of the new year and of the month which had an augural character as Romans believed the beginning of anything was an omen for the whole. Thus on that day it was customary to exchange cheerful words of good wishes, dates, figs and honey as a token of well-wishing and made gifts of coins called strenae.
Ceres was a goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships. In the ancient sacrum cereale a priest, probably the Flamen Cerialis, invoked Ceres along with twelve specialized, minor assistant-gods to secure divine help and protection at each stage of the grain cycle. She “bears the laws” of marriage, in the most solemn form of marriage, confarreatio, the bride and groom shared a cake made of far, the ancient wheat-type particularly associated with Ceres.
Sol was the solar deity introduced by Titus Tatius shortly after the foundation of Rome. Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”) was long thought to have been a foreign state-supported sun god introduced from either Emesa or Palmyra in Syria by the emperor Aurelian in 274. December 25 was commonly indicated as the date of the winter solstice, with the first detectable lengthening of daylight hours. The Romans held a festival on December 25 of Dies Natalis Invicti, “the birthday of the unconquered one.”
Diana was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and nature being associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. She was eventually equated with the Greek goddess Artemis, though she had an independent origin in Italy. Her name is rooted in Indoeuropean ‘d(e)y(e)w’, meaning bright sky or daylight, from which also derived the name of Vedic god Dyaus and the Latin deus, (god), dies, (day, daylight), and ” diurnal”, (daytime). Today there is a branch of Wicca (witchcraft/satan worship) named for her, which is characterized by an exclusive focus on the feminine aspect of the Divine. Diana’s name is also used as the third divine name in a Wiccan energy chant.
These are the gods and goddesses that prevail in the minds of the people outside of the Israelite tribes at the time of Yeshua and the Apostles. Why is this important you ask? The next volumes of this series will cover a brief overview the trials and travels of the Israelites from the Exodus to the 1st century.