Difference between Greek and Roman Gods
By Theydiffer - July 23, 2016

Everyone has heard the names of some ancient gods at least in movies if not in novels or textbooks. But do you know what the connection between them is? And how much do you know about the Greek and Roman pantheons? This is a good chance to get some things straight and to learn, once and for all, what is the difference between Greek Gods and Roman Gods.

Definitions

Statues of Juno, Jupiter and Minerva

The Roman gods are the deities the people in the Ancient Roman Empire used to believe in. They are chronicled in the “Aeneid”, an epic poem written by Virgil about a man called Aeneas. Romans had a god protecting any human action and everyone’s main activity dictated the god to which they prayed: a soldier prayed to the god of war, a wife prayed to the goddess of the family, a sailor prayed to the god of the sea etc. These gods do not have human interpretations, but are manifestations, powerful and wise.

Although there are hundreds of Roman gods; these twelve are the best known:

  • Venus – goddess of love;
  • Apollo – the god of music and medicine;
  • Mars – god of war;
  • Diana – goddess of hunting;
  • Minerva – goddess of wisdom;
  • Ceres– goddess of agriculture;
  • Bacchus – god of wine;
  • Vulcan – god of fire, metalwork, stonemasonry;
  • Juno – Queen of Gods, goddess of marriage;
  • Mercury – the god of roads and trade, messenger of the gods;
  • Neptune – the god of the sea;
  • Jupiter – King of the Gods.

The Romans used to look to the acts of gods for examples of conduct. Each god was the most skilled at whatever he was entrusted with: Mars was an excellent warrior, Diana was a great huntress, Vulcan was a great mason etc. Mortals were supposed to ask the gods for help and guidance, to be hard working and abide by the laws of man and gods and they would be compensated in the afterlife.

Greek Gods vs Roman Gods

So what is the difference between Greek gods and Roman gods?

On the simple matter of which ones came first, the answer is simple as the Greek civilization is older than the Roman one, almost 1 millennia older. As far as how they came about is concerned, the Greek gods have an amazing background story: they believed that when the world was created, all the elements were embodied by the Primordial gods (time, earth, sea etc.); these gods gave birth to the Titans, who, in their turn, created the Olympians. These are the most popular gods of the Pantheon, probably because they are closer to recorded times than their predecessors.

Nearby, as the Roman civilization was growing, the Latin people came in contact with Greek civilization. Although the Latins had their own gods, the Greek Pantheon was more complex, so they adopted and adapted it, giving the equivalent gods their own names. Needless to say, in the Roman interpretation, the same gods have a more “godly” behavior and truly act like guardians and examples.

Also, since the Roman gods were inspired from the Greek gods, both civilizations have the same number of major gods: 12 – the round number of creation.

Another clear difference between the Greek gods and the Roman gods is that they first acted on account of a sort of entitlement, sprouting from their ancestry and their superiority to the mortal realm. This was something completely unattainable to the Greeks who had to live their lives and hope that the gods would not unleash their wrath on them because of quarrels among themselves. In contrast, the “newly” created Roman gods are examples and protectors. Their actions were to be followed and there was thought to be an afterlife for those leading good lives and becoming worthy to sit by the gods.

Strangely enough, it’s the Greeks who gave the gods a human form, even through their condition was out of the reach of mere mortals, whereas Romans saw their gods as powerful forces and aspired to become like them. Both Greek and Roman gods are represented in human form in art. Clearly the difference lies between inspiration and aspiration, as one can say that the stories of Greek gods were man inspired, whereas the stories of the Roman gods are of what man aspired to.

Comparison Chart

Greek godsRoman gods
Mentioned in the IliadMentioned in the Aeneid
Have a very long genealogy which can be traced all the way back to the creation of the worldWere inspired by the Greek pantheon
There were 12 major gods and their offspringThere were 12 major gods and their offspring
Had a human formWere powerful forces, but were also given a human form
Acted in their own interests, had quarrels among themselves, were less interested in the faith of humansActed as examples to be followed
Represented an unattainable conditionA life well lived could earn a spot by the side of the gods