Jupiter, the Roman King of the Gods
In terms of Roman mythology, the god Jupiter is the king. In fact, he is often referred to as the king of the gods. He may not be the original creator of the mythological creatures that dominated tales and lore; that distinction belongs to his father Saturn. But Jupiter is the main man, a la Zeus in Greek mythology.
Mythology dominated religious culture in Rome up until the point in which Christianity took over. Until that happened, Jupiter was the main deity. He was the god of the sky and, along with the help of the kings of the time, established principles of the Roman religion.
His similarities with Zeus and the Greek myths didn’t stop with their connections with the sky and thunderbolts. Jupiter was brother to two other gods: Neptune and Pluto. Like the Greeks, each of these three gods controlled one realm of existence: the sky (Jupiter), the sea (Neptune), and the underworld (Pluto), with Jupiter being the most powerful.
Rome’s Religious King
The Romans didn’t quite use religion like we do today. They had a separate god for each and every task: a god of the harvest, a god of music, one of the hearth, one for wine and celebrations, etc. Jupiter’s power in the Roman culture was simply the most extensive.
He was the god who the people prayed to and honored the most. He was the one they wanted to please and the one whose wrath they feared. They named things after him, built relics and statues of him around their cities, and even swore oaths info office in his name.
Temples were constructed in his honor where citizens could make sacrifices to Jupiter. One of the biggest and best was Capitoline Hill in Rome. Generals paraded through the city to this temple after major victories. Libraries of important texts were kept inside. Everything was in honor of the city’s most prominent figure. As many religions today believe in the existence of just one god, the Romans believed quite the opposite, yet Jupiter was the main entity regardless.
Jupiter’s role in Roman religion gets quite detailed and changes with the changing state of the empire. At different points, competing sides claimed him as their source of justice and their reasoning for being right in pending conflicts. Just as monotheistic religions often cite god’s will in debates for one side or another, so too did Romans with Jupiter.
Just as societies advance, feelings surrounding Jupiter’s place in the culture did as well. As stated, he started out as king of the gods. That feeling rose mainly in Rome’s regal period, when the empire was ruled by kings. Emperors came to power with the belief that they were living gods or even descendants of Jupiter himself. As Rome became a republic, though, a transition was made about the way folks thought about Jupiter as well. He thus represented competing factions. On one hand, he was the picture of royal power and the people’s ultimate deity. On the other hand, Jupiter began to stand for what the old kingship now stood for: something bad and forbidden; worthy of punishment and scorn; abhorred.
The physical nature of Jupiter is one that folks often equate with Zeus or even the Christian god: a tall, white male with a flowing, white beard. He carries a staff or scepter, sits on a majestic throne, and is often flanked by an eagle. Again similar to the god of the old testament, Jupiter could strike fear into his followers. He often led through creating that fear. It helped that he always carried an endless supply of lightning bolts.
The religious aspects of Jupiter died away as the old religions did. However, his mythology and place in culture and lore live on even to this day (along with Zeus).
Jupiter was born from Saturn and was the supreme god. He was often referred to as Jupiter Optimus Maximus, which translates as the best and greatest. He was the father of the gods of Roman mythology. His jobs were many. Jupiter brought light and controlled the weather. He supplied protection during battle and gave victory to the winners. His presence was needed in times of war, but also during peace, where he kept order and supplied welfare. It was also thought that he was the god of heaven and not just the real-world sky above.
The Roman calendar held more holidays to Jupiter than anyone else. His name translates to Old Latin as “father.” Another phrasing of his name, Jove, is an extension of our day of the week Thursday. And obviously, we use his name in description of our largest planet today. That final point is derived from an extension of one of his epithets. Jupiter was often called all kinds of different terms for separate functions he served. One was Jupiter Caelestis, meaning heavenly or celestial. As the Romans spotted the planet Jupiter in the night sky, they named it after their god of the sky. The astronomical symbol for the planet became a lightning bolt, again representing the god. And the adjective “jovial,” from the root “jove,” means happy or friendly, for the astrological influence the Jupiter connotation is supposed to hold. There are numerous connections to be made.
Jupiter’s impact has been lasting to this day, throughout cultures that never spoke a word of him in a religious nature. It speaks to the massiveness of the Roman empire and society, as well as the ability to relate to what Jupiter represented for those people so long ago.
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