Roman God Neptune: Facts & Mythology

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  • 0:00 Neptune: God of the Sea & More
  • 0:40 Neptune & the Roman Pantheon
  • 2:04 Neptune & the…
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you'll explore the mythology of the Roman god Neptune, study the development of this deity in Roman culture, and test your understanding of Roman history and religion.

Neptune: God of the Sea and More

Neptune, the planet, does not have oceans. The Earth does, however, and the ancient people of Rome needed someone to grant them safe journeys across the vast seas.

Neptune was the Roman god of fresh water, the sea, and horses. He is one of the Roman gods that can be most closely associated with the Greek religion as he parallels the Greek god Poseidon. Just as Poseidon and his brothers (Zeus and Hades) ruled the sea, the heavens, and the underworld, respectively, in Greek mythology, so too did Neptune and his two brothers (Jupiter and Pluto) rule the same, respectively, in Roman mythology. As such, the worship of Neptune shows the influence of Greek culture on Roman religion.

Neptune and the Roman Pantheon

Rome had a polytheistic religion, meaning it worshipped multiple gods. Neptune was most likely originally a god of fresh water springs and rivers before becoming recognized as the god of the sea. This change might reflect Greek influence, where Poseidon had been worshipped as the god of the sea for quite some time. Before this, the Romans prayed to Portunes or Fortuna. Around the first century BCE, Neptune became associated with these gods of military victory, ports, and other things, and became paired with Salacia, the goddess of salt water. Neptune also became revered as a god of horse racing, which is definitely a direct influence from Greece where Poseidon was a god of horses and horse racing.

Neptune was one of the most revered deities of the Roman pantheon. Along with Mars, Janus, Saturn, and Jupiter, he was considered one of the ancestors of the Latin people who were directly responsible for Roman existence, culture, and civilization. Rome itself only had one temple to Neptune, a large basilica built on the popular public area called the Campus Martius around 31 BCE to celebrate a recent naval victory. The new basilica replaced an older temple of Neptune that was first constructed around 206 BCE. Neptune was one of only three gods to whom sacrificing a bull was acceptable, an indication that Neptune's favor directly impacted daily life.

Neptune and the Neptunalia Festival

Every Roman god was worshipped with offerings and celebrations. The more important the god, the larger the celebration. Neptune was honored with a great festival on July 23, a date that might reflect Neptune's original role as the god who brought fresh water during summer droughts. This festival was called Neptunalia.

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