In summary: Jupiter is the protecting God of the sky and weather, especially thunder, lightning, rain and storms; also associated with the swearing of oaths. Suitable offerings to Jupiter include gold (especially golden thunderbolt), silver, cinnamon, fruit (esp. grapes), traditional Roman cakes / pastries, incense and wine. Scroll down for more.
Jupiter – Lord of Heaven
Jupiter is without doubt one of the greatest of Gods. Essentially, he is the numen (divine spirit) of the sky, of weather, of thunder, lightning, and of rain. He is as awe-inspiring and powerful as he is frightening and potentially deadly. On the other hand, as the God of rain, he is inevitably also a major God of agriculture, if not of life itself (for rain is fundamental for human prosperity), and so from the start the Romans held him in especially high esteem and looked to him for divine protection. Thus, Jupiter sits at the apex of the Roman pantheon and was worshipped as one of the major protecting Gods of ancient Rome and her empire. The ancient epithets of Jupiter are especially revealing and may help us to understand both his divine essence and his importance. Some of the most common include:
- Iuppiter Capitolinus (of the Capitoline hill, one of the holy triad which protected Rome and her empire)
- Iuppiter Custos (guardian)
- Iuppiter Elicius (sender of rain)
- Iuppiter Fulgur (of lightning)
- Iuppiter Libertas (of liberty/freedom)
- Iuppiter Lucetius (light bringer)
- Iuppiter Optimus Maximus (best and greatest)
- Iuppiter Victor (victorious)
- Iuppiter Tonans (thunderer)
Jupiter and the history of Rome
From the start of the history of Rome we know that Jupiter was revered the most. The earliest Romans are thought to have been mostly farmers. Cato records that both before ploughing in the spring and before harvest time reverent offerings were made to Jupiter that he “will be gracious and merciful to me and my children, my house and my household” (Cato, On Agriculture 131-134). Jupiter’s agricultural aspect was also emphasised via the Vinalia – a wine harvest festival in honour of Jupiter and Venus. It is unsurprising that a society that had deep agrarian roots would cast the God of weather as the “best and greatest”, and so neither is it surprising that the priesthood of Jupiter, the flamen Dialis, was one of the most ancient and important priesthoods in Rome. However, by the time of the late republic, as Rome became ever more urban and militarily focused, this priesthood was left unfilled for over 70 years – a situation finally rectified by Augustus in his revival of traditional religion (Beard 1 at 130). Nonetheless, Jupiter retained his position at the apex of the Roman pantheon – for he was the foremost God in the Capitoline Triad, the primary protecting deities of Rome, whose massive temple dominated the city and was the site of the grandest public rituals, including the final rites and offerings made by a triumphant war general (Beard 1 at 39; North at 82; Rüpke at 238; Turcan at 102). Caesar famously described Jupiter as “the only king of Rome” and thus sent the laurel wreath (symbolising kingship) that Antony unsuccessfully attempted to crown him with to the Capitoline temple (Beard 2 at 5).
By the imperial era the custom of building a triple temple (Capitolium) to the three Gods of the State Triad – Jupiter, Juno and Minerva – spread outwards from Rome across the empire, becoming the classic mark of a Romanised community (Beard 2 at 99 and 244). Similarly, “Jupiter columns”, dedicated to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, were common in Romanised France and Germany, and throughout the empire Jupiter enjoyed great popularity in his own right, especially through identification with local Gods (Beard 1 at 345-346). One of the most popular of these was that of Jupiter Dolichenus – around whom a Syrian born mystery religion was based (Beard 2 at 295).
Meanwhile, back at Rome, even as late as the mid-fourth century CE, when other cults, especially those relating to Sol and Christ, had become widespread, Jupiter was named as one of the Gods most especially venerated in Rome (Beard 2 at 360). Tragically, Emperor Theodosius would bring an end to the age of Roman piety. For over a thousand years Jupiter held the highest place in Rome, and while this was so Rome prospered and achieved unparalleled glory. When Theodosius prohibited polytheistic worship in the 390s, and allowed Christians to desecrate Pagan sanctuaries, it was not even 20 years before Rome was sacked (in 410) and the fall of the western Roman empire essentially complete.
The attributes of Jupiter
Thus we see that while Jupiter is lord of the skies – hence the God of weather, especially life giving rains and terror invoking thunder and lightning. He is also a profoundly protecting deity. Cicero summed up Roman reverence for Jupiter thus:
“we call Jupiter best and greatest (Optimus Maximus), not because he makes us just, or temperate, or wise [we must look to ourselves for that], but because he gives us safety, and freedom from hurt, and riches, and abundant resources [Cicero, Nature of the Gods, Bk 3].”
When Cicero refers to the safety that Jupiter bestows he is not just talking about his role in ensuring bountiful harvests – he is referring to something broader, for he is also referring to a state of social order and harmony which is facilitated, inter alia, via Jupiter’s association with the rule of law, for Jupiter was intricately associated with oaths and thus the contracts, treaties and leagues which kept the peace.
“For the Romans, as for the Greeks, an oath … was the invocation of a divinity to guarantee that a promise would be fulfilled or that a statement was true. The divinity was to help the oath taker remain faithful to his obligations and punish any violation. Any God could be called upon, but the most powerful was Jupiter. Apuleius suggests that the most solemn oath was … ‘by Jupiter and by this stone’; the stone symbolised unbreakability …
The Romans thought of themselves as particularly scrupulous about oaths … According to Cicero no crime was punished more harshly than perjury … and Juvenal vividly portrays a perjurer fearful of divine retribution … [Gagarin at 85]”.
Divining Jupiter’s will
Another means by which Rome secured the protection of Jupiter was through divining his will:
“let the interpreters of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the public augures, look to the signs and the auspices … Let the priests <i.e. augures> perform inaugurations both for the vineyards and the orchards and the safety of the people; let those who act for the State whether in war or in public affairs, take note of the auspices and obey them. Let the priests foresee the Gods’ wrath and bend to it; let them take note of lightnings in defined regions of the sky; and maintain the city and the fields and the templa [regions in the sky and places on the earth that were perceived to be in a special relationship with the Gods – the closest English word is temples] freed and unimpeded. And what the augur has declared to be improper, forbidden, faulty or ill-omened, let those things be null and void [Cicero, cited by Beard 2 at 354].”
Livy gave a description of an augur “taking the auspices”:
“The augur seated himself on his left hand, with his head covered, and holding in his right hand a curved staff without any knots, which they called a “lituus.” After surveying the prospect over the city and surrounding country, he offered prayers and marked out the heavenly regions by an imaginary line from east to west; the southern he defined as “the right hand,” the northern as “the left hand.” He then fixed upon an object, as far as he could see, as a corresponding mark, and then transferring the lituus to his left hand, he laid his right upon Numa’s head [Numa is an early king of Rome and a founding father of the Religio Romana] and offered this prayer: ‘Father Jupiter, if it be heaven’s will that this Numa Pompilius, whose head I hold, should be king of Rome, do thou signify it to us by sure signs within those boundaries which I have traced.’ Then he described in the usual formula the augury which he desired should be sent. They were sent, and Numa being by them manifested to be king … [Livy, History of Rome, 1.18]”
Thus the ancient Romans cultivated the benevolent protection of mighty Jove, the thunderer, the bringer of rain, and mighty guardian.
“Mighty, surely, and solemn thanksgiving is due from us to the immortal deities; particularly to Jupiter … the ancient Guardian of this our city; for having now so often delivered us from … calamity … [Cicero, The Catiline Orations].”
- Beard, North and Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 1: A History, Cambridge University Press
- Beard, North and Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 2: A Sourcebook, Cambridge University Press
- Cato, On Agriculture, penelope.uchicago.edu
- Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, oll.libertyfund.org
- Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, Oxford World’s Classics
- Cicero, The Catiline Orations, oll.libertyfund.org
- Gagarin (Ed), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, Oxford University Press
- Kamm, The Romans, Routledge
- Livy, The History of Rome, University of Virginia Library
- North, Roman Religion, Oxford University Press
- Rupke, A Companion to Roman Religion, Wiley-Blackwell
- Shelton, As the Romans Did, Oxford University Press
- Tacitus, Germania, Oxford World’s Classics
- Turcan, The Gods of Ancient Rome, Routledge
The father of Gods and men
Because it is often becomes a defining point of Jupiter in contemporary comprehension of the Gods it is worth taking a moment to look at a common mythological depiction of Jupiter – that of Jupiter as the “father of Gods and men”. Cicero notes that it was the poets (most of whom were Hellenophiles) who called him this; as to Jupiter’s most traditional epithets amongst the Romans, Cicero tells us he was termed “best and greatest”, or rather, Optimus Maximus (Cicero, Nature of the Gods, Bk 2). Another common epithet for Jupiter was pater (father), indeed, Jupiter’s name is said to derive from the Latin for “helpful father” (iuvans pater) but pater was also a common epithet for many other male Gods, including Apollo, Dis Pater/Pluto, Janus, Mars, Neptune, Saturn and so on.
The tendency to refer to Jupiter as a great patriarchal God very obviously has its roots in cultural borrowings from Hellenism, wherein Zeus (Jupiter’s Hellenic form) is traditionally regarded as the king of the Olympian Gods. However, as contemporary scholar, Jörg Rüpke, notes:
“Roman polytheism was very different from Greek. The internal structure of the pantheon, for example, was far less clearly marked: the various deities were placed on a more or less equal footing, not in a clear hierarchy [Rüpke, The Religion of the Romans at 16].”
Thus the Hellenic based view of Jupiter/Zeus as the father-king of the Gods was not universal in the classical age.