Jupiter, King of the Gods

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In ancient Roman religion and mythology, Jupiter, also known as Jove, is the deity of the sky and thunder as well as the monarch of the gods.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

Up until Christianity overtook other major religions in the Empire, Jupiter served as the main deity of the Roman official religion during the Republican and Imperial eras. He bargains with Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, in Roman mythology to create Roman religious doctrines like offering or sacrifice.

The Romans thought that since they had honored Jupiter more than any other people, he had awarded them sovereignty. The foundation of the auspices, upon which the city’s connection with the gods hinged, was Jupiter. He represented the divine authority of Rome’s top positions, its internal structure, and its relationships with other countries. In the Republican and Imperial Capitols, he was shown wearing royal regalia and wearing the highest imperial and consular honors. On the annual Capitol feriae in September, Jupiter was honored and the consuls took their oaths of office in his honor. They offered the sacrifice of a white bull (bos mas) with golden horns to express gratitude for his assistance and to win his ongoing support. Triumphant generals made a similar sacrifice when they laid down their victory medals at the feet of Jupiter’s statue in the Capitol. According to some academics, Jupiter was embodied (or impersonated) by the triumphator during the triumphal procession.

Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) and members of the Imperial family offer sacrifice in gratitude for success against Germanic tribes
In appreciation for their victory over the Germanic tribes, Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161–180 AD) and members of the Imperial family give sacrifice. The Capitolium’s Temple of Jupiter is visible in the background (this is the only extant portrayal of this roman temple). Bas-relief from the Marcus Aurelius Arch in Rome, which is presently on display in the Capitoline Museum. (source)

Most people believe that Jupiter was once a sky god. The eagle, which was given preference over other birds in the taking of auspices and became one of the most popular symbols of the Roman army, is his principal sacred animal and his defining weapon. On Greek and Roman coins, the two symbols were frequently combined to depict the god as an eagle carrying a thunderbolt in its claws. As the sky-god, he served as a divine witness to oaths, the sacred trust that is essential to the administration of justice. On Capitoline Hill, where the citadel was situated, he concentrated much of his activities. Together with Juno and Minerva, he served as the Capitoline Triad‘s central state guardian. The oak served as his spiritual tree.

The stories and iconography of Zeus are adapted under the name Jupiter in Latin literature and Roman art, as Jupiter was seen by the Romans as the Greek Zeus’ equal. Jupiter was considered to be the brother of Neptune and Pluto, the Roman deities Poseidon and Hades, respectively, in the Greek-influenced tradition. The three spheres of the universe—the sky, the seas, and the underworld—were each ruled by a different deity. The Italic Diespiter, sometimes associated with Jupiter, was another sky god who appeared in the open air. Typically, Tinia is thought of as his Etruscan equivalent.

Jupiter, or Zeus, National Archaeological Museum, Naples (inv. no.9551). From Pompeii, House of the Dioscuri.
Jupiter, or Zeus, National Archaeological Museum, Naples (inv. no.9551). From Pompeii, House of the Dioscuri.

The patrician Flamen Dialis, who held the position of highest rank among the flamines, a college of fifteen priests in the official public religion of Rome, each of whom was committed to a certain deity, served Jupiter. Along with her other responsibilities, his wife, Flaminica Dialis, oversaw the sacrifice of a ram to Jupiter on each of the nundinae, or “market” days of a week-long calendar cycle. The pair had to get married according to the exclusive aristocratic rite confarreatio, which involved offering Jupiter Farreus a loaf of spelt bread (from far, “wheat, grain”).

In a statue at Praeneste that showed them being nursed by Fortuna Primigenia, Jupiter is shown as Juno’s twin. However, according to an inscription that is also from Praeneste, Fortuna Primigenia was Jupiter’s firstborn child. According to Jacqueline Champeaux, this paradox is the outcome of several various cultural and theological stages that came before them, during which a wave of influence from the Hellenic culture caused Fortuna to be transformed into the daughter of Jupiter. Zeus’ youth is a significant motif in Greek religion, art, and literature, whereas Jupiter’s childhood is only occasionally (or ambiguously) depicted.

Featured image: Sculpture of Jupiter in the Vatican


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