Neptune, the God of the Sea and Freshwaters

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Neptune or Neptunus is a deity of the Roman religion, god of freshwaters and sea in Roman mythology.

He is Poseidon’s equivalent in Greek mythology. He is Jupiter‘s and Pluto’s sibling in the Greek pantheon; they rule over the heavenly, terrestrial (including the underworld), and maritime domains. He was probably related to freshwater springs that existed before the sea. His wife is Salacia.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

The theology of a former freshwater god may have been reused by the Romans in their worship of Neptune since the Indo-Europeans lived inland and had limited direct experience with the sea. It has been hypothesized that Neptune has been confused with a Proto-Indo-European freshwater deity.

Centaur, Salacia and Neptune, antique fresco from Pompeii, Italy
Centaur, Salacia and Neptune, antique fresco from Pompeii, Italy (source)

Neptune is specifically identified by Servius as the deity of rivers, springs, and waterways; he may be comparable to the Irish god Nechtan, who rules over wells and rivers. Poseidon, who was largely a sea deity, was the opposite of this.

Hellenistic norms had an impact on how Neptune was portrayed in Roman mosaics, particularly those found in North Africa. He was revered by the Romans as Neptunus equestris, a horse deity, just like Poseidon (a patron of horse-racing).

Fountain of Neptune in Piazza del Mercato, Nettuno (Rome), before 1915
Fountain of Neptune in Piazza del Mercato, Nettuno (Rome), before 1915

The Roman celebration of Neptune, Neptunalia, took place during the height of summer (typically on July 23). Participants drank spring water and wine to cool off at Neptunalia, which was held under branch houses in the forests between the Tiber and the Via Salaria. In Rome, Neptune had just one temple. It dates to at least 206 BC and was located next to the Circus Flaminius, a Roman racetrack in the southern portion of the Campus Martius.

Only four Roman gods were acceptable candidates for a bull sacrifice, and Neptune was one of them. Apollo, Mars, and Jupiter were the other three, however Jupiter has also been seen with an offering of a red bull and a red-bull calf.

Nettuno - Piazza della Sgrillara
Nettuno – Piazza della Sgrillara, circa 1930 (source)

Featured image: ‘Neptune and Amphitrite’, by Peter Paul Rubens (c. 1614), a painting possibly destroyed in the Friedrichshain flak tower fire in Berlin, at the end of the Second World War (May 1945). The painting belonged to the collections of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum, now the Bode-Museum of Berlin.

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