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date: 30 January 2023

epithets, divine, Romanfree

epithets, divine, Romanfree

  • J. Linderski


  • Roman Myth and Religion

Each deity had its name, but this name could be hidden (cf. Brelich) or unknown (hence the formula in addresses ‘whether god or goddess’, sive deus, sive dea, cf. Alvar). If it was known, and could be uttered (as the hidden name could not), it was often accompanied by epithets and surnames (cognomina). They are either descriptions used informally or true names occurring in actual cult (attested in formulas, dedications, and names of temples), although strict distinction is not always possible. We can distinguish several classes of epithets and surnames: (1) Purely literary descriptions, e.g. of Mars by Virgil as harsh, wicked, untamed, savage, or powerful in arms, durus, impius, indomitus, saevus, armipotens (Ecl. 10. 40; G. 1. 511; Aen. 2. 440, 11. 153, 9. 717). (2) Popular descriptions derived either from a special feature (often iconographic) of a deity, e.g. Hercules Bullatus, ‘Wearing a bulla’ (an amulet worn by young boys), Puerinus ‘Youthful’, Pusillus, ‘Small’, (CIL 6. 302, 126; Mart. 3. 47. 4) (also Monolithus (‘Made of a single stone’) Silvanus (CIL 6. 675)), or from a story concerning a deity, e.g. Minerva Capta, ‘Captured’, because she was transported to Rome after the capture of Falerii Veteres in 241 bce (Ov. Fast. 3. 835–48). (3) Geographical and local descriptions, e.g. Bona Dea Subsaxana (Curiosum and Notitia Urbis Romae, 92, A. Nordh, Libellus de regionibus urbis Romae, 1949) because she had her shrine sub Saxo, ‘under the Rock’ (of the Aventine: Cic. Dom. 136–7; Ov. Fast. 5. 147–58), Diana Aventinensis, Tifatina, Fortuna Praenestina, or Venus Erycina, after their temples on the Aventine, in Tifata, Praeneste, and Eryx (Erice in Sicily), such descriptions often functioning (especially in dedications) as regular surnames, as was the case e.g. with Jupiter Dolichenus (‘of Doliche’ in Syria). (4) Descriptions indicating association with another deity attested in archaic prayers (comprecationes, Gell. NA 13. 23), e.g. Lua Saturni, Herie Iunonis, the second name standing in the genitive, thus indicating that the first deity was an emanation of the second or was acting in its sphere, cf. Moles Martis, ‘Oppressions’ of Mars. (5) Epithets referring to the civic standing of a deity: Jupiter Optimus Maximus, ‘the Best (and) the Greatest, Juno Regina, ‘the Queen’. (6) Most numerous are epithets describing the function of a deity or its particular manifestation: Apollo Medicus, ‘Healer’, Bona Dea Nutrix, ‘Nurse’, Jupiter Tonans, ‘Thunderer’, Stator, ‘Stayer’ (he stopped the advance of the enemy, Livy 1. 12. 3), Mars Ultor, ‘Avenger’ (he helped Augustus to avenge the murder of Caesar), Venus Verticordia, ‘Changer of Hearts’ (she averted women's minds from lust to chastity, Val. Max. 8. 15. 12). Deities for whom the most epithets are attested are Jupiter (over 100), Fortuna, Juno (over 40), Hercules, Mars, Venus (over 30), Lares, Mercurius, Silvanus (over 20). A complete list of Roman divine epithets is yet to be compiled.


  • C. F. H. Bruchmann, ed. Epitheta deorum quae apud poetas Graecos leguntur. Leipzig: Teubner, 1893.
  • J. B. Carter, De Deorum Romanorum cognominibus (1898).
  • J. B. Carter, Epitheta deorum quae apud poetas Latinos leguntur (1902);
  • A. Brelich, Die geheime Schutzgottheit von Rom (1949).
  • B. Gladigow, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 11 (1985), 1202 ff.
  • J. Alvar, Numen (1985) 236 ff.