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Interpretatio graeca is a Latin term for the common tendency of ancient Greek writers to equate foreign divinities to members of their own pantheon. Herodotus, for example, refers to the ancient Egyptian gods Amon, Osiris and Ptah as "Zeus", "Dionysus" and "Hephaestus", respectively.

Roman version

The equivalent Roman practice was called interpretatio romana. The first use of this phrase was by Tacitus in his Germania ( ch. 43), in which he reports on a sacred grove of the Naharvali, saying "Praesidet sacerdos muliebri ornatu, sed deos interpretatione Romana Castorem Pollucemque memorant" ('a priest presides in woman's dress, but in the interpretation of the Romans, they worship the gods Castor and Pollux'). Elsewhere ( ch. 9) he says that the chief gods of the ancient Germans were Hercules and Mercury—referring to Thor and Odin respectively.

Rome assumes the Greek gods

Roman culture owed much to the ancient Greeks. The Etruscansmarker had already incorporated some Greek gods and used a version of the Greek alphabet. The Greek colonies founded in southern Italy from the eighth century BCE contributed much to the young city, and later, when the Romans conquered the Hellenistic world, they adopted a new wave of Greek beliefs and practices. (See Romans and Greeks for details.) Where the two mythologies shared an origin, the interpretations came naturally; Zeus and Jupiter, for example, were both derived from Dyeus of the Proto-Indo-European pantheon. Elsewhere the fit was less precise, and the Roman god might add attributes borrowed from the Greek, but remain distinct: Mars retained his Latin association with agriculture and fertility alongside his warlike attributes and, quite unlike the fearsome Greek Ares, was a benevolent and widely-revered cult figure.

Some Di Indigetes (native Roman gods), such as Janus and Terminus, had no Greek equivalent and so retained an independent tradition; a few, like Bona Dea, did the same despite sharing attributes with a Greek figure (in this case Artemis). Others, like the twelve assistants of Ceres, became mere adjuncts to imported Greek deities (here Demeter).

Rome and the gods of the empire

The Romans interpreted Celtic and Near Eastern gods as Roman deities with equal facility. Cernunnos and Lugh were identified with Mercury, Nodens to Mars as healer and protector, Sulis to Minerva, and the Anatolian storm god with his double-headed axe became Jupiter Dolichenus, a favorite cult figure among soldiers.

Even the Jewish invocation of Yahweh Sabaoth may have been identified with Sabazius.

Where the Romans had no equivalent figure, they did not hesitate to add foreign deities to their pantheon. Sometimes they would change the name: when Cybele was adopted from the Phrygians (the Greeks had previously interpreted her as Rhea), she was called Magna Mater deorum Idaea. Sometimes they would not: Apollo was called Apollo in both Greek and Latin.

Greco-Roman equivalences

Roman mythology was strongly influenced by Greek mythology and Etruscan mythology. The following is a list of most credited cult equivalences between the respective systems. Note however that many mythographers dismiss both the equivalences made in ancient times and those proposed by modern scholars.

Greek Greek (Anglicized) Roman Roman (Anglicized) Etruscan
Άδωνις Adonis     Atunis
Αμφιτρίτη Amphitrite Salacia    
Aνάγκη Ananke Necessitas    
Άνεμοι Anemoi Venti Winds  
Aφροδίτη Aphrodite Venus   Turan
Απόλλων (Apollōn) /
Φοίβος (Phoibos)
Apollo / Phoebus Apollo / Phoebus   Aplu
Άρης Ares Mars   Maris
Άρτεμις Artemis Diana   Artume
Ασκληπιός (Asklēpios) Asclepius Aesculapius / Vejovis    
Αθηνά Athena / Athene Minerva   Menrva
Άτροπος Atropos Morta   Leinth
Βορέας Boreas Aquilo / Aquilon   Andas
Χάριτες (Kharites) Charites Gratiae Graces  
Χάρων (Kharōn) Charon Charon   Charun
Χλωρίς (Khlōris) Chloris Flora    
Κλωθώ (Klōthō) Clotho Nona    
Κρόνος (Kronos) Cronus Saturnus Saturn  
Κυβέλη (Kubelē) Cybele Magna Mater    
Δημήτηρ Demeter Ceres    
Διόνυσος (Diōnusos) /
Βάκχος (Bakkhos)
Dionysus / Bacchus Liber / Bacchus   Fufluns
Ενυώ Enyo Bellona    
Ηώς Eos Aurora / Matuta Dawn Thesan
Ερινύες Erinyes Dirae / Furiae Furies  
Έρις Eris Discordia    
Έρως Eros Cupido / Amor Cupid  
Εύρος (Euros) Eurus Vulturnus    
Γαία Gaia / Gaea Terra / Tellus    
  Galanthis / Galinthias Galinthis    
Άδης (Hadēs) /
Πλούτων (Plouton)
Hades / Pluto Dis Pater / Pluto / Orcus   Aita
Ήβη Hebe Iuventas Juventas  
Εκάτη (Hekatē) Hecate Trivia    
Ήλιος Helios Sol   Aplu
Ήφαιστος (Hḗphaistos) Hephaestus Vulcanus Vulcan Sethlans
Ήρα Hera Iuno Juno Uni
Ηρακλής (Hēraklē̂s) Heracles Hercules   Hercle
Ερμής Hermes Mercurius Mercury Turms
Έσπερος (Hesperos) Hesperus Vesper    
Εστία Hestia Vesta    
Υγεία Hygeia Salus    
Ύπνος Hypnos Somnus Sleep  
Ειρήνη (Eirēnē) Irene Pax Peace  
    Ianus Janus Ani
Λάχεσις (Lakhesis) Lachesis Decima    
Λητώ Leto Latona    
Μοίραι (Moirai) Moirae / Moerae Parcae / Fatae Fates  
Μούσαι (Mousai) Musae Camenae Muses  
Νίκη Nike Victoria Victory  
Νότος (Notos) Notus Auster    
Νυξ (Nuks) Nyx Nox Night  
Οδυσσεύς Odysseus Ulixes / Ulysses   Uthuze
Παλαίμων (Palaimōn) Palaemon Portunes    
Πάν Pan Faunus    
      Silvanus Selvans
Περσεφόνη Persephone Proserpina    
Φήμη Pheme Fama Fame/Rumor  
Φωσφόρος (Phōsphoros) Phosphorus Vesper    
Ποσειδών Poseidon Neptunus Neptune Nethuns
Πρίαπος (Priapos) Priapus Mutinus Mutunus    
Ρέα Rhea Magna Mater / Ops
(See Cybele, above)
Σάτυροι (Saturoi) / Πάνες Satyrs / Panes
(See Pan, above)
Fauni Fauns  
Σελήνη Selene Luna    
Σεμέλη Semele Stimula   Semla
Θάνατος Thanatos Mors Death Leinth, Charun
Θέμις Themis Iustitia Justice  
Τύχη (Tukhe) Tyche Fortuna Fortune Nortia
Ουρανός (Ouranos) Uranus Caelus    
    Vertumnus   Voltumna
Ζέφυρος (Zephuros) Zephyrus / Zephyr Favonius    
Ζεύς Zeus Iuppiter / Iovis Jupiter / Jove Tinia

Interpretatio germanica

Interpretatio germanica is the practice of identifying Roman gods with the names of Germanic deities by the Germanic peoples. According to Rudolf Simek, this occurred around the 1st century CE when both cultures came into closer contact, and the only reliable insight into interpretatio germanica can be found in the Germanic translations of the Roman names for the days of the week: Simek states that the problematic nature of interpretatio germanica is evident, and that divine attributes appear to have been the obvious factors for the correspondence between Jupiter and Thor, but for the other figures one must rely on speculation, and that far too little is known about what role the gods played in then-contemporary belief to be able to use their identification with particular Roman gods to trace their roles in later Norse mythology.

See also


  1. Simek (2007:74).


  • Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. D.S. Brewer. ISBN 0859915131

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