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Jupiter (fresco from the House of the Dioscuri, Pompeii, ca. 79 AD)

Jupiter, a Roman god (fresco from the House of the Dioscuri, Pompeii, ca. 79 AD)

Who was Jupiter?

Jupiter was the chief of the gods for the Romans, the way Zeus was for the Greeks and Thor was for the Germans. In fact, they must have all originally been the same Indo-European sky god. Jupiter and Zeus really have the same name – Jupiter comes from Ju-pater, which means “Ju-the-father” in Latin. You can see that “Ju” sounds basically the same as “Zeus”. And all three of these gods use thunder and lightning as their weapons.

Who was Zeus?
Who were the Indo-Europeans?
Thunder and lightning
Roman religion
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Are other gods related to Zeus?

Europa and the bull, on an Athenian vase painted by the Berlin Painter

Europa and the bull, on an Athenian vase painted by the Berlin Painter

Jupiter might also be related to sky gods from further away: Marduk in Iraq, Ahura Mazda in Iran, and Varuna and Dyeus Pita in India. He’s probably related to the Norse god Tyr.

Who is Ahura Mazda?
What about Varuna?
Dyeus Pita and Indra
The Norse god Tyr
West Asian religion

Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva

The Romans often thought of Jupiter as part of a group of three gods, Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. They seem to have gotten this idea from the Etruscans. Many Etruscan and Roman temples were dedicated to all three of these gods together.

Who is Juno?
What is Minerva the god of?
Who were the Etruscans?

A bolt of lightning in the sky

A bolt of lightning in the sky: Jupiter, a Roman god

Jupiter and Zeus grow closer

As the Romans began to trade with the Greeks and then to conquer Greek land in Italy, and finally to conquer Greece itself, the Romans became more familiar with the culture of their Greek neighbors. They saw Zeus as another form of Jupiter, and so gradually Roman ideas about Jupiter got to be more and more like Greek ideas about Zeus. By the time of Augustus, about 30 BC, Roman poets like Ovid retold many stories about Zeus, like the story of Europa and the bull, as if they were also about Jupiter.

The Romans conquer Greece
Europa and the Bull

The planet Jupiter

Jupiter - a round red ball with stripes

Jupiter from space

Roman astronomers called the biggest planet “Jupiter“, because Greek astronomers had called it “Zeus” (which they did because earlier Babylonian astronomers called that planet “Marduk“). But the Romans kept on building temples to the three gods – Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

History of astronomy
Roman astronomy
The planet Jupiter

The end of the god Jupiter

By the 300s AD, most people were beginning to be Christians, who didn’t believe in Jupiter anymore. Even people who weren’t Christian were mostly worshipping newer gods: the Unconquered Sun, or Mithra, rather than Jupiter. Still people kept on calling the planet Jupiter.

Learn by doing: find Jupiter in the sky
More about Zeus
More about the Roman gods

Bibliography and further reading about Roman religion:


Zeus (Jupiter’s Greek counterpart)
More Roman religion
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