Jupiter (mythology)


Jupiter (genitive Iovis, German more rarely Jovis) is the name of the supreme deity of the Roman religion. An older form of the name is Diēspiter. He was often referred to as Iuppiter Optimus Maximus (“best and greatest Jupiter”), usually abbreviated to IOM in inscriptions. Jupiter corresponds to the Greek “sky father” Zeus.

The older name Diēspiter is composed of dieis (Latin dies “day”) and pater (Latin “father”) (compare also old Indian Dyaus pitar) and means therefore “sky father”. The iu in Iuppiter and the name Zeus go back to the same Indo-European root *diu for “bright”, which denotes the main characteristic of Jupiter (or Zeus) as an ancient sky and weather god, who was also understood as the bringer of light. Accordingly, a secondary meaning of Iuppiter is also simply “sky” or “air”; sub Iove accordingly means “under open sky” or “in the open air”.

The pronunciation changed around the birth of Christ from The name is mainly abbreviated on Roman inscriptions; if it was written out, it was written ivpiter or ivppiter in antiquity, depending on the pronunciation.

In the course of the 19th century, the original spelling also spread in German classical philology, with the result that in scientific texts, “Iuppiter” was increasingly written in addition to “Jupiter”. The change of terminology was not followed by Germanic antiquity; therefore, for example, in German-language prehistoric works, “Jupiter” continues to be written predominantly. In teaching, in Latin dictionaries, general lexicons and mythological literature, in popular texts, etc., German continues to write “Jupiter”; this is also the spelling suggested, for example, by the Duden.


Like many other ancient gods, Jupiter was worshipped with various epithets, each of which emphasized certain aspects or was associated with individual localities or appropriated local gods. As Jupiter Latiaris he was worshipped by the Latins as the patron deity of their federation of cities, which was dominated by Rome only later; his temple was therefore located outside Rome in the Alban Hills.As state god he was Jupiter Optimus Maximus, as supreme god in the Capitoline Triad worshipped in the temple on the Capitol he was Jupiter Capitolinus.

Other epithets go back to ancient cults, such as Iupiter Feretrius (“the noble loot bearer”) or Iupiter Stator (“who makes the enemies stop”). Others gained importance only in the imperial period, such as the cult of Jupiter Tonans (“the thunderer”), which is actually a transcription of the Greek Zeus Bronton. As Jupiter Pluvius (“the raining one”) he was invoked to end summer droughts.

Holidays and calendar

The Ides of each month, which originally corresponded to the full moon, that is, such days when there was no complete darkness, were feriae Iovis “feast days of Jupiter”. On this day, a white sheep dedicated to him was led in solemn procession along the Via Sacra to the Capitol and sacrificed there.The foundation days of the temples of Jupiter also fell on the Ides:

The great feasts dedicated to Jupiter, the epula Iovis, also took place on the Ides, one on September 13 and another on November 13.

Other festivals dedicated to Jupiter were the wine festivals, the two Vinalia (Vinalia Priora on April 23 and Vinalia Rustica on August 19) and probably also the Meditrinalia on October 11. The grape harvest, which began at varying times depending on the ripeness of the grapes, was also inaugurated with the sacrifice of a lamb by the Fleming Dialis, the state priest of Jupiter.

After Jupiter the fifth (today fourth) day of the week was called Iovis dies, hence Italian giovedi, and French jeudi. The Teutons equated it with Donar, Scandinavian Thor, hence German Donnerstag.

Moreover, the planet Jupiter corresponded to him.

Sanctuaries and individual cults

Undoubtedly the most important sanctuary of Jupiter and the seat of the state cult was located on the Capitol. The northern, higher peak of the Capitol was called arx (“castle”). Here ended the processional Via sacra and here was the observation place of the augurs, from which they followed the flight of the birds.

On the southern summit was the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, the oldest sanctuary of the god in the city, according to legend donated by Romulus himself.The temple did not contain a cult image; but here was kept a sacred stone, the so-called silex or lapis. Both words mean “stone”, silex rather means the hard stone, lapis rather the bigger stone or boulder.If the silex was a stone knife used for sacrificial purposes, the only possible materials are flint and obsidian. However, there is no clarity about the role of the silex in the sacrifice, and its nature is disputed.After this stone, the god of the sanctuary was also called Jupiter Lapis (“Jupiter of the stone”).An oath to this god was particularly solemn and was used in international agreements.

The name Jupiter Feretrius (“the noble booty bearer”) comes from the fact that in this temple the spolia opima, the “rich booty”, was dedicated to the god. The spolia opima was the armor of an enemy army commander, taken from him in battle by a Roman army commander. The best part of this rich booty, the prima spolia, was dedicated to Jupiter Feretrius. It is clear that due to the high requirements for the acquisition of the consecration gifts, such a consecration occurred only a few times in the course of Roman history, the first time, according to the legend, by the founder of the sanctuary, Romulus himself.

Apart from the venerable temple of Jupiter Feretrius, the actual main temple of Jupiter in his capacity as Roman state god was located on the southern summit, more precisely the temple of the Capitoline Triad, consisting of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno and Minerva. According to legend, this temple, the Capitolium of Rome, was still largely built by Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, but it was inaugurated in the first year of the Roman Republic on September 13, 509 BC.

In the temple, the cult images of the Triad were each in their own cella. The cella of Jupiter Optimus Maximus was in the center, Juno on the left and Minerva on the right. In addition, there were other cult images, especially those of gods closely associated with Jupiter, such as Summanus. On the roof, as an acroterion, was an image of Jupiter steering a quadriga.

The Capitolium had been burned down or destroyed several times in the course of history, but was always rebuilt on the same foundations.

Another cult was Jupiter Fulgur (“Jupiter Lightning”) with sanctuary on Campus Martius, where Jupiter was worshipped in the form of lightning. To him were sacred the Bidentalia, the places where lightning struck the earth (lightning marks). If this happened on public ground, an expiatory sacrifice was made on the spot and the place was enclosed with a so-called puteal, a circular wall that was supposed to prevent anyone from touching or stepping on the ground that had been scorched by lightning and thus made sacred. A distinction was made between lightning that struck during the day and lightning that struck at night. Only the lightning strikes during the day were attributed to Jupiter himself, while those at night were attributed to a deity closely associated with him named Summanus. The inscriptions of the lightning graves read accordingly fulgur Dium conditum (approximately “here Jupiter has

Linked to Jupiter Fulgur is the legend of Jupiter Elicius (“Jupiter drawn down”). According to this, King Numa Pompilius, with the support of the nymph Egeria and the gods Picus and Faunus, succeeded in “drawing down” Jupiter from heaven (i.e., causing a magical divine compulsion) and in making him reveal to Numa the means and rites of lightning atonement. Moreover, Numa received from Jupiter at that time the ancile, ancient shields and symbols of Roman claim to power. The sanctuary of Jupiter Elicius was located on the Aventine, which is also the setting of the legend.

Jupiter Tonans (“thundering Jupiter”) is to be distinguished from Jupiter Fulgur. The cult dates from Augustan times and goes back to an event in which Augustus was almost struck dead by lightning during a campaign against the Cantabrians. In gratitude, he vowed a temple to Jupiter on the Capitol. This temple, on the southern hill of the Capitol, was particularly elaborate, with walls of marble ashlars and rich pictorial decoration. The sanctuary was consecrated on September 1, 22 BC.

The furnishings are said to have been so magnificent that one night Jupiter Capitolinus appeared to Augustus in a dream and complained of being set back and neglected. Augustus then assured the supreme Jupiter that the god of the new temple was only the gatekeeper of the sanctuary. To make this relationship recognizable, Augustus then had bells (tintinnabula) placed on the roof of the temple of Jupiter tonans.

To Jupiter in his warlike role was dedicated the cult of Jupiter Stator (“the escape-restraining Jupiter” or “Jupiter the preserver”). This god had two temples in Rome. One was located at the Porta Mugionia on the north side of the Palatine. According to the legend, it also went back to Romulus, in fact it was vowed by Marcus Atilius Regulus in 294 BC during the Third Samnite War and built a little later. Another temple of Jupiter Stator was built by Quintus Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus after his triumph in 146 BC near the Circus Flaminius.

Similar in function to Jupiter Stator is Jupiter Victor (“the Victor”), whose temple was also voted by Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus in the Samnite War. The temple was probably located on the Quirinal. Other military-oriented Jupiter cults were dedicated to Jupiter Invictus (“unconquered Jupiter”) and to Jupiter Propugnator (“the fighter”).

Syncretic Jupiter Cults

In Roman Upper Germania, which was also populated by Celts, the cult of Jupiter was cultivated with the so-called Jupiter giant columns, and the Celtic sky god Taranis was also worshipped.

On today”s Gellért Hill in Budapest (Aquincum), which the Romans probably called Mons Teutanus, there was a late Celtic oppidum of the Eraviscians, who worshipped Teutates, a main Celtic deity, there under the name variation Teutanus. The cult was later adopted by the Aquincum population. From the 2nd to the 3rd century A.D., the Duoviri of the Colonia had an altar stone erected annually on June 11 to Teutanus, who was identified with the Iuppiter Optimus Maximus.

End of Jupiter worship

The cult of Jupiter, as part of the polytheism, was replaced by Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius I at the end of the 4th century AD.

Until the unfolding of the Interpretatio Romana, the gods of Roman mythology were understood primarily as personifications of natural events, with which hardly any mythical narratives were associated. Only with the equation of the Greek with the Roman gods were the narratives of Greek mythology also transferred, with Jupiter being equated with Zeus. In the course of the flourishing of Latin literature from the 3rd century BC onwards, myths and characteristics of Zeus were successively transferred to Jupiter, developed further and adapted to the developing Roman culture.

In the Stoic interpretation of the myth, Jupiter loses his individual traits perpetuated since the Homeric Zeus, from which a physical-allegorical interpretation develops, which superficially again connects to the Homeric Zeus.

Zeus myths

The father of Jupiter is Saturnus, the Kronos identified with the Greek father of Zeus, who devours his offspring and by a trick eats a stone instead of his youngest child. Jupiter”s birthplace, as with Zeus, is given as a cave on Mount Dikte, where in both cases he is raised by the milk of Amalthea. In the Vatican mythographer, Jupiter is first given into the care of a she-wolf, but she does not have enough milk, thus linking the Jupiter myth to the myth of Romulus and Remus. According to other authors, he is fed with honey by bees, for which he is said to have later given them the skill of begetting children without coitus. The humanist scholar Natale Conti states that he was fed by female bears.

In the succession myth already adopted by the Greeks from ancient Oriental tales, in which the succession of rule of the generations of gods is explained and which establishes the supremacy of Jupiter among the gods, the Olympian gods under his leadership defeat the Titans and successfully defend themselves against the giants” claims to power. In the Latin tradition, the individual Greek myths about the various power struggles are increasingly mixed, which is most obvious in the names of his opponents, when, on the one hand, Titan names are mentioned among the giants in descriptions of the Gigantomachy, and, on the other hand, originally independent figures such as the Aloads or Typhon are increasingly attributed to the giants.

In addition, parts of the succession struggle appear linked to other contexts, for example when Jupiter, already ruling as king of the gods, is attacked by the Titans because his jealous wife Juno has incited them to do so, or when he is assisted by the goddess Minerva in the fight against Typhon, during whose attack the other gods had fled to Egypt transformed as animals. In the Vatican mythographer, Titanomachy, Gigantomachy and Typhonomachy are finally merged into a single narrative, in which the giants and titans are driven away by the braying of the donkeys of the satyrs coming to their aid. At the sight of Typhon, all the gods also flee here except Jupiter. He finally defeats the attackers with the help of an eagle that carries its lightning bolts to the opponents.

Like the Greek Zeus, Jupiter has numerous love affairs in addition to his marriage to the jealous Juno, for which he mostly changes form and transforms himself into animals, people, gods or even things. For example, he abducts Europa in the form of a beautiful bull, approaches Leda in the form of a swan, or bull opposite, and Callisto, a virgin from Diana”s retinue, he shows himself as her mistress. For Alcmena he transforms himself into her husband Amphitryon, for Danae into golden rain, and to Aegina he shows himself in flame form. He also loves the beautiful youth Ganymedes, whom he steals from earth in the form of an eagle and transfers to Olympus as a cupbearer.

Jupiter”s transformation skills are not limited to himself, however; for example, he transforms the Curete Celmis into steel to give him immortality, his son Aeacus into a race of ants to protect him against Juno, and the Myrmidons into a race of ants.

Among the few myths not derived from Greek mythology are the local legends, which are much less common in Roman mythology. For example, the water of a spring praised for its healing power was used for many sacrifices; in the myth, the spring nymph Iuturna becomes Jupiter”s lover, who in return grants her immortality so that she can continue to watch over the spring.

On the basis of written sources already hardly a picture of Zeus can be made. The sparse descriptions of the outer appearance were only partly taken over by Roman writers to describe Jupiter, but also underwent modifications. While he holds and hurls lightning bolts in his right hand, he carries an ivory scepter in his left; his hair is so enormous that he shakes the earth, sea and starry sky with the mere shaking of it. He wears a beard from which, according to the Vatican mythographer, Minerva is born. As clothes he wears a golden tunica, which is the model for the tunicae of Roman triumphators.


In the Stoic interpretation, Jupiter loses his individual traits inherited from Greek mythology. Jupiter is understood as a deity that manifests itself equally in all parts of the world and is only designated differently depending on the manifestation; the other gods are thus only parts of Jupiter adapted to their respective tasks. Thus, for example, Juno represents the air, Diana the earth and the part designated as “Jupiter” the ether.

His attributes are a bundle of lightning bolts in his hand and the eagle accompanying him as a sign of power; he is often depicted enthroned. His sacred tree is the oak, so Jupiter is occasionally depicted wearing an oak wreath. In the art of the 16th to 18th centuries he symbolizes fire in the group of the four elements.


  1. Jupiter (Mythologie)
  2. Jupiter (mythology)