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Obscure Roman gods, and Happy Halloween!

I love ancient polytheism. A god for every occasion. If I ever start a cult based on the ancient Roman model, I will have T-shirts made up that say, “It's no stupider to worship Jupiter.” What we lack in faith I hope to make up in merchandising. Here are five of my favourite obscure ancient Roman deities:


Summanus was the god a night thunder. Not just thunder, but night thunder. It had to be a niche market. He at least had a temple, and a feast. On the 20th of June he was offered cakes. I don’t know whether that was to prevent night thunder, or to encourage more. He has been previously identified with Pluto, but that was probably only to boost his ego.


The goddess of the sewer system. Typically, a woman was in charge of keeping the place clean. Strangely, she was also the protector of matrimonial intercourse. I’m trying hard not to see the link.


The patron goddess of bees. I'm sure she had a lot free time to pursue other interests.


Cacus was originally a powerful fire god, but, fire gods being passé, was later demoted to giant. The only good thing about being a giant was that he could make cattle walk backwards. I like to think he performed this awesome party trick many times before Hercules killed him.


The god of cattle worms. Definitive proof that the Romans had a god for everything.

Summanus gets a very brief mention in Sub Rosa. Turns out that Valerius is as vague on the details as I am—what a surprise!

Of all the festivals in the calendar, the Festival of Summanus had always been one of my favourites. The ratio of prayer to party fell favourably on the side of party, and unlike Saturnalia I wasn’t obliged to nominate anybody Lord of Misrule and give the slaves the day off. The Festival of Summanus was primarily a private affair. There were no massive parades or bacchanalias in the streets, meaning that it was perfectly acceptable for a man to sit on a couch all day and get quietly drunk while pretending to enjoy the company of his family. I’d done my duty first thing in the morning by offering the god of night thunder a couple of cakes while I performed my devotions to the household lares, and the rest of the day was dedicated less officially to Bacchus.

And on a very unrelated note, Happy Halloween to everyone who celebrates! As an Aussie, trick or treating isn't really a thing here, but I've spent a few Halloweens in the US, and I'm a huge fan. Here's a picture of a Roman skeleton that feels appropriate to the season:

This funny looking guy is from a mosaic in the House of the Vestals in Pompeii. He's very probably an amusing memento mori, which translates as the rather bleak-sounding "Remember that you must die." But I think it's pretty clear, once you take a look at this guy and his wine jugs, that memento mori translates just as accurately to YOLO.

Happy Halloween. May all the skeletons you encounter come bearing wine!

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