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It seems that there are a great many similarities between Roman and Greek Mythology. In fact, many people consider them synonymous and only really differ in the names. For example:

  • Greek ⇄ Roman
  • Zeus ⇄ Jupiter
  • Poseidon ⇄ Neptune
  • Hades ⇄ Pluto
  • Hermes ⇄ Mercury

And many others.

My impression is that they are nearly identical, so I want to know when, why and how did the Roman people adopt the Greek Mythos? Did they bring it with them? Is there evidence that they believed something else first that evolved into a Greek-like mythos?

If this belief is false, please point out where the Roman mythology differs from the Greek and why that is significant enough to say they are different religions.

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    I've always head that it was due to Romans conquering Greece and the assimilation that followed. It'd be nice to know whether that's actually what it was though. – Dom Apr 29 '15 at 2:43
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    @Dom The Greeks and Romans shared the same lineage, including religious beliefs. Some of these gods may be considered identical because they literally are. – Semaphore Apr 29 '15 at 3:06
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    I was told they were quite willing to identify foreign deities as gods of their own pantheons, or include "foreign" deities into their own pantheons. This was one place where the Greek and Roman approach towards religion differed from the Jewish / Christian approach. – Vixen Populi Apr 29 '15 at 4:25
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    @VixenPopuli I do believe you are correct that Romans would have worshiped anything; made it easy to create the Imperial Cult. There is evidence that some temples were so open to any worship that some idols were to "unnamed gods" as a space filler if your god was not currently represented. Acts 17:22-23 is an interesting take on this, calling the people of Athens "very religious". – fredsbend Apr 29 '15 at 23:53
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Common Ancestry

Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans were descended from Proto-Indo-Europeans. While the two groups had diverged, they continued to share remnants of a common language and other features including mythology.

The most obvious sign of this is the chief deities of their respective pantheons: Zeus and Jupiter: both derive from the Proto-Indo-European sky deity *Dyēus ph2ter. Their counterparts could be found in various Indo-European mythologies, including the Germanic Týr, the Baltic Dievas, and the Vedic Dyaus Pita.

Thus, Greek and Roman mythologies exhibit great similarities due to them being cousins.


Syncretism

Furthermore, from the earliest period of the Republic, Roman religious belief had adopted Greek elements. This begun extremely early, and far predates the Roman conquest of Greece. One example is Apollo, who was directly adopted into the Roman pantheon. A temple for him was erected in Rome as early as 431 BC, long before the Romans conquered Greece in 141 BC.

One way in which Greek beliefs were transmitted to the early Romans was via the Etruscans. After their conquest by the Roman Republic, elements from the Etruscan belief system were integrated into classical Roman culture. In this way, the Etruscans bequeathed notable Greek influence on their own mythology to the Romans.

For instance, the Etruscan Menrva passed on influences from the Greek Athena to the Roman Minerva. Another example is Mercury, who inherited traits of the Greek Hermes from the Etruscan Turms. Both long predates the Roman mastery of Greece; Mercury had a temple on Aventine as early as 495 BC.

It is not accurate to say that Rome inherited Greek religions because she had "little mythology" when she conquered Greece, although Greek culture did went on to be highly influential on Rome ("Captive Greece captured her rude conqueror").

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    A great answer. +1. I have a bit of a concern on the conclusion that Dyeus was the progenitor to Zeus et al. In that wikipedia article it states "This deity is not directly attested; rather scholars have reconstructed this deity from the languages and cultures of later Indo-European peoples such as Greeks, Latins and Indo-Aryans." We have a bit of a circular problem if I ask where Roman mythology came from and the answer is "Dyeus", yet Dyeus is a reconstruction, not a directly observed deity. Do you think a question on this reconstruction would be on-topic? – fredsbend Apr 30 '15 at 0:11
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    Another point, before another brings it up: All your sources are wikipedia. That doesn't usually bother me, and it doesn't in this case, but I bet someone will complain. – fredsbend Apr 30 '15 at 0:11
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    Well, the reconstruction is based on Indo-European cultures all across Eurasia, from Britain to India. While it isn't directly attested because of how ancient a period we're dealing with here, I think the evidence that these disparate deities had a common origin is fairly solid. Linguistics.SE might be the place to go if you want to find out about more technical details of the reconstruction, though. – Semaphore Apr 30 '15 at 0:36
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    You forgot the greek colonies in Sicily, and south Italy, there long before the roman conquest. – anna v May 1 '15 at 11:30
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    According to legend, Rome was a Greek colony as well. Aeneas founded Rome after fleeing Troy. My source; the Aeneid. Of course this can be dismissed as Roman propaganda, but the Greeks planted colonies all round the Med. – RedSonja Jul 10 '15 at 13:19
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Romans had little mythology of their own before meeting with other civilizations. One of the many aspects they were lacking, cultural wise, that they borrowed from Greece (and other civilizations). Thus they inherited many (or the lot) of ancient greek mythology which led to their existing Gods getting many of the characteristics of the Ancient greek ones. They borrowed aspects of the Greek Pantheon before conquering Greece. The romans were never godless or religious-less but they borrowed and merged many of the Greek and Etruscan Gods into their own.

For example the cult of Sun was introduced in Rome after Aurelian's (around 260) successful campaigns in Syria. At that time the Asiatic divinities Mithras (that is to say, the Sun) and Ba'al were combined with Apollo and Helios into one Sol Invictus(Unconquered Sun), with conglomerated rites and compound attributes.

Here you can find some of the most major Gods of the Roman Pantheon and their origin.

  • I actually gave an example of the claim I make – John Demetriou Apr 30 '15 at 10:28
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    I did not claim that the sun god was created by greek mythology. I am claiming that they merged the Syrian God with (Mithras and Ba'al) with the Greek Sun gods (Helios and Apollo) – John Demetriou Apr 30 '15 at 10:37
  • Not when they conquered greece. When they first met with Greek people. there's a huge difference – John Demetriou Apr 30 '15 at 11:06
  • crap. sorry, that was supposed to be edited out. will do now – John Demetriou Apr 30 '15 at 11:16
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The Romans thought that the Greek gods needed some changes, and adopted them to settle religious feuds. The Romans took Athena's power as a war goddess and took that away, which made the Greeks extremely angry. Athena had been the patron of Athens.

The Greeks respected the might of the Romans, but were a bit angry with their changing the gods personalities. The Romans respected the Greek culture and ways of life, and almost mimicked the Greek ways. However, they frowned on the Trojan wars.

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