It’s widely known that the gods found in Greek and Roman mythology are essentially the same, just using different names. That has led some people to believe that the Romans “stole” their gods from the Greeks. This isn’t precisely true, however.
The Romans didn’t necessarily steal the Greek gods. Instead, through a process known as religious syncretism, the Romans incorporated the tales and attributes of the Greek gods into their own religious beliefs when they invaded Greece in 146 BC and beyond.
Because the Romans’ religious beliefs and mythological tales weren’t nearly as advanced and developed as the Greeks’, the Romans decided to flesh out their stories of gods and goddesses with the already established beliefs of the Greeks. That led to the two pantheons being almost indistinguishable and is what this article will further explore.
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Why Did the Romans Steal Greek Gods?
Though “steal” isn’t the correct term, the Romans incorporated the Greek gods’ tales, attributes, and attitudes into the Roman pantheon because it was an easy way to establish a uniform system of beliefs into both cultures – the residing Greeks and the invading Romans.
Cultures have shared, sampled from, and borrowed parts of religious beliefs beneficial to their own cultures throughout history. For example, some historians speculate that the early Christians celebrated Christmas on December 25 because that was an important date for pagan worship. Others argue that it was an attempt to override pagan religion, rather than appease non-Christians.
History101 summarizes it best by saying,
“When the Romans invaded Greece starting in 146 BC, their gods were not as developed and sophisticated as the Greeks. The Romans knew that bridging the differences would add to their influence over the conquered nation.” 
In other words, countries, civilizations, and empires rise and fall, but it’s much harder to get people to give up on their religious beliefs and convictions. Whenever possible, it’s much easier to assimilate and incorporate than eradicate.
That’s precisely what the Romans did. They took the Greek gods and their stories and proclaimed, “These are our gods, too. We believe the same things as you. We all have something in common.”
It also didn’t hurt that the Greek gods and their stories were much more developed and intricate than the Romans’. As a result, the Romans took their own bare-bones religion and added more flair and flavor.
They forced captured Greek scholars to teach Roman children about the gods, using the Roman names for them instead. In that way, they established a standard set of beliefs among all the people, no matter their heritage.
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What Gods Did the Romans Take From the Greeks?
The Romans incorporated all of the Greek gods into the Roman pantheon. For every Greek god, there is an equivalent Roman god. In many instances, they took Greek gods and simply attributed their stories to similar gods in the Roman pantheon, eventually making them almost identical.
That doesn’t mean that there weren’t any Roman gods before they decided to use the Greeks’ stories for themselves. The Romans already had many of their gods named and in place. However, those gods may not have had many stories and attributes yet; they were names without substance.
Instead of changing the names of their gods or claiming the Greek gods as their own, the Romans took the well-known stories of the Greek gods and attributed them to their Roman gods.
In other cases, such as with Zeus (Roman name Jupiter), the Roman gods were already defined and held many similarities to their Greek counterparts. That’s because both cultures drew the idea for their gods from a common Proto-Indo-European god ancestor, Dyḗus Pḥtḗr, or Sky Father. 
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Why Did the Romans Rename Greek Gods?
In most cases, the Romans didn’t rename the Greek gods. Instead, they used the stories and characteristics from well-known Greek gods and attributed them to their already named Roman gods. It was a way of combining both sets of cultural beliefs without giving up their own history.
There may have been a few instances where the Greeks had gods for which the Romans didn’t already have a counterpart. In those cases, the Romans may have renamed a god to make the name fit more appropriately in the Roman pantheon. However, the names were already in place for the most part before the two cultures began sharing gods.
Though the Romans didn’t really rename the gods, they adjusted some of the myths and some of the gods’ attitudes to reflect Roman standards of morality and accepted behavior.
For example, the Romans portrayed a much humbler and more loving version of Hera in their supreme goddess Juno. Both Juno and Hera were the wife of the supreme god and were considered the goddess of childbirth and marriage.
However, the Greek Hera was petty and vicious, whereas Roman Juno was warmhearted, forgiving, and less likely to seek vengeance against her husband’s lovers and those who scorned her. Additionally, Roman Jupiter stayed in his domain and ruled from afar, whereas Greek Zeus frequently visited Earth and interacted with mortals.
Here’s a helpful chart showcasing some of the Greek gods and their Roman counterparts :
|Greek God||Roman Counterpart||Role|
|Zeus||Jupiter (or Jove)||Sky-god; Ruler of all the other gods|
|Hera||Juno||Goddess of marriage and childbirth|
|Hades||Pluto||God of the dead/underworld|
|Persephone||Proserpine||Goddess of the dead/underworld|
|Demeter||Ceres||Goddess of the harvest|
|Poseidon||Neptune||God of the sea|
|Aphrodite||Venus||Goddess of love and beauty|
|Eros||Cupid||God of love|
|Apollo||Apollo||Sun-god; God of medicine and music|
|Artemis||Diana||Goddess of wild animals and the hunt|
|Hestia||Vesta||Goddess of home and hearth|
|Hephaestus||Vulcan||The lame god; God of smithing and the forge|
|Athena||Minerva||Goddess of war strategy and wisdom|
|Ares||Mars||God of war|
|Hermes||Mercury||Messenger of the gods|
|Dionysus||Bacchus||God of wine, revelry, and ecstasy|
Even the Greek heroes and minor deities had Roman equivalents, with Heracles becoming Hercules and Odysseus becoming Ulysses.
Romans didn’t steal their gods from the Greeks, but they incorporated the Greek stories into their own beliefs to better connect the two cultures.
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