The History and Significance of the god Saturn

Saturn is an interesting deity from ancient Roman mythology who had a considerable amount of influence on ancient Roman society. The equivalent of the Greek god Cronos (also spelt Cronus and Kronus), Saturn was an ancient agricultural god and therefore, it could be argued that was actually the equivalent of the Greek goddess Demeter.

According to mythology, Saturn ruled over the earth during the lost Golden Age. This was a time when “with cultivation unknown, the mighty bull did not submit to the yoke, so also in the Elysian fields the land is benign and brings forth crops without cultivation” (Mills, p.230).

Saturn was built a magnificent temple in Rome. The Temple of Saturn, next to the temple to Vesta, was the oldest temple in the neighbourhood of the Forum Romanum, but there is no concurrence as to how its location is properly designated or when it was built. According to Macrobius, who cites Varro, the construction of the temple was commissioned by Tarquinius, the last of the kings.

The festival of Saturn was named the Saturnalia and was celebrated in Rome over seven days at the end of December. It has been argued that the Saturnalia on the first day of the festival, December seventeenth, was celebrated as the anniversary of the dedication of the temple, but it is believed that the festival is far older (Richardson, p. 52).

The reign of Saturn was believed to be a golden age of prosperity and fertility, and his reign was a popular theme for Roman poets. The poet Virgil used the reign of Saturn and presented the first emperor, Augustus, as the re-founder of a renewed Golden Age. Within the poems, Saturn symbolized the purity and simplicity of early Italian life. Not only this, he was shown to be the ruler of an age of peace and justice.

In art, Saturn has been depicted wearing exotic robes, and this has led to the belief amongst some scholars that Saturn was a Greek god who fled to Latium (Italy) to escape Zeus (Coterrell & Storm p.81). His festival, the Saturnalia, has all but obliterated Saturn’s archaic cult, but several ancient texts which associate Saturn with the cultivation of fields show that, whatever his origins, he was later seen as a god of agriculture.


Cotterell, Arthur & Storm, Rachel (1999) The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Mythology, Hermes House, Anness Publishing House.

Mills, Donald H. (1974) Tibullus and Phaeacia: A Reinterpretation of 1.3, The Classical Journal, The Classical Association of the Middle West and South Inc.

Richardson, Jnr., L. (1980) The Approach to the Temple of Saturn in Rome, American Journal of Archaeology, Archaeological Institute of America.