Explore the difference between Greek and Roman mythology

Myths are an integral part of every culture because they provide comfort, meaning, and a sense of order. These stories explain the origins of gods, deal with important aspects of the human condition, and express the core beliefs and values of the people who shared them. In this article, you’ll learn about the difference between Greek and Roman mythology, as well as some of the similarities shared by both ancient cultures.


Although the exact timeline is not concrete, Greek mythology was derived from a rich oral tradition that was eventually written down in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and Hesiod’s Theogony during the 8th century BCE. By the time the city of Rome was founded during the same century, many Greek cities were already well-established.

Consequently, Greek religion, art, philosophy, literature, and mythology all influenced what became the basic origin story of Roman mythology: the birth of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid, was written between 29 and 19 BCE. It tells the story of Aeneas and the remaining Trojans who journeyed to an Italian region where their descendants were fated to one day found the city of Rome.

The difference between Greek and Roman mythology

Although Greek mythologies often contained compelling tales of gods and goddesses and heroes and monsters, told through poetry and drama, Roman mythologies were often written in prose and grounded in Roman history and institutions.

Read on to learn more about the difference between Greek and Roman mythology.

Personality traits

There are significant differences in the personality traits of Roman and Greek gods and goddesses. The Greeks admired strength, beauty, creativity, and intelligence. Greek gods tended to epitomize admirable qualities that demonstrated models of human excellence: heroism, adventurousness, boldness, strength, and cleverness. However, some deities possessed qualities that led to their downfalls, such as pride, cruelty, and blind ambition. In contrast, Roman gods were less individualistic, more utilitarian, and focused on serving and protecting family and state.

Physical traits

Greek mythologies put a much greater emphasis on physical appearance than Roman mythologies. The bodies of Greek gods were described as strong, powerful, and beautiful, which corresponded to the myths themselves. Ugliness was also embodied in Greek myths in the form of terrifying and tormented monsters such as Typhon, Medusa, and Scylla. In Roman myths, the physical appearance of Roman gods was rarely, if at all, detailed, so it was left to the imagination of the Roman people.

Opinion of mortals

Greek culture viewed the status of gods as hallowed and unattainable by mortals. In Greek mythology, mortals were expected to contribute to society and honor the deities during their time on earth. However, Romans believed that mortals should aspire to live like the god that they worshipped, which was reflected in the stories they told.

Origin stories

The creation of the universe is a critical story in Greek mythology. Chaos was the first of the primordial Greek goddesses to emerge at the dawn of creation, and she represented the chasm between heaven and earth. She was followed by Gaia (earth), Tartarus (the pit below), and Eros (procreation and love—a precursor to the better-known winged god Eros or Cupid, son of Aphrodite). In Roman mythology, Romulus and his twin brother Remus were the fated founders of the city of Rome, as recorded by many authors, including Virgil. The brothers were said to be descendants of the hero Aeneas, and fathered by Mars, the god of war.


The afterlife does not hold much importance in Greek mythology because mortals are remembered and rewarded for the good deeds that they performed while on earth. Although the Underworld, or “House of Hades,” was portrayed in Homer’s Odyssey, it was bleak for nearly all of the dead, not necessarily a punishment for those who were evil in life. However, in Roman mythology, death transformed and allowed mortals to live among the deities. Ancient Romans believed that in the afterlife, they would be worshipped by family members and the state—and could provide guidance to the living.

The similarities between Greek and Roman mythology

Greek and Roman mythologies focused on the relationships between gods and mortals and attempted to make sense of an otherwise chaotic universe. In both cases, mythologies tackled important topics, including the creation of the world, the nature of good and evil, and what happens after death. Roman and Greek gods also exhibited human qualities such as love, hate, nobility, and determination, so the people who heard these tales could relate to them.

Explore further similarities between Greek and Roman mythology below.

Religion and culture

Greek mythology was directly connected to religion, told the stories of the origin and lives of gods, helped to explain natural phenomena, and instructed the Greeks on how to live a good life. The gods and goddesses of Greek culture greatly influenced the creation of Roman deities and mythology. As the Roman Republic grew and acquired Greek territories, it also adopted and adapted different aspects of Greek culture to suit its citizens. Both Greek and Roman myths served the purpose of re-telling important historical events so that people would remember their ancestors and their wars, triumphs, and, in some cases, failures.

Titles and powers

As alluded to above, the majority of the Roman gods and goddesses served as renamed counterparts to their Greek predecessors, with similar titles or powers. For example, the king of the gods was Zeus in Greek mythology, and in Roman mythology he was called Jupiter. Similarly, Hera was the queen of the gods for the Greeks, and she was renamed Juno by the Romans. The only god that shared the same name in Greek and Roman mythology was Apollo.

Examples of important Greek gods and their Roman counterparts include the following, respectively:

  • Aphrodite (Venus): Goddess of love and beauty
  • Ares (Mars): God of war
  • Artemis (Diana): Goddess of hunting, animals, and childbirth
  • Athena (Minerva): Goddess of wisdom and defense
  • Dionysus (Bacchus): God of wine, pleasure, and festivity
  • Hades (Pluto): God of the underworld
  • Poseidon (Neptune): God of the sea

A comparison of Greek and Roman gods and goddesses

When comparing Greek and Roman deities, you can identify shared characteristics and stories with different details that relate specifically to each culture. Below is an overview of some such pairings, focusing on different aspects of Roman and Greek mythologies.

Zeus or Jupiter

Zeus was the king of the gods, thunder and lightning, and law and order. He ruled over Mount Olympus, while his Roman counterpart Jupiter was chief of the pantheon and protected ancient Rome. In Greek mythology, the symbols of Zeus include an eagle, a thunderbolt, and an oak tree. Because he was a sky god, Zeus was often pictured alongside clouds or perched on top of Mount Olympus. Zeus’s parents were Titans, and he eventually waged war on his father, Cronos, and emerged victorious.

Hera or Juno

The most powerful goddess in Roman mythology, Juno was the queen of the gods. The Romans saw Juno as a protector of the empire and the goddess of marriage and fertility, so she played a special role for Roman women. Many of the myths of Juno come from Greek mythology when she was identified with Hera, the wife of Zeus. Both Hera and Juno were highly revered and had marriages that were quite tumultuous.

Poseidon or Neptune

As the god of the sea, horses, and earthquakes, Poseidon (or Neptune in Roman mythology) is often featured on a chariot of horses or sea creatures. His symbols included a three-pronged spear known as a trident, as well as horses and dolphins. His brothers Zeus and Hades oversaw the skies and underworld, while Poseidon protected sailors and the sea. His children with Medusa may be familiar: Pegasus and the cyclops Polyphemus.

Mars or Ares

As the strong and powerful Roman god of war, many of the myths of Mars were adapted from the Greek god of war, Ares. However, while Ares could be impulsive and unruly, Mars was a virtuous figure who was viewed as a level-headed protector of Rome and a defender of the city’s borders. The symbols of Mars included the wolf and woodpecker. He was considered the father of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of the Roman empire, whose mother was Rhea Silvia.

Aphrodite or Venus

The Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sex, Aphrodite (or the Roman Venus) is known for symbols including roses, doves, and myrtles. Although she was married to Hephaistos, she had many affairs, including one with the god Ares. Another constant companion was Eros, the god of love or lust, whose counterpart was Cupid in Roman mythology. Aphrodite’s name is thought to be the root of the word ‘aphrodisiac,’ while ‘venereal’ is said to be a derivative of Venus.

Experience an Ivy League education on your own terms

Eager to learn more about important cultural myths, stories, and legends? In the Literature, Culture, and Tradition concentration for the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) degree at Penn LPS Online, you’ll study the worldviews of different cultures, including cultural change and continuity over time and place. Through multi-disciplinary courses, you’ll delve into significant historical and contemporary themes and learn how to analyze key literary texts from the perspective of gender, religion, politics, and economics.

For example, in CLSC 1000: Greek and Roman Mythology, you’ll investigate the nature of myths and discuss key topics such as religion, family, madness, love, and death. You’ll also explore how ancient Greeks and Romans understood their own myths, whether as entertainment, the source of universal truths, or both.

The BAAS program at Penn LPS Online also provides the ability to design your own degree to align with your personal and professional goals. With input from your academic advisor, the Individualized Studies concentration gives you the flexibility to combine complementary areas of study to create your own highly personalized learning experience. So, depending on your interests and ambitions, you could explore the myths of ancient Greece and Rome while learning about creative studies and data analysis.

Ready to get started? If you haven’t already, apply to Penn LPS Online today. You may also register for individual classes or view our course guide to see what’s available in any upcoming term.


Apply Today

Ready to apply to Penn LPS Online?

Apply Now

Learn more about Penn LPS Online