The Cult of Jupiter in the Lower Danubian provinces during the Late Roman Period

The Cult of Jupiter in the Lower Danubian provinces during the Late Roman Period
Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski"                                                                DOI                                                 
Archaeology Department   
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Abstract:  The current paper analyses the information on the cult of Jupiter in the Roman provinces along the Lower Danube (Dacia Ripensis, Moesia Secunda, and Scythia Minor). The supreme Roman god is attested by a total of six monuments, which place him first in popularity among Roman cults in the region under consideration, as is also the case with the Principate period. At the beginning of Late Antiquity, however, most dedications were of a private nature. Where sufficient records of dedicators survive, the inscriptions mention senior imperial officials – in two cases provincial governors of Second (Lower) Moesia and only once a commander of a military contingent in Dacia Ripensis.

Keywords: Jupiter Lower Danube, Paganism, Tetrarchy


Jupiter’s leading role in the Roman pantheon has never been questioned. The early history of his cult, however, is almost entirely obscure. Some information about the deity’s original functions is provided by the etymology of his name. Modern scholars agree that it is derived from an Indo-European root meaning “bright, shining”.[1] This defines Jupiter as the god of clear sky and daylight, the God of atmospheric phenomena, but without being tied to a specific celestial body.[2] The role of Jupiter as lord of the sky and giver of rain remained even later and predetermined the presence of certain agricultural functions of his cult. In the earliest Roman calendar, three festivals related to viticulture and wine-making are designated as feriae Iovis. These are the following: Vinalia rustica (19 August), Meditrinalia (11 October) and Vinalia priora (23 April)[3]. In this case, however, the god’s relationship is not so much with vineyards and fertility as with wine, and specifically the wine intended for sacrifice, the sacred wine, while the profane was under the care of Liber Pater.[4] The beginning and the end of various activities of agricultural life are also associated with sacrifices to Jupiter. His worship as the God of fertility has been preserved throughout the history of the cult, although it has never assumed a leading role.[5]

The main operation of Jupiter in the Roman pantheon was that of the supreme patron of the Roman state and society. It is to him that the earliest temples of Rome are dedicated. Romulus himself consecrated a temple to Jupiter Feretrius on Capitoline Hill and dedicated a temple to Jupiter Stator. The occasion for the construction of both shrines was the god’s intervention during critical historical moments related to the establishment of the new Roman state. Following the consecration of the Capitoline Temple in the first year of the Republic (509 BC), the cult of Jupiter, the Bestand the Greatest, along with the related to him gods Juno and Minerva, has been brought to the fore. The two goddesses, however, have a definite subordinate position in the Capitoline sanctuary. From this point and on, Jupiter remained the supreme god of the Roman state until the very end of the old Roman religion. Probably after some neglect in regards to his cult during the end of the Republic and the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the cult of Jupiter experienced a new bloom period during the Flavians until the beginning of Late Antiquity. Since the reign of Augustus (27 BC – 14 AD) the Capitoline God has become the recipient of annual vows for the welfare of the Ruler and the state; while this practice has been widely adopted in the Roman provinces. Under Hadrian (117–138), the theme of divine investiture in relation to the heavenly origin of power appears as a motif in Roman coinage. The idea of the emperor as Jupiter’s deputy on earth has existed in Roman poetry since the time of Augustus, but only during the 2nd and 3rd centuries has been transformed into an important element of imperial propaganda. Its importance grew particularly after the middle of the 3rd century. Consequently, rulers sought to justify their power outside the army and to reduce the role of the latter in the political life of the empire.[6]

During Diocletian (284–305), Jupiter’s leading role in imperial propaganda was emphasized as never before. The emperor himself adopted the name Iovius, which, however, was not intended to identify him with the supreme Roman god but to place him under his direct protection.[7] This is also expressed with the dominant type of Jupiter Conservator in the coins of Diocletian.

The cult of Jupiter has been well attested in the Roman provinces of Lower Danube during the period of the Principate. The earliest monuments date from the reign of Hadrian and are dedicated to the welfare of the emperor[8]. The number of known dedications increased significantly in the following decades but declined again during the second quarter of the 3rd century. The two latest accurately dated monuments before Diocletian’s accession to the throne date from the reign of Philip the Arab (244–249)[9]. During the Principate, Jupiter was widely revered by all segments of the population in Lower and Upper Moesia. Among the initiates, the military and veterans are the best attested, but the civilian communities are also adequately represented. The offerings are both official, for the health and welfare of the rulers, and of a personal nature too[10].  The numerous bronze statuettes[11] and gems[12] with the image of Jupiter show that he was venerated as a personal patron god and not only as the supreme deity of the Roman state.

Only six offerings to Jupiter are known in the lands along the Lower Danube from the time of Tetrarchy,[13] while only a fragmented surviving pediment from the Tropaeum Traiani has been precisely dated in the reign of Diocletian. The monument was reused and was found in the city wall. The wall was built during the joint rule of Licinius and Constantine, but it is quite possible that the architectural detail was incorporated in later renovations. The building, which the fragment derives from is a temple or aedicule, dedicated to Jupiter Olbiopolitanus for the health and safety of Diocletian and Maximian and also of their Caesars Constantius Chlorus and Galerius.[14] Jupiter’s epithet can be derived from the name of the city of Olbia, an old Greek colony on the northwestern shore of the Black Sea. During the Principate the city was part of the province of Lower Moesia and a Roman garrison was stationed there. Actually, the use of the epithet Olbiopolitanus[15] can be explained because of the existence of a military person, who has been with the garrison until the latter was withdrawn probably at the beginning of the Tetrarchy. Unfortunately the office of the dedicator Nevius Palma Theotimianus has been inscribed in the missing right part of the monument.

It is likely that statues of Jupiter and Fortuna were erected for the welfare of the Augusts and the Caeasars in Noviodunum[16]. However, the monument is really fractured and is impossible to extract more information about it.

One group of three offerings to Jupiter does not contain sufficient evidence to date them accurately. Nevertheless, they can certainly be assigned to the beginning of Late Antiquity, perhaps the time of Diocletian or his successors.

 Two of the monuments were found in Durostorum, twice used in a mid-4th century building. In regards to their content they are very closely related, something that also points to their dating within a short chronological span. The first monument represents an altar or base for a statue and it is dedicated to Jupiter the Best and the Greatest Salutaris, Juno the queen and all the immortal gods. The consecrator is Silvius Silvanus, provincial governor of Lower Moesia.[17] The second inscription is written on a statue base. Unfortunately, the image of Jupiter has not been preserved. This time, however, only the supreme Roman god is honored, while the consecrator Aurelius Dizzo has been also a governor[18]. Both monuments have been erected for the health of the initiates and their families.

The dedicators of the monuments of Durostorum bear the title vir perfestissimus, which indicates that they belonged to the equestrian order. This fact along with their designation as praeses rather than legatus Augusti pro praetor points to the dating of both monuments to the beginning of Diocletian’s rule – at the earliest – or before it. All researchers assign the offerings to Jupiter to the time of Diocletian, but in my opinion it is also possible that they can be dated slightly later at least to the end of the first quarter of the 4th century.

The third monument was found in the village of Drenovets, region of Vidin. The altar is dedicated to Jupiter the Best and the Greatest. The consecrator Aurelius Priscus was the commander of the garrison of the province of Dacia Ripensis.[19] According to the information contained in the text, this monument can also be assigned to the beginning of Late Antiquity. The province of Dacia Ripensis came under the rule of Constantine (306–337) in 317, but it cannot be argued categorically that this was the latest possible date of the monument under consideration. The latest monument dedicated to Jupiter from the lands of Lower Danube is a small altar from Histria. In contrast to the examples examined so far, the offering is to Jupiter the Best and the Greatest and to Mars Conservator for the welfare of the emperors. The part with the names of the rulers is rather damaged, but it is clear that it is about two emperors. Furthermore, the idea suggested by V. Pârvan that these were Constantine and Licinius (308–324) has been accepted by later researchers of the monument.[20] The dedicator is not clear, but it is quite possible that he held a high position in the civil or military administration of Scythia Minor.

Jupiter’s leading role in imperial propaganda under Diocletian and his successors Galerius (293–311) and Licinius has not been without repercussions in the Roman provinces of Lower Danube. In contrast to the period of the Principate, however, the Mother of Gods[21], Sol[22] along with the local Jupiter Olbiopolitanus[23] appear in early Late Antiquity alongside Jupiter the Best and the Greatestas recipients of pledges for the welfare of the ruler— all the four deities have one monument each. Half of the known offerings to the supreme Roman god are of a rather private nature, and two are made specifically for the health of the dedicators and their families.

The intense barbarian invasions of the middle and third quarter of the 3rd century caused serious damage to the sanctuaries of Jupiter located outside the fortified settlements. Such is the case of the epigraphically attested centers of the cult in the vicinity of Histria, Ulmetum and Capidava— literally, dozens of altars have been built into the walls, the construction of which has been dated by various researchers to the period of Diocletian or Constantine[24]. It is very probable that the monumental Capitolium of Oescus, consisting of three separate temples has been operating intensively at least until the time of Constantine, and even later.[25]  However, the monuments are known to us as having a more general date hardly can be dated much time after 324.


[1] Wissowa 1912, 113; Pokorny 1959, 183–185; de Vaan 2008, 315–316.

[2] Wissowa 1912, 113; Fears 1981, 17.

[3] Fears 1981, 29; de Casanove 1988, 248.

[4] de Casanove 1988, 264–265.

[5] Wissowa 1912, 120.

[6] The role of Jupiter in Roman imperial ideology is examined in detail in the still relevant study of J.R. Fears (1981, passim) (with abundant scholarly literature cited therein).

[7] Liebeschuetz 1979, 238, 242; Kolb 1987, 88, 92.

[8] ISM V, 154; Александров 2013, 282, № 14 = Tomas 2016, 179, no. E89.

[9] ISM I, 349; ISM V, 124.

[10] On the cult of Jupiter in Lower Moesia during the 2nd and 3rd centuries see Александров 2010, 42–60; Лунгарова 2012, 51–100.

[11] Ognenova-Marinova 1975, nos 52, 60, 64, 69–71.

[12] Димитрова-Милчева 1980, 31–34, №№ 3–4, 8,11, 13.

[13] On the cult of Jupiter in the provinces of Lower Danube during the time of Tetrarchy see: Вълчев 2021b.

[14] CIL III, 12464 = Popescu 1976, no. 169 = ISM IV, 22.

[15] Карышковский 1968, 167–179.

[16] ISM V, 274.

[17] Доневски 1976, 61, № 2 = Velkov 1977, 422, no. 1 = ISM IV, 96.

[18] Доневски 1976, 61, № 1 = Velkov 1977, 422, no. 2 = ISM IV, 97.

[19] Лука 2011, 533, обр. 2; AE 2011, 1108.

[20] Pârvan 1916, 693–695, no. 57 = Popescu 1976, no. 109 = ISM I, 132

[21] ISM II 144.

[22] ISM II, 155 = Zahariade 2017, 433–449.

[23] ISM IV, 22.

[24] Торбатов 2002, 107–108, 179, 294–296 along with cited scholarly literature.

[25] Вълчев 2021a, 50–53 along with cited scholarly literature.


AE = L’Année épigraphique. Revue des publications epigraphiques relatives a l’antiquité romaine (Paris), 1888-.

CIL = Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (Berolini), 1863-.

ISM I = Pippidi, D. M. (1983) Inscripţiile din Scythia Minor greceşti şi latine. Vol. I. Histria şi îm­prejurimile (Bucureşti).

ISM II = Stoian, I. (1987) Inscriptiones Scythiae Minoris graecae et latinae. Vol. II. Tomis et territorium (Bucureşti).    

ISM IV = Popescu, E. (2015) Inscriptions de Scythie Mineure. Vol. IV. Tropaeum – Durostorum – Axiopolis (Paris).

ISM V = Doruţiu-Boilă, E. (1980) Inscriptiones Scythiae Minoris graecae et latinae. Vol. V. Capidava, Troesmis, Noviodunum (Bucureşti).


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                           (2013) Етнически и социален състав на римската армия (Велико Търново)/ (2013) Etnicheski i socialen sastav na rimskata armia (Veliko Tarnovo).

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