Ancient Roman
Star Lore

Much of Roman mythology and the associated star lore has been an adaptation of Greek mythology. But in a number of cases, Roman star lore took on a life of its own.


According to R.H. Allen, in the Roman Zodiac, the constellation was shown as a peacock and sometimes as a Goose.

Both birds are sacred to the roman queen goddess Juno.

Source: R.H. Allen

Juno and Peacock
© Walter Crane


The Roman Republic adopted the Greek concept of the eagle holding Jupiter's thunderbolts and made the image its coat of arms.

However, the Romans didn't call the constellation Eagle, but Vultur volans (the flying vulture).

Sources:Wikipedia and Ian Ridpath

Senātus Populusque Rōmānus
Source: youtube


Segnius, the official name of γ Boötis is the result of a Latin mistranscriptions of an Arabic rendering of Boötes.

See Wikipedia for details.

θ, ι and κ Boötis are commonly known as the Herdsman's upraised fingers. However, they were given the Latin name Asellus, meaning donkeys. The names Asellus Primus, Asellus Secondus and Asellus Tertius, the first, second and third donkey are not officially approved by the IAU.

Source: University of Illinois Star Catalog

Canis Major

Roman mythology refers to Canis Major as Custos Europae, the dog guarding Europa but failing to prevent her abduction by Jupiter in the form of a bull, and as Janitor Lethaeus, "the watchdog".

Source: Wikipedia

Cerebus, the watch dog
Caeretan hydria, ca 530 BC
Source: Wikipedia,


The Roman poet Ovid called the constellation Herculeus Leo and Violentus Leo.

Another name was Bacchi Sidus, the star of Bacchus, as the god Bacchus has always been identified with this animal.

Roman poet and astrologer Marcus Manilius called it Jovis et Junonis Sidus, the Star of Jupiter and Juno. R.H. Allen supports the idea of Hercules "being under the guardianship of these deities." In Greek Mythology, the Roman deities Jupiter and Juno were Zeus and Hera and Heracles literally means "Pride of Hera."

Sources: Wikipedia, R.H. Allen

Heracles fighting the Nemean lion
Roman era relief, 2nd century AD Souce: Wikipedia


Libra is perhaps Rome's biggest contribution to the otherwise Mesopotamian and Greek Zodiac constellations. In ancient Greece, the stars of Libra were seen as the claws of Scorpius. In the Almagest, written about 150 AD, Ptolemy still referred to this constellation as "The Claws".

Ian Ridpath writes "... To the Romans, Libra was a favored constellation. The Moon was said to have been in Libra when Rome was founded. "Italy belongs to the Balance, her rightful sign. Beneath it Rome and her sovereignty of the world were founded", said the Roman writer Manilius. He described Libra as "the sign in which the seasons are balanced, and the hours of night and day match each other".

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath

Libra in Urania's Mirror

When the perception of the constellation switches from "Claws" to "Scales", it was no longer associated with Scorpius, but rather with Virgo, which in Greek mythology was depicted as Astraea, the goddess of justice. Astrea was an epitaph of the actual Greek goddess of justice, Dike.

In Roman mythology, Dike became Justitia, an allegorical personification of the moral force in judicial systems, which was always depicted with a blindfold and sword and a beam balance (the Scales).

Source: Wikipedia
Justitia holding the scales
Court of Final Appeal, Hong Kong
Source: Wikipedia


To the Romans, Lyra was knows as Vultur Cadens (Falling Vulture) or Aquila Cadens (Falling Eagle).

In the Roman Empire, the start of autumn was based upon the hour at which Vega set below the horizon.

Sources: Wikipedia/Lyra, Wikipedia/Vega,

Milky Way

The Romans adopted the concept of spilled milk forming the Milky Way from Greek Mythology. However, Roman author Gaius Julius Hyginus puts a different spin on the idea.

In a story told by Wikipedia, Roman god Saturn swallowed his children to ensure his position as head of the Pantheon. His wife, the goddess Ops conceived a plan to save her newborn son Jupiter: She wrapped a stone in infant's clothes and gave it to Saturn to swallow. Saturn asked her to nurse the child once more before he swallowed it, and the milk that spurted when she pressed her nipple against the rock eventually became the Milky Way.

The story is told in Chapter 43 of Book 2 of Poeticon astronomicon. However, in Erhard Ratdolt's Illustrations of Poeticon astronomicon, the Milky Way was shown as a Band of Stars.

Sources: Wikipedia, Library of Congress

Saturn Devouring His Son
Francisco Goya, ca. 1819-1823
Source: Wikipedia


In Roman mythology, Maia, the oldest of the seven sisters, was celebrated as the Goddess of Spring, representing growth, renewal and fertility. The month of May (Maius in Latin) is believed to have been named after her.

Source: Wikipedia

The star cluster of the Pleiades is part of the constellation Taurus, but given the amount of Star Lore related to them, they deserve a separate entry.

Mercury and Maia inside a silver cup
late 2nd century AD
Souce: Wikipedia


In ancient Greece, the Hyades, a star cluster within Taurus were called Ὑάδες the "rain-makers." A similar sounding Greek word, ὗς (hys), which means "swine" let to the Romans calling the Hyades "piglets."

Taurus' main star Adebaran was called Palilicium in ancient Rome, referring to the Feast of Pales, a festival to honor Pales, the Patron of sheep and shepherds.

Sources: Wikipedia and Constellation Guide.

Festival of Pales
Joseph-Benoît Suvée, 1783
Sourcce: Wikipedia

Ursa Major

Ian Ridpath tells us that Germanicus Caesar "... seems to have been the first to mention a third, now-common identity – he said that the bears were also called ploughs because, as he wrote, ‘the shape of a plough is the closest to the real shape formed by their stars...

According to Hyginus the Romans referred to the Great Bear as Septentrio, meaning ‘seven plough oxen’, although he added the information that in ancient times only two of the stars were considered oxen, the other five forming a wagon."

Source: Ian Ridpath


Both Ptolemy, in the Almagest, and Hyginus in the Poeticon Astronomicon called the constellation Παρθένος - Parthenos, which is Greek for virgin.

The Babylonian and Greek interpretation survived in Roman mythology with an association with Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships.

Parthenos in Poeticon Astronomicon

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