In Roman mythology, Neptune was an early Italian water deity who became identified with the Greek god Poseidon after about 400 b.c. Unlike Poseidon, who appeared in many Greek myths and legends, Neptune played a relatively minor role in Roman mythology In ancient Roman art, he is generally shown holding a trident, a traditional weapon of fishermen in the Mediterranean region.
Possibly called Nethunus by the Etruscans of ancient Italy, the early Neptune was linked to freshwater rivers, lakes, and springs. After identification with Poseidon, he also became the god of the sea. His wife, Salacia, a goddess of springwater, became associated with Amphitrite, the wife of Poseidon and queen of the sea.
deity god or goddess
trident three-pronged spear, similar to a pitchfork
patron special guardian, protector, or supporter
The ancient Romans held an annual festival to honor Neptune in July, a time when the hot, dry weather of Italy made water scarce. The purpose of the festival was probably to appease the god and help ensure that water would soon be abundant again. Closely associated with horses, as was Poseidon, Neptune may also have been worshiped by the Romans as a god of horses and patron of horse racing.
See also Poseidon; Roman Mythology.
*See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
From the early 19th century, the traditional shipboard ceremony held when crossing the equator has included a sailor dressed as Neptune.
Neptunism was a theory propounded by A. G. Werner that the rocks of the earth's crust were formed primarily by crystallization from the sea, rather than by solidification of magma. The theory was popular at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, but is now rejected.