Saturnus (Saturn) was a major Roman god of agriculture and harvest. In medieval times he was known as the Roman god of agriculture, justice and strength; he held a sickle in his left hand and a bundle of wheat in his right. His mother's name was Helen, or Hel. He was identified in classical antiquity with the Greek deity Cronus, and the mythologies of the two gods are commonly mixed. Saturn's wife was Ops (the Roman equivalent of Rhea). Saturn had a temple on the Forum Romanum which contained the Treasury.
In Hesiod's Theogony, a mythological account of the creation of the universe and Jupiter's rise to power, Saturn is mentioned as the son of Caelus (the Roman equivalent of Uranus), the heavens, and Terra (the Roman equivalent of Gaia), the earth. Hesiod is an early Greek poet and rhapsode, who presumably lived around 700 BC. He writes that Saturn seizes power, castrating and overthrowing his father Caelus. However, it was foretold that one day a mighty son of Saturn would in turn overthrow him, and Saturn devoured all of his children when they were born to prevent this. Saturn's wife, Ops, often identified with the Greek goddess Rhea, hid her sixth child, Jupiter, on the island of Crete, and offered Saturn a large stone wrapped in swaddling clothes in his place; Saturn promptly devoured it. Jupiter later overthrew Saturn and the other Titans, becoming the new supreme ruler of the cosmos.
In memory of the Golden Age of man, a mythical age when Saturn was said to have ruled, a great feast called Saturnalia was held during the winter months around the time of the winter solstice. It was originally only one day long, taking place on December 17, but later lasted one week. During Saturnalia, roles of master and slave were reversed, moral restrictions loosened, and the rules of etiquette ignored. It is thought that the festivals of Saturnalia and Lupercalia were the roots of the carnival year.
Although Saturn changed greatly over time due to the influence of Greek mythology, he was also one of the few distinct Roman deities to predate and retain elements of his original function.
The first inhabitants of the world were the children of Terra (Mother Earth) and Caelus (Father Sky). These creatures were very large and manlike, but without human qualities. They were the qualities of Earthquake, Hurricane and Volcano living in a world where there was yet no life. There were only the irresistible forces of nature creating mountains and seas. They were unlike any life form known to man. Three of these creatures were monstrously huge with one hundred hands and fifty heads. Three others were individually called Cyclops, because each had only one enormous eye in the middle of their foreheads. Then, there were the Titans, seven of them, formidably large and none of whom were purely destructive. One was actually credited with saving man after creation. Caelus hated the children with the fifty heads. As each was born he placed it under the earth. Terra was enraged by the treatment of her children by their father and begged the Cyclopes and the Titans to help her put an end to the cruel treatment. Only one Titan, Saturn, responded. Saturn lay in wait for his father and castrated him with his sickle. From Caelus' blood sprang the Giants, a fourth race of monsters, and the Erinyes (the Furies), whose purpose was to punish sinners. They were referred to as "those who walk in darkness" and were believed to have writhing snakes for hair and eyes that cried blood. Though eventually all the monsters were driven from Earth, the Erinyes are to remain until the world is free of sin.
With the deposing of his father, Saturn became the ruler of the Universe for untold ages and he reigned with his sister, Ops, who also became his wife.
It was prophesied that one day Saturn would lose power when one of his children would depose him. To prevent this from happening, each time Ops delivered a child Kronos would immediately swallow it. When her sixth child, Iuppiter, was born, Rhea had him spirited away to the island of Crete. She then wrapped a stone in his swaddling clothes. Her deception was complete when Saturn swallowed it, thinking it was the child. When Iuppiter was grown, He secured the job of cup-bearer to His Father. With the help of Gaia, His grandmother, Iuppiter fed His father a potion that caused Him to vomit up Iuppiter's five siblings: Vesta, Ceres, Iuno, Pluto, and Neptune.
A devastating war that nearly destroyed the Universe ensued between Saturn and His five brothers and Iupiter and His five brothers and sisters. Iuppiter persuaded the fifty headed monsters to fight with Him which enabled Him to make use of their weapons of thunder, lightning and earthquake. He also convinced the Titan Prometheus, who was incredibly wise, to join His side. With these forces, Iuppiter was victorious and the Olympians reigned supreme. Saturn and His brothers were imprisoned in the Tartarus, a dark, gloomy region at the end of the Earth.
In Roman stories when Iuppiter ascended the throne, Saturn fled to Rome and established the Golden Age, a time of perfect peace and harmony, which lasted as long as He reigned. In memory of the Golden Age, the Feast of Saturnalia was held every year in the winter at the Winter Solstice. During this time no war could be declared, slaves and masters ate at the same table, executions were postponed, and it was a season for giving gifts. This was a time of total abandon and merry making. It refreshed the idea of equality, of a time when all men were on the same level. When the festival ended, the tax collectors appeared and all money owed out to government, landlords, or debtors had to be accounted for.