Silvanus protects forests and fields. He presides in particular over the boundaries of properties, and from Him proceed a host of local silvani, three for each property:
- The silvanus of the home
- The silvanus of the fields
- The silvanus of the boundaries
He takes care of flocks, guaranteeing their fertility and protecting them from wolves. Silvanus himself often wears the skin of a wolf.
Things commonly attributed to Him are the falx (a kind of sickle), the tree-branch, a dog, and sometimes fruits—all symbols of rustic, homely well-being. His tree is either the pine or the cypress. Besides his wolf-skin, Silvanus typically wears either a simple peasant tunic or is nude.
Silvanus is sometimes offered the animal sacrifice of pigs, but many other kinds of sacrifices, such as food and liquid offerings, are traditionally offered to Him, such as meats, milk, lamb’s blood, wine, grains, grapes, etc.
The cultus of Silvanus spread beyond Italy into the other Latin-speaking provinces of the Empire, and was particularly well received in the provinces of Pannonia, Dalmatia and Dacia. After Rome, Silvanus’ greatest cult centers were in fact Carnuntum (located near Vienna) and Aquincum (present-day Budapest, Hungary).
Much of Silvanus’ myths primarily involve him falling in love fruitlessly.
- In one myth, Silvanus fell in love with a young man named Cyparissus, who had a beautiful doe as a beloved pet. One day Silvanus accidentally killed his pet, and Cyparissus, overcome with grief, transformed into a cypress tree.
- In another myth Silvanus fell in love with Pomona, Goddess of fruitful abundance. It’s said that She rejected Him because of his elderly age and Her own determination to remain single; though later married the God Vertumnus.
Silvanus and Other Deities
Though the two Gods do have connections as nature deities, they are definitively distinct:
- Pan can induce panic
- Pan can show violence against the nymphs
- Pan has the power of prophecy and presides over rustic music.
Silvanus differs by maintaining His beneficent character; He has perfectly harmonious relations with his entourage of nymphs, who are actually called Silvanæ. They’re particularly popular among women.
Peter F. Dorcey suggests in his book “The cult of Silvanus: a study in Roman folk religion” suggests that the Gods that Silvanus most closely resembles are the lares:
- Both lares and silvani protect the household
- Silvanus is often invoked as “domestic Silvanus”
- The temples of Silvanus are even built in the form of a lararium.
“DEO SVCELO SILVANO: to the God SUCELLUS SILVANUS.” To the god Sucellus Silvanus – Deo Mercurio. Accessed September 12, 2017. http://www.deomercurio.be/en/silvano.html.
“Silvanus.” MrPsMythopedia – Silvanus. Accessed September 12, 2017. https://mrpsmythopedia.wikispaces.com/Silvanus.
“SILVANUS.” SILVANUS, Roman Mythology Index. Accessed September 12, 2017. http://www.mythindex.com/roman-mythology/S/Silvanus.html.
Dorcey, Peter F. The cult of Silvanus: a study in Roman folk religion. Leiden: Brill, 1992.