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The name comes probably from Lat. gignere, because this deity was assigned to each human when he was conceived or he was taken under his protection (Varro), or he has created us himself or has been created together with us (Apuleius).
It's clear, that the Romans tried to integrate the Genius into their mythology. His parents should have been Juppiter and Gaea, who has born him, after Juppiter has created him when he was asleep. Others suggest that he was a son of the gods and the father of men. In any case all suggest that the Genii - there are many of them! - take a middle position between the gods and men. As soon as a human being was born one or two Genii were assigned to him, a white good one and a black bad one. The good one gives him all of his good thoughts, the bad one the contrary. Which ever is the stronger one he is the one who forms the character of the man. Genii always appear at males. Within women there were the Junones. The Genii stayed with their person until his death when they gave him to the gods. According to others each man has only one Genius. The Genius handed down his man to the court and blamed him if he was lying or praised him when he kept the truth. According to the Genius the judgement was given to him because the Genius knew all of his secret thoughts. Even families, cities and countries had these guardian spirits. The Genius of Rome had a golden statue in the VIII regio.
Everyone gave honour to his own Genius, especially at his birthday when he gave offerings to him but only flowers, wine and incense, because it was not allowed to kill any animal on this day. A vow done by the Genius of the emperor was the most steadfast oath as if it was done by Juppiter himself. Some suggested that the Genius was identical with the Animus, others that he actually was the mind of men. But because also mountains, swamps, lakes, fountains, valleys and forests had their own Genius it could be concluded that he actually was a fictive entity invented only to put the humans in fear and to prevent them from vice (Hederich).
The Genius is the 'power' which is inherent in man, not only becoming manifest in his virility but signifying extensively his whole personality. The Genius is neither 'soul' nor 'life'. It's particular to each one and ceased with his death. It is a kind of active principle which could be found too in collectives like troop units, councils and so on. It is assigned too to localities like provinces or cities. Power and prestige of the pater familias explain that the domestics worshipped his Genius and swore by him. The oath by the Genius of the emperor became common in private and public fields. False oath was a crime against the emperor. The concept of the Genius Augusti was the possibility to assign divine attributs to the emperor without making him a god directly which was frowned especially in the western part of the Empire!
The need for protection resulted in the idea of the Genius as protection spirit, but it was never clear wether he was immanent to men or has his own existence. In later times these ideas were mixed with the conception of the soul which could be found in grave inscriptions. The conception of the Genius as sum of the personality expanded to the idea of the Genius of a god: Genius Iovi. This required the conception of a full personalized deity.
Meaningful is the Genius Populi Romani which is not only the Roman interpretation of the Greek City Tyche. On October 9 the festival of the Genius Publicus was celebrated. The later snake shape was an amalgamation with the well-known incarnation and soul conception. The Genius indeed was linked to a person but not identical with him. Life arises 'by appearing of the Genius', who then obtained it continually. We can see that the ancient world had difficulties with the interpretation of the Genius. But worshipping of the Genius was alive until the beginning of Christianism.
Maximinus II Daia, AD 309-313
AE - Follis (AE 2), 23mm, 4.80g
London, 1st officina, AD 310-312
obv. IMP MAXIMINVS PF AVG
Bust, cuirassed, laureate, r.
rev. GENIO - POP ROM
Youthful Genius, wearing mural crown, nude except himation over l. shoulder and hips,
stg. l., holding cornucopia in l. arm and patera in outstretched r. hand.
in r. field: star
in ex. PLN
RIC VI, London 209(b); C.58
The mural crown here looks more like a rampart!
Maximinus II. Daia, AD 309-313
AE - Follis (AE 2), 21.1mm, 5.05g
Alexandria, 1st officina, AD 312/13
obv. IMP C GAL VAL MAXIMINVS PF AVG
Laureate head r.
rev. GENIO - AVGVSTI
Genius, nude, chlamys over l. shoulder, wearing modius, stg. facing, head l., holding
cornucopia in l. arm and in outstretched r. hand bearded head of Serapis wearing
in l. field one upon the other: star / N / palm branch
in r. field A
in ex. ALE
RIC VI, Alexandria 160(b); C.29
VF, nice sand patina
Der Kleine Pauly
Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon
John Melville Jones, A Dictionary of Ancient Roman coins
GENIUS.—It was the opinion of the ancients that every man from the moment of his birth had his genius, or according to others two genii, a good and a bad one; and that as the one or the other of these personal tutelaries was the stronger of the two, that individual became good or bad. In process of time each house and each town had its genius; the former were called Lares, the latter were named Penates. Rome had her Genius-goddess, to whom a statue was erected in the eighth region of the city. The influential presence of these unseen beings was held by the Romans in such high veneration, that when they entered for the first time into any place, they invariably paid a salutation to the genius loci. During the republic, they swore by the Genius of the Roman people, and afterwards by that of the Emperor. At both periods, the violation of the oath was treated as the most heinous of perjuries, and was punished with the greatest severity.
Genii are represented on Roman coins, under different forms, as well in the consular as in the imperial series.
In his observations on Genii, as they are typified on family coins, Eckhel says that these come next in order of dignity to the gods and goddesses, meaning by the term—1. Certain images (or figures) appropriated to some country, city, or people, whether they were nothing more than allegories intended to represent a province or a city by some peculiarity of their habits or circumstances; or whether some celestial powers, though of a subordinate rank, were actually supposed to preside over them.— 2. The Virtues; such as clemency, faith, piety, &c. or those adjuncts which are always reckoned among the good things of life, but which are not always under our own control, such as fortune, honour, liberty, safety, victory, and health.— 3. The vices and the ills of life; as pallor, pavor, febris, &c. These and similar subjects, the emblematical representations of which we see on ancient monuments, were not regarded as mere idealities, but as actual beings of a divine nature, as is proved by the fact, that temples were erected to their honour, equally with the gods themselves. Some of these, such as Virtus, Honor, Mens, Fortuna, under various titles, have been enumerated by Cicero, Plutarch, Juvenal; and many other examples may be found in P. Victor's work on the districts of Rome.
The subject receives illustration from a letter of Cicero to his brother Quintus (I. Epist. i. § 10)—"Wherefore, since you are passing your time, in a position of the highest authority, in those very cities, where you see your own virtues consecrated, and reckoned among the divinities, &c." And thus, not only the Romans, but the Greeks also, crowded Olympus with fresh colonists. (See Fors, p. 395). No one any longer cared to offer sacrifices to the greater and elder gods, whilst they lavished whole hecatombs on Virtus, Natura, Fatum, aud Fortuna, who had but as yesterday found their way into heaven; whilst a sextarius of ambrosia and nectar could not be bought for less than a mina, so vast was the assemblage of celestial guests. And yet one could have tolerated a superstition which conceded divine honours to the virtues; but what could surpass the infatuation of placing on. a level with the gods, the vices, the diseases, and the bugbears of mankind ? Indeed, this fanaticism was estimated at its true value, and detested accordingly, by all the ancients themselves who were possessed of superior intellects. A proof of this is to be found in the law introduced by the wisest of the Romans, "But those qualities, which entitle a man to admission into heaven, mind, valour, piety, faith,— for their glorification let there be shrines. But let no sacred solemnities be performed in honour of the vices." (Cic. de Legib. ii. ch. 8.) These expressions Cicero explains a little further on: " It is well done, that Mens, Pietas, Virtus, and Fides, are consecrated, to all of which temples are publicly dedicated in Rome, in order that the possessors of such qualities (and all good men do possess them), may reflect that the gods themselves are the occupants of their own bosoms. For that, on the contrary, was a disgraceful circumstance in the history of Athens, that after the crime of Cylon had been expiated, they followed the suggestion of Epi-menides, and erected a temple to Contumely and Impudence. For it is the virtues, and not the vices, which should be made the subject of consecration. Now, there is standing in the Palatium an ancient altar to Febris (Fever), and another on the Esquiliae to Mala Fortuna; all of which anomalies should be abolished." He then refers in terms of commendation to the honours paid to Salus, Honor, Ops, Victoria, Spes (consecrated by Calatinus), Fortuna of the present time, aud retrospective, and to Fors Primigenia. He might have added some foreign examples, such as the altars of Impietas and Nequitia, erected by one Dicaearchus, and the shrine of Voracitas in Sicily. The ancients, however, were not at a loss to find excuses for the folly of this custom.
Plutarch informs us (in Agide et Cleomene, p. m. 808), that there were among the Lacedaemonians, "temples sacred not only to Fear, but also to Death, and to Laughter, and other affections of the like kind. To Fear, however, they pay this adoration, not as they do to other objects of detestation, because they consider it hurtful, but because in their estimation it is a passion which mainly contributes to the safety of a State." Valerius Maximus, when remarking that there were in Rome three temples erected in honour of Febris (fever), adds that she was worshipped in order that she might cause less destruction. Pliny also affords similar information.—See Doctrina, v. 85, 86, where will also be found a list of Genii, selected from the coins of families under three heads, viz.:
1. Genii of Countries, Cities, and Peoples.
3. Mali Genii; such as Pallor and Pavor in Hostilia gens. No others of this absurd description are found on Roman coins. The Imperial mintages furnish a host of Genii. A few examples from each series are subjoined hereto.