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Bronze statue of Silvanus, said to be from Nocera in southern Italy.
Drawing of a relief of Silvanus from Rome.

Silvanus (Latin: "of the woods") was a Roman tutelary spirit or deity of woods and fields. As protector of forests (sylvestris deus), he especially presided over plantations and delighted in trees growing wild.[1][2][3][4] He is also described as a god watching over the fields and husbandmen, protecting in particular the boundaries of fields.[5] He was apparently inherited from the Etruscan deity Selvans.

Silvanus is described as the divinity protecting the flocks of cattle, warding off wolves, and promoting their fertility.[1][6][7][8] Hyginus states that Silvanus was the first to set up stones to mark the limits of fields, and that every estate had three Silvani:[9]

  • a Silvanus domesticus (in inscriptions called Silvanus Larum and Silvanus sanctus sacer Larum)
  • a Silvanus agrestis (also called salutaris), who was worshipped by shepherds, and
  • a Silvanus orientalis, that is, the god presiding over the point at which an estate begins.

Hence Silvani were often referred to in the plural.


Attributes and associations

Like other gods of woods and flocks, Silvanus is described as fond of music; the syrinx was sacred to him,[1] and he is mentioned along with the Pans and Nymphs.[2][10] Later speculators even identified Silvanus with Pan, Faunus, Inuus and Aegipan.[11] He must have been associated with the Italian Mars, for Cato refers to him as Mars Silvanus.[7] In the provinces outside of Italy, Silvanus was identified with numerous native gods:[12]

The Slavic god Borevit has similarities with Silvanus.[citation needed]


Votive statue of the ursarius (bear-catcher) of Legio XXX Ulpia Victrix to Silvanus, LVR-Archäologischer Park Xanten

The sacrifices offered to Silvanus consisted of grapes, ears of grain, milk, meat, wine and pigs.[1][5][13][14][15] In Cato's De Agricultura an offering to Mars Silvanus is described, to ensure the health of cattle; it is stated there that his connection with agriculture referred only to the labour performed by men, and that females were excluded from his worship.[7][14] (Compare Bona Dea for a Roman deity from whose worship men were excluded.) Virgil relates that in the very earliest times the Tyrrhenian Pelasgians had dedicated a grove and a festival to Silvanus.[6]

In literature

In works of Latin poetry and art, Silvanus always appears as an old man, but as cheerful and in love with Pomona.[5][16][17][18] Virgil represents him as carrying the trunk of a cypress (Greek: δενδροφόρος),[10] about which the following myth is told. Silvanus – or Apollo according to other versions[19][20] – was in love with the youth Cyparissus, and once by accident killed a hind belonging to Cyparissus. The latter died of grief, and was metamorphosed into a cypress.[21][22][23]

In the Harry Potter series, the former Care of Magical Creatures teacher is named Silvanus Kettleburn.


  1. ^ a b c d Tibullus II.5.27, 30.
  2. ^ a b Lucan. Pharsalia III.402.
  3. ^ Pliny the Elder. Naturalis historia XII.2.
  4. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses I.193.
  5. ^ a b c Horace. Epodes II.21-22.
  6. ^ a b Virgil. Aeneid VIII.600-1.
  7. ^ a b c Cato the Elder. De Re Rustica 83
  8. ^ Nonnus II.324.
  9. ^ Hyginus. De limitibus constituendi, preface.
  10. ^ a b Virgil. Georgics I.20-1.
  11. ^ Plutarch. Parallel Lives. Min. 22.
  12. ^ Peter F. Dorcey (1992). The Cult of Silvanus: A Study in Roman Folk Religion, p.32. ISBN 9789004096011.
  13. ^ Horace. Epistles II.1.143.
  14. ^ a b Juvenal. VI.446, with associated scholia.
  15. ^ Compare Voss. Mythol. Briefe, 2.68; Hartung, Die Relig. der Röm. vol. 2. p. 170, &c.
  16. ^ Virgil. Georgics II.494
  17. ^ Horace. Carmina III.8.
  18. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses XIV.639.
  19. ^ Servius. Commentary on the Aeneid III.680.
  20. ^ Ovid. Metamorphoses X.106
  21. ^ Servius. Commentary on Virgil's Georgics I.20
  22. ^ Virgil. Eclogues X.26.
  23. ^ Virgil. Aeneid III.680.

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