What’s in the name Portunus

Portunus is an ancient Roman God, originally it seems, of keys, doors and livestock and was considered the protector of warehouses where grain was stored.

Portunus over time eventually evolved into a god associated with ports and harbours, protecting the major Roman port at Ostia on the River Tiber which was particularly vulnerable from flooding during the Mediterranean storms, also evolving it appears as protector of seaman and of navigation.

His temple was built overlooking and protecting the River Tiber and still remains intact today having stood there since about 100 B.C. His festival, the Protunalia, was celebrated on August 17. Not much is known about this festival other than it might have involved keys and doors. He was often depicted with a key in his hand.

The name Portunus is derived from “Portus” meaning Port in Latin, the word “Opportune” seems to have been derived from the God Portunus delivering vessels to the mouth of the harbor at Ostia.

“Ob” meaning before and “Portus” meaning port or harbour both words in Latin combining to form “Obportus” (Before Harbour). Therefore, the vessel arriving safely back to port symbolized an “Opportune Moment”.

The Temple of Portunus dates from the Roman Republic period. The Romans built urban temples in commercial centres as well as in special sanctuaries. This is an early example from the second century BCE and is a small rectangular temple standing on a raised platform beside the Tiber River in Rome and probably dedicated to Portunus, the god of harbours and ports. This temple acts as the perfect hybrid of Greek and Etruscan temples.