What was the Des Consentes, the Council of 12 Roman Gods, and how did it start?
It started really, with Hannibal. Hannibal was from Carthage, an ancient city-state in north Africa. Hannibal was Rome's enemy. Hannibal was a military genius.
During the time when Rome was a Republic, Hannibal had already fought the Romans in skirmishes and smaller battles and had beaten them badly. Now, Hannibal and his army were on their way to conquer the city of Rome. This was a terrifying threat to the Roman people. They were beginning to believe that Hannibal was unstoppable. People were depressed. Some were ready to give up without a fight. The Roman Senate wanted to do something to boost public morale, to get the Roman people believing that they could win the fight against Hannibal, but they couldn't think of anything.
The Roman Senate asked the Roman College for help. The College was a collection of professors and teachers in Rome. The College suggested a sort of pep rally. They thought the Roman people needed to be reminded that the gods were on their side. They suggested statues of their 12 major gods be grouped together in a public display, as if the gods were in a meeting to discuss Hannibal's defeat. The people would realize that even a military genius like Hannibal could not hope to win against the combined power of these 12 major gods. They suggested a feast be held in honor of this grouping.
The Roman Senate jumped on the idea. They did not have time to order full statues. Instead they ordered their best artists to sculpt just the heads of their 12 major gods. These heads were displayed in pairs on six couches. The couches were grouped together in public, as if the heads displayed on the couches were talking to each other at a meeting. The 12 gods were Jupiter and Juno, Neptune and Minerva, Mars and Venus, Apollo and Diana, Vulcan and Vesta, Mercury and Ceres; 6 gods and 6 goddesses. The Senate named this group the Dei Consentes, the Council of 12.
Hannibal never got as far as Rome. He was stopped by the Roman Legion and had to flee. The Roman people believed that the Council of 12, their 12 major gods, had assisted the Roman Legion in their victory. Their belief that the gods were on their side gave the ancient Romans confidence to go forth and conquer, and continue to expand.