The story of Saturn is older than Rome itself. Saturn reigned during the Golden Age of Latium, when all people were equal -- there was no class distinction and there were no slaves. Everyone prospered and no one -- even kings -- set themselves above others. It was a time when the villages of Latium welcomed among them all who cared to make their homes and share in the communities' toil and bounty.
Tradition has it that Saturn, known as Kronos, King of Gods in Greece, was given an oracle that he would be defeated by his own son: In fear, the god devoured his offspring as fast as they were born, and he kept them sunk in his bowels.
Many a time did Saturn's wife, Rhea, grumble, to be so often big with child, yet never to be a mother; she repined at her own fruitfulness. And so when Jove was born she concealed a stone in a garment, which, Saturn, thinking it was the babe, swallowed. So had fate decreed that the sire should be beguiled.
The fate of Saturn's children is a story best told another day. Suffice it to say that the oracle was true, and defeated, Saturn fled Greece, driven from the celestial realm by his son, Jupiter, who, along with his siblings, reigned in their father's place. And so to Latium during the reign of Ianus "in a ship came the sickle-bearing god to the Tuscan river after wandering over the world." (Fasti) Just as Latium opened its arms wide to refugees of all kinds, Saturn was welcomed in Italy.
When Saturn arrived by ship, Ianus received him as a guest. He learned from Saturn the art of husbandry, thereby improving his people's lives, whose methods of farming before then had been brutish and rude. Saturn is credited with the invention of the art of grafting, with the cultivation of fruit trees, and with instructing men in everything that belongs to the fertilizing of the fields.
Ianus and Saturn reigned together in harmony for many a year and built two neighboring towns, which some say were on two of the Seven Hills of Rome. Their reign is said to have been a time of great happiness, both on account of the universal plenty that then prevailed and because as yet there was no division into bond and free.
It was during their reign that Saturn suddenly disappeared, and Ianus then devised means to add to his honors. First he gave the name Saturnia to the land ruled by Saturn. He then built an altar, instituting rites as to a god and calling these rites the Saturnalia - a fact which goes to show how very much older the festival is than the city of Rome. It was because Saturn had improved the conditions of life that, by order of Ianus, religious honors have been paid to him since before the birth of Rome itself. A pious posterity inscribed a ship on coinage to commemorate the coming of the stranger god to Rome, the other side depicting the two-faced Ianus.
The statue of Saturn was filled with oil and was bound with woolen bonds, which were untied for the feast day of Saturnalia. Those who have associated Saturn with sowing have attributed this unbinding as symbolic of the seed bursting forth in the tenth month (both with respect to the calendar -- December being the tenth month -- and to pregnancy).