Roman Republic
 


Roman Pre-History


Cult of Vulcan


Linked pages:  VolcanalCult of VulcanLapis NigerHoratius Cocles

Archaic Shrine of Vulcan in the Forum


Adapted from the page Forum Romanum by the Khan Academy

Foundation by Titus Tatius

The Romans of the late Republic imagined that the cult of Vulcanus (Vulcan) had been introduced to Rome very soon after its foundation.   Varro (44 BC) is our earliest source for the circumstances in which this took place.  In his account:

  1. “... the ‘Annals’ record that, [after Romulus and the Sabine king Titus Tatius had agreed to share power in the newly-founded city],  Tatius vowed arae (altars) to ... [a number of Sabine deities, including] Vulcan ...”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 74, translated by Roland Kent, at p. 71).

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (7 BC) set this foundation in its ‘historical’ context: after Tatius and Romulus had agreed to share power, they:

  1. “... immediately enlarged the city by adding two other hills to it: the Quirinal; ... and the Caelian.  ... [Romulus and Tatius] each had his particular place of residence:

  2. Romulus occupied the Palatine, ... [the site of his original settlement, and the adjacent] Caelian ... ; and

  3. Tatius occupied the Capitol (which he had already seized) and the Quirinal. 

  4. After cutting down the wood on the plain at the foot of the Capitol and filling up most of the lake [there] ... , they converted the plain into a Forum, which the Romans use even now.  They held their assemblies there, transacting their business in the shrine of Hephaestus, [the Greek precursor of Vulcan], which stands a little above the Forum.  They also built shrines and consecrated altars to those gods to whom they had addressed their vows during their battles:

  5. Romulus [dedicated a shrine] to Jupiter Stator, near the Porta Mugonia ... ; and

  6. Tatius  [dedicated shrines to a number of deities, including] ... Vulcan ...”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 50: 1-3).

Thus, Dionysius believed that Tatius had built the Volcanal (another name for the Shrine of Vulcan) on a site that was ‘a little above the Forum’, below and between the Palatine and the Capitol.   He subsequently placed several public assemblies in the early Republic: in 493 BC (‘Roman Antiquities’, 6: 67: 2); in 492 BC (‘Roman Antiquities’, 7: 17: 2); and in 447 BC (‘Roman Antiquities’, 11: 39: 1).  Plutarch (see below) noted that, in some traditions, Romulus had been killed during a meeting of the ‘Senate’ here:

  1. “... some conjectured that the senators, convened in the shrine of Hephaestus/ Vulcan, fell upon [Romulus] and killed him”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 27: 2-3).

Foundation by Romulus

Pliny the Elder drew on a tradition in which Romulus (rather than Titus Tatius) had founded this shrine:

  1. “There is ... [a] lotus in Volcanali, which was founded by Romulus with the 10th part of the spoils of victory: according to Massurius [Sabinus, a jurist who was writing in the early 1st century AD, the tree] is generally considered to be as old as the City, ... ”, (‘Natural History’, 16: 86).

This passage seems to imply that the Volcanal survived in some form next to an ancient lotus in 77 AD, the date at which Pliny’s work was published. 

Plutarch (in a work that was published about 20 years after Pliny’s) also followed this Romulean tradition.  He asked rhetorically:

  1. “Why did Romulus build the shrine of Vulcan outside the city ?

  2. Was it because of Vulcan's fabled jealousy of Mars, ... [who had seduced Vulcan’s wife], Venus that Romulus, the reputed son of Mars, did not give Vulcan a share in his home or his city ?

  3. Or is this a foolish explanation, and was the shrine originally built as a secret place for meetings with his colleague Tatius, so that they might convene there with the senators and take counsel concerning public affairs ... ?

  4. Or was it that, since Rome, from the very beginning, was in great danger from conflagrations, the Romans decided to show honour to this god, but to place his shrine outside of the city [on the Palatine] ?”, (‘Roman Questions’, 47).

Plutarch’s second answer reflects Dionysius’ belief that the shrine of Vulcan was the locus of public affairs in archaic Rome.  His third answer probably reflects a passage by Vitruvius (ca. 20 BC) in which he recorded that the disciplina of the Etruscan haruspices prescribed that:

  1. “... shrines of ... Vulcanus ...  should be situated outside the [city] ... so that [its] buildings may be freed from the terror of fires through the religious rites and sacrifices that call the power of Vulcan beyond the walls”, (‘de Architectura’, 1: 7: 1).

Although this passage by Vitruvius deals with architectural principles in general, he would have had in mind the fact that the Republican temple of Vulcan at Rome had been built in the Circus Flaminius, outside the pomerium (as discussed further below).

Archaic Shrine and Romulus’ Second Triumph


Opening lines of the fasti Triumphales (Musei Capitolini)

Romulus, son of Mars, king, [triumphed] over the Caeninenses on the Kalends of March

[Romulus], son of Mars, king [triumphed for the second time over ???]”

[The next eleven lines are illegible]

From ‘Mr Jennings’ on Flickr

Dionysius recorded that, after Romulus suppressed a revolt at the Roman colony at Cameria, he:

  1. “... celebrated a second triumph.  Out of the spoils, he dedicated a bronze, four-horse chariot to Vulcan.  Near it, he set up his own statue with an inscription in Greek characters setting out his achievements”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 54: 2).

This was one of three triumphs that Dionysius attributed to Romulus:

  1. He had already described how Romulus had celebrated the first Roman triumph (discussed below) in the context of his wars with the Latin centres of Caenina, Antemna and Crustumerium, all of which had been affected by his abduction of the ‘Sabine’ women. 

  2. These engagements had been followed by Titus Tatius’ invasion of Rome, which had culminated in the period of his joint rule with Romulus.  Dionysius placed Romulus’ second triumph, over Cameria, in the period after Tatius’ death, when Romulus was once more the sole ruler of Rome. 

  3. He then recorded that Romulus’ victory over Veii in the last war of his reign led to:

  4. “... the third triumph that Romulus celebrated, and it was much more magnificent than either of the two that had preceded it”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 55: 5).

Plutarch is our only other surviving source for Romulus’ victory over Cameria after the death of Tatius.  he recorded that, after this victory:

  1. “Among other spoils, [Romulus] brought a bronze, four-horse chariot from Cameria and dedicated it in the shrine of Vulcan.  He also had a statue of himself made for this shrine, with a figure of Victoria crowning him”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 24: 5).

Although this account is very similar to that of Dionysius, there are a number of important differences between the two accounts:

  1. While Dionysius recorded only that Romulus dedicated a captured  chariot to Vulcan, Plutarch was explicit that he made this dedication at the shrine of Vulcan. 

  2. Dionysius is our inly surviving source for the ‘inscription in Greek characters setting out his achievements’ that stood beside the statue of Romulus (discussed further below).

  3. Plutarch is our only surviving source for the figure of Victory crowning Romulus, and she might have been his own invention.  The cult of Victoria was probably introduced to Rome only in ca. 305 BC, when L. Postumius Megellus vowed her temple on the Palatine.  Interestingly, we know of a statue of Victoria that stood in the Forum: according to Zonaras, in 296 BC (two years before Megellus’ temple was dedicated), a number of prodigies were reported in Rome, one of which took place:

  4. “... in the Forum,  [where] a bronze statue of Victoria [that had been] set upon a stone pedestal was found standing on the ground below, without any one's having moved it; and, as it happened, it was facing in that direction from which the Gauls were already approaching [the city]”, (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio, 8: fragment 36).

  5. We also know that the motif of Victoria crowning Romulus appeared elsewhere in Roman art, at least from the late Republic.  For example, Philip Holliday (referenced below, at p. 97 and figures 8 and 9) described a cylindrical relief at Faleri, (modern Cività Castellana) that still survives in the atrium of the Duomo there, in which Victoria crowned Romulus as he made a libation over a flaming altar (with Mars, Venus and Vulcan looking on).  Holliday dated this relief to some time after 46 BC and suggested that at least the figure of Mars, which dominates the composition, probably derived from a freestanding Roman prototype.  It is possible that Plutarch had seen a free-standing statue of Victoria crowning Romulus in another context and had imagined that the statue of Victoria in the Forum (which might have still survived), had come from the Volcanal.

However, the most significant difference between Plutarch and Dionysius is that Plutarch recorded only two occasions on which Romulus triumphed: over Caenina and over Veii.  Raymond Bloch (referenced below, at p. 327) argued that, in the passage above, Plutarch had implied that:

  1. “... Romulus [also] triumphed ... at the end [of the engagement at Cameria], albeit that [he] did not explicitly use the term [triumph]”, (my translation). 

Be that as it may, only one other of our surviving sources states explicitly that Romulus triumphed on three occasions: in his brief summary of Romulus’ 37 year reign, C. Iulius Solinus (3rd century AD) recorded that:

  1. “He held his first triumph over the Caeninenses, and took spolia from their king, Acron.  This he dedicated to Jupiter Feretrius, and called it [spolia opima - see below].  His second triumph was over the people of Antemna and his third over the people of Veii”, (‘De mirabilibus mundi’, 1: 20).

The first entry in the fasti Triumphales (ca. 18 BC) recorded Romulus’ triumph over Caenina  (see the illustration above), but the entries that followed it are now missing.  It is usually assumed (following Attilio Degrassi, referenced below) that these missing entries included Romulus’ second and third triumphs: Degrassi assumed that the second was over Antemna (probably because Livy recorded this victory at ‘History of Rome’, 1: 11: 1, but made no mention of Romulus’ putative engagement at Cameria) and the third (unsurprisingly) was over Veii.  However, it is important to note that these fasti (whether or not they recorded any triumphs of Romulus after that over Caenina) did not represent a universally-accepted tradition: for example, the first Roman triumph recorded by Livy (at ‘History of Rome’, 1: 38: 3) was celebrated by Tarquinius Priscus (traditionally the 5th king of Rome) over the Sabines.  (Interestingly, Livy recorded (at ‘History of Rome’, 1: 37: 5) that, before returning to Rome in triumph after this victory, Tarquinius fulfilled a vow that he had made to Vulcan by burning some of the enemy spoils on the battlefield). 

Thus, Dionysius is the only one of our surviving sources who certainly associated the Volcanal with Romulus’ putative second triumph over Cameria.  In order to understand the significance that Dionysius attached to this association, we might usefully consider his account of Romulus’ first triumph, which (as noted above) came in the aftermath of his abduction of the Sabine women.  On this earlier occasion, Romulus:  

  1. “... fought with [the outraged king of Caenina] and, after killing him with his own hands, stripped him of his armour ... [He then] marched against the [similarly outraged] Antemnates, and, having also conquered their army,  ... he led his own army home, carrying with him the spoils of those who had been killed in battle, [together with the other] choicest part of the booty, as an offering to the gods”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 33:2 - 34: 1).

Dionysius then described what was, in effect, a triumphal procession, in which:

  1. “Romulus himself came last ... , clad in a purple robe and wearing a crown of laurel upon his head.  He rode in a chariot drawn by four horses so that he might maintain the royal dignity.  ... Such was the victorious procession ... that the Romans call a triumph, as it was first instituted by Romulus”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 34: 2-3).

Plutarch objected that:

  1. “...Dionysius is incorrect in saying that Romulus used a chariot [in this procession].  For, it is matter of history that [Tarquinius Priscus] was first of the kings to lift triumphs up to such pomp and ceremony, although others say that Publicola, [one of the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings], was the first to celebrate a triumph riding on a chariot.  And the statues of Romulus bearing the trophies [of his victories] are, as may be seen in Rome, all on foot”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 16: 8).

It seems to me that Dionysius had probably relied on some sort of theatrical performance for his description of the procession in which Romulus rode in a chariot during his first triumph.  Nevertheless, he stopped to lament how the practice of his own day had moved away from what he still regarded as its ancient simplicity, before recording that:

  1. “After the [first triumphal] procession and the sacrifice, Romulus built a small shrine to Jupiter, whom the Romans call Feretrius, on the summit of the Capitol ... In this temple, he consecrated the [armour] of the king of Caenina, whom he had killed with his own hands ... [and dedicated it to] Jupiter Feretrius ... ”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 34: 4).

Archaic Shrine and Romulus’ Second Triumph: Conclusions

In summary, according to Dionysius:

  1. after his first triumph over Caenina and Antemna, Romulus dedicated the armour that he had stripped from the body the king of Caenina (which was characterised by other sources as the spolia opima, because Romulus had killed the enemy king in single combat) to Jupiter Feretrius, and built a new shrine on the Capitol to house both the cult and the spolia opima; and

  2. after his second triumph, he dedicated a bronze, four-horse chariot that he had taken as booty from Cameria to Vulcan, presumably in the shrine of Vulcan that (in his account) Tatius had built on a site that was ‘a little above the Forum’.

Thus, it seems that Dionysius regarded both the armour of the king of Caenina and the bronze four-horse chariot taken from Cameria as trophies of war that were dedicated to the god who had brought victory: Jupiter Feretrius on the first occasion and Vulcan on the second.  He  described the dedication to Jupiter Feretrius as the culmination of a triumphal procession, and it seems likely that this is also how he understood the dedication to Vulcan at the Volcanal.  Before the dedication of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capital (traditionally in 509 BC, immediately after the expulsion of the kings), triumphal processions (if they had ever actually taken place in the regal period) must have ended with sacrifices to other gods at other, even older cult sites.  For the Greek Dionysius, Vulcan would have been an obvious dedicatee for a bronze chariot, since his Greek equivalent, Hephaestus, was thought to have built chariots for some of the gods, and he himself was sometimes depicted using a winged chariot to overcome his lameness. 

Archaic Shrine of Vulcan and the Lapis Niger


Fragment of a Greek black-figure krater (ca. 575 BC) from the Lapis Niger in the Forum

(now in the Antiquarium del Foro , Rome)

The fragment depicts  Hephaestus on a donkey, returning to Mount Olympus from exile

Adapted from Francesco Marcattili, referenced below, at p. 27, Fig. 8

Our most important surviving source for the location of the Volcanal isVerrius Flaccus (late 1st century BC/ early 1st century AD), who referred to it on at least two occasions:

  1. According to Aulus Gellius (2nd century AD), Flaccus recorded in Book 1 of his now lost ‘rerum memoria dignarum’ (‘Memorable Facts’) that a statue of the Roman hero Horatius Cocles in the Comitium was struck by lightening (at a now-unknown date), and that this was taken to be a sign that the gods wanted it to be relocated:

  2. “... in locum editum (in a high place): ... accordingly, [it was moved to] sublimiore loco (a more elevated position) in area Volcanali ... ”, (‘Attic Nights’, 4: 5: 1-6, based on the translation by John Rich, in T. J. Cornell (editor), referenced below, Volume II, at p. 23).

  3. Gellius also cited the ‘Annales Maximi’ for this passage, but it is likely that he had derived all the information directly from Flaccus, and that Flaccus had cited the ‘Annales Maximi’ for some or all of it.

  4. According to Festus, in his epitome of Flaccus’ lexicon, a ludius (possibly an actor or a chariot driver) who had been killed by lightning in the Circus was first buried on the Janiculum but, ex prodigiis oraculorumque responsis (in response to prodigies and oracles), the Senate decreed that his bones should be brought back to Rome and buried:

  5. “... in Volcanali quod est supra Comitium ... ”, (‘De verborum significatione’, 370 L);

  6. and that his effigy should be set up on a column above his new grave. 

These passages indicate that Verrius Flaccus considered the Comitium and the Volcanal to be distinct locations, and that the Volcanal was in some sense ‘supra Comitium’.  As we shall see, this location appears again in records of the festival of the Volcanalia (23rd August) in the fasti Antiates Maiores (pre-Julian calendar) and the fasti Fratum Arvalium (ca. 29 BC). 

The problem is that, by the time that Flaccus was writing, the Comitium itself, which had stood in the northern part of the Forum for centuries, no longer existed in any meaningful way.  On the other hand, Pliny the Elder recorded that, at his time of writing (ca. 77 AD):

  1. the Volcanal still existed in an apparently archaic form next to an ancient lotus tree (‘Natural History’, 16: 86); and  

  2. the statue of Horatius Cocles, which (as we have seen) had been moved from the Comitium to the Volcanal, could also still be seen (‘Natural History’, 34: 11).

In other words, Flaccus had probably seen this statue in the Volcanal, which still stood in the northern part of the Forum on a site that was still described as supra Comitium (an epithet that had presumably been used in the Republican period, as evidenced by the fasti Antiates Maiores).  There are, at present, two distinct schools of thought as to the precise location of the Volcanal: as John Rich, in T. J. Cornell (editor), referenced below, Volume III, at p. 8) observed:

  1. “[Filippo Coarelli, referenced below, 1983, at pp. 161-78, for example,] identifies the sanctuary with the [lapis niger] complex within the Comitium, whereas [Paolo Carafa, referenced below, at pp. 103-5 and 115-6, for example], holds that it was adjacent to and slightly above the Comitium.”

I return to this difficult area below: for the moment, I want to concentrate on the material evidence from the sanctuary under the lapis niger that, according to Filippo Coarelli, indicated that it was none other than the archaic shrine of Vulcan. 





The case for the Lapis Niger was summarised (for example ) by Timothy Cornell (referenced below, at pp. 162-3):

  1. “... Filippo Coarelli has convincingly identified [the sanctuary that has been excavated under the Lapis Niger in the Comitium] as the shrine of Vulcan (Volcanal) referred to in the written sources.  A votive deposit associated with the earliest phases of the sanctuary was found to contain a fragment of an Attic black-figure cup [illustrated above], showing Hephaestus returning to Mount Olympus on a donkey, a well-known Greek myth.  The presence of this scene in this context cannot be a coincidence.  It confirms the identification of the [sanctuary under the Lapis Niger as the]  Volcanal, and proves that, by [580 - 570 BC, the likely date of the krater], the Romans already equated Vulcan with Hephaestus.”

However, this over-states the case, since the votive deposit was not, in fact, ‘associated with the earliest phases of the sanctuary’: as Giacomo Boni (referenced below, 1900, at pp. 178-80), who was responsible for the excavation, recorded, it was in what he called the ‘sacrificial layer’ that covered the sanctuary when it was sealed in the 1st century BC.  The vase certainly dates to about the time of the lowermost pavement of the sanctuary, but there is no hard evidence that this was its original location.  Indeed, it might not have been  imported by a Roman: as Nancy Thomson de Grummond (referenced below, at p. 134), an Etruscan god called Sethlans seems to have replaced Hephaestus in depictions of this myth on Etruscan mirrors, and imported Greek vases displaying the original myth were very popular in Etruria from the 6th century BC.

In a similar vein, Francesco Marcattili (referenced below, at p. 16) argued that:

  1. “At the Comitium, fire must have been the pre-eminent element associated with the return from war, in a ritual that provided for the offering and burning of enemy weapons.  [Giacomo Boni found] weapons [that he described as] ‘heavily oxidised’ during his excavation at the [‘sacrificial layer’] of the Lapis Niger, where the famous fragments of an Attic black-figure crater with the return of Hephaestus to Olympus, demonstrate the perfect (and early) theological overlap between Greek  Hephaestus and Roman Volcanus, and ... the links between [Vulcan on the one hand] and the triumph of Romulus and the quasi-divination (eroizzazione) of victorious commanders [on the other]”, (m translation).

Marcattili followed Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 1983, at p. 177 and note 33) in relying on Giacomo Boni (referenced below, 1899, at p. 157, a paper that I have not been able to consult directly), who recorded the presence of the oxidised remain of spears or lances: these were presumably the ‘spear points, almost consumed by rust’ that are mentioned in the English translation of his paper of 1900 (referenced below).  It is possible that these had been burned, but it is clear that they were relatively unimportant in relation to the other remains:  Aaron Bartels (referenced below, at p. 48), who inspected all of Boni’s reports, was under the impression that:

  1. “... Boni found no weapons in the burnt deposits [in the ‘sacrificial layer] ...”


Archaic Shrine of Vulcan in the Forum: Conclusions

Our surviving sources are unanimous in asserting that the Volcanal was established in the reign of Romulus, when it was founded by either Titus Tatius (Varro and Dionysius) or by Romulus himself (Pliny the Elder and Plutarch).  Livy, who did not address the foundation of the shrine, nevertheless assumed that the cult of Vulcan was already established at Rome in the reign of Tarquinius Priscus.  The passage from Pliny the Elder quoted above seems to imply that it survived in some form in the Forum until at least 77 AD.

Dionysius is our only source for the tradition that the Volcanal played a role akin to that of the shrine of Jupiter Feretrius in relation to Romulus’ putative triumphs.  It is impossible to deduce how much of his account of this second triumph is his own invention:

  1. Plutarch (some 80 years later) is our only other surviving source for Romulus’ victory at Cameria and his subsequent dedication of the chariot and the erection of his statue at the Volcanal; and

  2. Dionysius himself is our only surviving source for Romulus’ second triumph over Cameria and for the ‘inscription in Greek characters setting out his achievements’ that stood beside this statue.

A number of our surviving sources assumed that the Volcanal was the locus of public affairs in the Regal period, probably because it seems to have been located in of near the site of Republican Comitium, in the northern part of the Forum. 

Volcanalia

According to Varro:

  1. “[The word] Volcanalia [is derived] from Vulcan, because it was his festival, and because, on that day, populus pro se (the people, acting for themselves), drive their animals over a fire”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 6: 20, translated by Roland Kent, referenced below, at p. 193).

Howard Scullard (referenced below, at p. 148) took the phrase ‘populus pro se’ to indicate that people burned their animals as substitutes for themselves. 


Adam Ziolkowski (referenced below, at pp. 179-80) listed the surviving records of the festival of the Volcanalia (23rd August):

  1. the fasti Antiates Maiores (pre-Julian calendar):

  2. V[olk(ano), H]orae Qu[i(r(ini)]/  [Maiae s]upr(a) Comi(tium)

  3. [To] Vulcan, Horae Quirini, [Maia], above the Comitium

  4. the fasti Fratum Arvalium (ca. 29 BC), following Ziolkowski’s minimalist completion:

  5. ---------Volcano / ---------[Nymp]his in Camp(o);

  6. Opi Opifer(ae) / ---------[Horae] Quir(ini) in Colle;

  7. Volk(ano) / ---------[supra] Comit(ium)

  8. the fasti Valenses (early 1st century AD):

  9. Volcano in circo Flaminio

  10. [To] Vulcan in the Circus Flaminius

This suggests that, at least from the late Republic, sacrifices were made on 23rd August at three locations:

  1. at the Volcanal, supra Comitium;

  2. at a temple on the Quirinal (presumably the Temple of Quirinus); and

  3. the Republican temple of Vulcan that stood in the Campus Martius, near the Circus Flaminius (see below).

Cult at the Volcanal

In the Republican period, the College of Pontifices was made up of fifteen flamines, each dedicated to a particular deity.  The Romans themselves believed that these priesthoods had been established in the Regal period, and Varro observed that their distinguishing epithets were taken:

  1. “... from [the gods] whose rites they perform; ... some [of these epithets] are obvious, ... like Martialis and Volcanalis; ...”, (‘On the Latin Language’, 5: 84, translated by Roland Kent, referenced below, at p. 81).

Thus, the existence of the flamines Volcanalis indicates that the cult of Vulcan had been established at a very early date, presumably at the well-attested archaic shrine of Vulcan in the Forum.

The surviving entry in the fasti Antiates Maiores  indicates that, on the day of the Volcanalia, sacrifices were made at this archaic shrine ‘supra Comitium’ , not only to Vulcan, but to Hora Quirini and (probably) Maia, both of whom appeared in a passage by Aulus Gellius:

  1. “Prayers to the immortal gods, which are offered according to the Roman ritual, are recorded in libris sacerdotum populi Romani (in the books of the priests of the Roman people), as well as in many early books of prayers.  In these, we find: Lua of Saturn; Salacia of Neptune; Hora of Quirinus; the Virites of Quirinus; Maia of Vulcan; Heries of Juno; Moles of Mars; and Nerienes of Mars”, (‘Attic Nights’, 13: 23: 2).

Gellius used this as an introductory passage to his discussion of the identity of Nerio of Mars (Nerio Martis).  His own opinion was that:

  1. “... [the] word, whether it be Nerio or Nerienes, is Sabine and signifies valour and courage.  ... Therefore, Nerio [is an attribute, and] designates the strength and power of Mars and a certain majesty of the War-god”, (‘Attic Nights’, 13: 23: 9-10).

Nevertheless, he cited Plautus (in his play ‘Truculentus’ of ca. 186 BC, Licinius Imbrex (whom he described as  an erly writer of comedies) and Book 3 of the ‘Annales’ of his namesake Cn. Gellius (who was probably the moneyer of 138 BC) for the belief that Nerio/ Nerienes/ Neria was the wife of Mars.  As John Briscoe (referenced below, in T. J. Cornell (editor), referenced below, at Vol. 3, p. 236) pointed out, most modern scholars believe that Nerio was originally an attribute of Mars.  Gary Forsythe (referenced below, at p. 145) agreed, arguing that:

  1. “... maia Volcani means ‘might of Vulcan’, whereas and salacia Neptune means ‘effervescence of Neptune’ ... [The phrases hora Quirini and nerio Martis] are more obscure and understandable only with recourse to the other Italic languages.  Thus, hora Quirini means ‘will of Quirinus’ and nerio Martis means ‘strength of Mars’.In later historical times, however, some of these divine attributes had evolved into minor divinities whom the Romans believed to be closely relateor subservient to the major deity.  In other instances, the Romans no longer remembered the original meaning of such attributes and reinterpreted them as representing divine consorts of the gods with whom they were associated.”

Hora Quirini 

The earliest surviving reference to Hora Quirini is from Book I Ennius’ ‘Annales’ (ca. 175 BC), as cited in the 4th century AD by the grammarian Nonius Marcellus (172 L),  who identified the goddess Hora as ‘iuventutis dea’ (goddess of youth):

  1. “<and you,> Father Quirinus, I beseech, and Hora, consort of Quirinus [Hora Quirini]”, (translated by Sander Goldberg and Gesine Manuwald, referenced below, at p. 159, fragment 51).



The juxtaposition here of Quirinus and Hora Quirini suggests that Ennius regarded Hora to be the wife of Quirinus.  Ovid made this explicit in a passage that followed his description of the apotheosis of Romulus’ widow:

  1. “[Romulus’] wife was mourning him as lost, when regal Juno bade Iris go down to Hersilia on her arching way with these directions for the widowed queen:

  2. ‘O queen, bright glory both of Latium and of the Sabine race, most worthy once to have been the consort of so great a man, and now of divine Quirinus, cease your laments and, if you would indeed behold your husband, come with me to yonder grove which stands green on Quirinus’ hill, shading the temple of the king of Rome.’

  3. Iris obeyed and, gliding to earth along her rainbow arch, accosted Hersilia in the words which had been given her.  She, scarce lifting her eyes and with modest look, replied:

  4. ‘O goddess ..., lead, oh, lead me on, and show me my husband’s face.  If only the fates grant me but once to see him, then shall I say I have gained heaven indeed.’

  5. Straightway, she fared along with [Iris] to the hill of Romulus. There, a star from high heaven came gliding down to earth, and Hersilia, her hair bursting into flame from its light, goes up together with the star into thin air.  Rome’s founder receives her with dear, familiar hands and changes her mortal body and her erstwhile name: he calls her Hora, and now as goddess is she joined once more to her Quirinus”, (‘Metamorphoses’, 14: 829-851, translated by Frank Justus Miller, referenced below, at pp. 359-61).


Maia Volcani

Maia’s inclusion in the present discussion arises because of the traditional completion of the fasti Antiates Maiore (above): as Bernard Combet-Farnoux (referenced below, at p. 318) pointed out, since Maia’s association with the cult of Vulcan is  recorded in our surviving sources (including Aulus Gellius - above), this completion is widely and reasonably accepted.  The other important source in this context is Macrobius, who recorded that:

  1. “Cingius [probably the late Republican antiquarian Cincius] thinks the month [of May] was named for Maia, whom he says is the wife of Vulcan, and he bases his argument on the fact that the flamen Volcanalis sacrifices to this goddess on 1st May; but [L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi. the consul of 133 BC] says that Vulcan’s wife is named Maiesta, not Maia”, (‘Saturnalia’, 1: 12: 18-19, translated by Robert Kaster, referenced below, Vol. I, at p. 145).

The fact that Piso denied that Maia was the consort of Vulcan does not, of course, undermine the reliability of Cincius’ claim that the flamen Volcanalis sacrificed to Maia on the 1st of May. 

Ludi Piscatorii

Ovid (ca. 10 AD) remembered having seen:

  1. “.... games held [on 7th June] on the sward of the Campus Martius ... that  ... were named [for the] Tiber.  The day is a festival for those who draw their dripping lines and hide their bronze hooks under little baits”, (‘Fasti’, 6: 237-40, translated by James Frazer, referenced below, at p. 337).

However, Verrius Flaccus gave a different account of what seem to have been the same annual games: according to Festus, on 7th June, the urban praetor held games ‘across the Tiber’, on behalf of the City’s fishermen.  He then observed that the fishermen’s catch:

  1. “... is not taken to the market but to the area Volcani because that sort of small fish is given alive to [Vulcan as a substitute] for the lives of men”, (‘De verborum significatione’, 274-6 L, translated by Herbert Rose, referenced below, at p. 58).

It is likely that a particular significance attached to the fact that live fish, like live animals - see above) were apparently sacrificed to Vulcan as substitutes for human sacrifice, although this   is probably now unrecoverable.

Cult at the Temple of Vulcan in the Campus Martius

The surviving entries in the fasti Fratrum Arvalium and the fasti Valenses indicate that, on the day of the Volcanalia, sacrifices were made  to Vulcan in his temple in Camp(o)/ in circo Flaminio.  This temple first appears in the surviving literature in a passage by Livy (‘History of Rome’, 24: 10: 9), which recorded a number of ominous portents in 214 BC, including a lightening strike at ‘the temple of Vulcan in the Campus Martius’.  Adam Ziolkowski (referenced below, at p. 181) cogently argued that this temple stood on the confines of the Campus Martius, near the Circus Flaminius, which explains the form of the entry in the  fasti Valenses.  He pointed out that this temple must have been dedicated at sometime in the period 292-219 BC, for which Livy’s books are now lost.  Ziolkowski suggested that C. Aurelius Cotta (cos 252 BC) had probably founded this temple during the First Punic War, since:

  1. the fasti Triumphales record that Cotta triumphed over the Carthaginians and Sicilians in this year;

  2. according to John Zonaras, drawing on Book XI of the ‘Roman History’ of Cassius Dio:

  3. “... [the consul] Aurelius ... took [the island of Lipara, off Sicilyand] killed all the inhabitants ...”, (Zonaras 8: 14, translated by Earnest Cary and Herbert Foster, referenced below, at p. 437); and

  4. according to the Greek Callimachus (3rd century BC), the goddess Artemis, who wanted the Cyclops to make her a quiver and some arrows, found them:

  5. “... on the isle of Lipara, ... at the anvils of Hephaestus Vulcan], standing round a molten mass of iron”, ‘Hymn of Artemis’: 46); and

  6. in 105 BC, a descendant of this Aurelius Cotta issued a series of coins that included dodrantes that depicted Vulcan on the obverse, recalling the standard type of the coinage of Lipara (see below).

Numismatic Evidence for the Roman Cult of Vulcan


Obverse of RRC 314: denarius serratus of L Aurelius Cotta (see below)

Vulcan is depicted wearing a cap bound with a laurel wreath, and with his blacksmith’s tongs over his shoulder

Image from the website Felicita.Perpetua

The on-line database (CRRO) of the coins from the Roman Republic contains only four issues that depicted Vulcan:

  1. two of these, which depict Vulcan on the obverse, came from closely related series:

  2. RRC 263/2: dodrantes (127 BC) issued by M. Metellus (cos 115 BC), the third son of Q. Caecilius Metellus Macedonicus; and

  3. RRC 266/2: dodrantes (126 BC), the only other coin of this denomination issued in the Republic, which was identical to RRC 263/2 except for the inscription on the reverse, which identified the issuer as C. Cassius, probably the son of C. Cassius Longinus (cos 124 BC).

  4. As Gary Farney (referenced below, at pp. 62-3) pointed out, the Caecilii (RRC 263/2) claimed descent for Caeculus, the founder of Praeneste, who was traditionally said to be the son of Vulcan.  Cassius probably used the design of Caecilius’ dodrantes  for his issue in this denomination as a matter of convenience.

  5. RRC 298/1: denarii (112 0r 111 BC) were issued by L. Caesius, whom Gary Farey (as above) characterised as a ‘new man’ from Praeneste who depicted Vullcan on the reverse of these coins to advertise his origins.

  6. RRC 314/1 (a-d): denarii serratii (105 BC) were issued by L. Aurelius Cotta, presumably the tribune of the plebs of 103 BC and praetor of ca. 95 BC.  Michael Crawford (referenced below, at p. 322) observed that:

  7. “The obverse type [of these coins] recalls the standard type of the coinage of Lipara, captured by C. Aurelius Cotta (cos 252 BC); the reverse type, [which involved an eagle on a thunderbolt], alludes to the triumph celebrated in consequence.”

  8. As we saw above, Adam Ziolkowski (referenced below, at p. 181) used this coin as the basis of his suggestion that, after his triumph, C. Aurelius Cotta (cos 252 BC) had founded the Temple of Vulcan in the Campus Martius.

Interestingly, Vulcan is depicted using the same iconography in all four of these issues: he wears a pilos  (worker’s soft cap) bound with a laurel wreath, carrying his blacksmith’s tongs over his shoulder.  In other words, Vulcan was equated with Hephaestus in Rome (and, presumably, in Praeneste) from at least two decades before Cotta’s capture of Lipara.  This iconography might nave reached Rome from one or more Italian cities: for example, Nancy Thomson de Grummond (referenced below, at p. 134 and Fig. VI: 27) discussed a bronze coin (ca. 300 BC)from the ‘metalworking coastal city of Populonia that depicts a head of Sethlans (ofter equated with Hephaestus - see below) in a pilos on the obverse and the tools of his trade on the reverse.

Literary Evidence for the Roman Cult of Vulcan

Vulcan is rarely mentioned in our surviving sources in the context of the Republican period, although Livy recorded two prodigies that involved sites dedicated to his cult:

  1. In 197 BC:

  2. “Before the consuls and praetors set out for their provinces, it was decreed that expiation for the prodigies should be made, because ... the temples of Vulcan and Summanus ... had been struck by lightning”, (‘History of Rome’, 32: 29: 1).

  3. John Briscoe (referenced below, at p. 224) suggested that these temples were both in the area of the Campus Marius/ Circus Flaminius.

  4. In 194 BC:

  5. “In the Forum and the Comitium and on the Capitoline, drops of blood were seen, showers of earth fell several times, and the head of Vulcan burst into flames”, (‘History of Rome’, 39: 45: 6).

  6. Filippo Coarelli, referenced below, 1983, at p. 174, note 28) argued that the context here suggests that this statue was certainly in the Volcanal in the Forum.

Much of what we know about the cult of Vulcan in Rome had been deduced from Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ (19 BC).  In this poem, Virgil referred to Vulcan as ‘Ignipotens’ (which Charlton Lewis translated as: ‘potent in fire, ruler of fire’) on six occasions (8:414; 8:423; 8:628; 8:710; 10:243; and 12:90).  The first two of these references (8:414 and 8:423) come in a passage on Vulcan’s forge on an Aeolian island: as we have seen, Callimachus had placed it on the Aeolian island of Lipara: in Aeneas’ version:

  1. “... Ignipotens rises from his soft couch to the work of his smithy.  Hard by the [Sicilian] coast and Aeolian Lipara rises [another] island, steep with smoking rocks.  Beneath it thunders a cave and the vaults of Aetna, scooped out by Cyclopean forges; ... It is the home of Vulcan, and the island] is called Vulcan’s [modern Vulcano].  Ignipotens now came down to it from high heaven.  In the vast cave the Cyclops were forging iron ...”, (‘Aeneid’, 8: 414-24, Henry Rushton Fairclough, referenced below, 1918, at pp. 89-91).

The next two references (8:628; 8:710) come in a long passage on Aeneas’ shield, which had been made by Ignipotens (fecerat ignipotens) and decorated by prophetic scenes.  As Lee Fratantuono (referenced below, at p. 244) pointed out, Virgil seems to have invented this epithet as a technical term for Vulcan in his role as a forger of weapons. 

Later in this passage on Aeneas’ shield, Virgil referred to Vulcan as ‘Mulciber’ when describing an image on the shield in which the tribes that would be conquered by Augustus:

  1. “... move in long array, as diverse in fashion of dress and arms as in tongues.  Here Mulciber had portrayed the Nomad race and the un-girt Africans, here the Leleges and Carians and quivered Gelonians”, (‘Aeneid’, 8:722-5, Henry Rushton Fairclough, referenced below, 1918, at pp. 111).

Paul the Deacon (8th century AD), in his epitome of the lexicon of M. Verrius Flaccus, gave:

  1. Mulciber: Vulcanus, a molliendo scilicet ferro dictus”, (‘De verborum significatione’, 129 L);

which indicates that this epithet referred to Vulcan’s skill in softening metal.  Macrobius (ca. 400 AD) explained that:

  1. “‘Virgil uses many epithets that he is believed to have made up, but I shall show that these ... were [actually] drawn from the ancients.   Some of these are simple forms, like Gradivus or Mulciber, ... [For example, in the Virgilian passage above], Mulciber is Vulcan, because, as fire, he softens [mulcere] and masters all things.  [Virgil’s source was] Accius [ca. 100 BC], in [the following line from his play] ‘Philoctetes’:

  2. “Alas Mulciber! you have crafted invincible arms with a futile hand [because you made them for a coward] ...”, (‘Saturnalia”, 6: 5: 1-2, translated by Robert Kaster, referenced below, Volume III, at p. 85)

In other words, Virgil’s Vulcanus Ignipotens/ Mulciber, like the Vulcan depicted on the four coins discussed above, was the Roman equivalent of Greek Hephaestus, who (in some traditions) had his forge on one of the Aeolian islands.

However, the Romans also regarded Vulcan as the god of destructive (as opposed to productive) fire, and this is reflected in at least one other passage from the ‘Aeneid’: when the Trojan women decide to burn their boats (literally and figuratively):

  1. “... driven by frenzy, they cry aloud, and some snatch fire from the hearths within; others strip the altars, and throw on leaves and twigs and brands.  With free rein, Vulcan riots [i.e. fire rages] amid thwarts, oars and hulls of painted pine”, (‘Aeneid’, 5: 559-663, Henry Rushton Fairclough, referenced below, 1916, at p. 517).

It is similarly reflected in a passage by Vitruvius (ca. 20 BC), in which he recorded that the disciplina of the Etruscan haruspices prescribed that:

  1. “... shrines of ... Vulcan ...  should be situated outside the [city] ... so that [its] buildings may be freed from the terror of fires through the religious rites and sacrifices that call the power of Vulcan beyond the walls”, (‘de Architectura’, 1: 7: 1).

Although this passage deals with architectural principles in general, Vitruvius probably had in mind the fact that the Republican temple of Vulcan (see above) had been built on the Campus Martius, outside the pomerium.  However, Plutarch (70s AD) clearly referred to the Volcanal in the Forum when he asked rhetorically:

  1. “Why did Romulus [sic] build the shrine of Vulcan outside the city [on the Palatine] ?

  2. Was it because of Vulcan's fabled jealousy of Mars, ... [who had seduced Vulcan’s wife], Venus that Romulus, the reputed son of Mars, did not give Vulcan a share in his home or his city ?

  3. Or is this a foolish explanation, and was the shrine originally built as a secret place for meetings with his colleague Tatius, so that they might convene there with the senators and take counsel concerning public affairs ... ?

  4. Or was it that, since Rome was in great danger from conflagrations from the very beginning, the Romans decided to show honour to this god, but to place his shrine outside of the city ?”, (‘Roman Questions’, 47).

Plutarch was writing a decade or so after the great fire of 64 AD, after which, as Tacitus recorded:

  1. “... means were sought for appeasing the gods.  Application was made to the Sibylline books, following which, public prayers were offered to Vulcan, Ceres, and Proserpine, while Juno was propitiated by the matrons ...”, (‘Annals’, 15: 44).

As Virginia Closs (referenced below, 2013, at p. 140) pointed out:

  1. “Nero seems to have recognised some of the longterm religious impact [that this fire would have] and designed propitiations accordingly”. 

It seems that Nero also vowed to erect a number of new altars to Vulcan at which annual sacrifices would be made on the Volcanali, but that this vow remained unfulfilled until the reign of Domitian, as evidenced by three surviving inscriptions (CIL VI 30837, 83-96 AD).  Virginia Closs (referenced below, 2013, at p. 231) observed that only one of these inscriptions, CIL VI 30837b, which was discovered in situ on the Quirinal in the 19th century, was from a site that has been excavated to archaeological standards:

  1. “Three steps ran some 35 meters along the contemporary street edge, which lead to a travertine paving about a meter below the top step; the final step down was set with obelisk-shaped cippi standing almost 2 meters high.  Within this stretch of sunken paving lay an island of steps leading up to a structure interpreted as the travertine core of a massive altar, measuring some 6.25m wide by 3.25m deep, and over a meter and a half high without its posited marble facing or upper cyma.”

The associated inscription can be translated and rearranged for the sake of clarity to read:

  1. “This area, within this boundary of cippi enclosed with spikes, and the altar that is below, [have] been dedicated by the Emperor Caesar Domitian Augustus Germanicus, [in fulfilment of] a vow [that was] undertaken when the city burned for nine days in the time of Nero, for the sake of repelling [future] fires.  [This vow] has been long neglected and unfulfilled ... By this law, [the altar ?] is dedicated ... and [it is mandated] that the praetor to whom this region has come by lot, or some other magistrate, shall make a sacrifice of a red calf and a (red) hog on the Volcanalia, the 23rd of August, each year ...”, (based on the translation by Virginia Closs (referenced below, 2013, at p. 233).

Closs observed (at p. 231) that:

  1. “... the form of the monument on the Quirinal, as detailed above, was presumably closely echoed by that of its previously discovered twin, the 1618 find at the foot of the Aventine, [evidenced by CIL 06, 30837c]; both sites included dedicatory inscriptions with nearly identical texts. The earliest example of the text is from an apparently distinct third inscription, [CIL 06, 30837 a], found (not necessarily in situ) in the Vatican plain and recorded by the 16th century antiquarian Giacomo Mazzocchi (Jacobus Mazochius). Lacking further context, we cannot say definitively that this example represents a third monument, as opposed to being simply an additional element of either the Quirinal or the Aventine monument.”

Stata Mater

As I mentioned above, it is possible that, in the late Republic, Maia Volcani was also known as Stata Mater.  A goddess of this name was first recorded in our surviving literary sources by M. Verrius Flaccus: according to Festus, in his epitome of Flaccus’ lexicon:

  1. Statae Matris simulacrum in Foro colebatur; postquam id collastravit, ne lapides igne corrumperentur, qui †plurimis† ibi fiebat nocturno tempore, magna pars populi in suos quique ucos rettulerunt eius deae cultum, (‘De verborum significatione, 416 L).

As Virginia Closs (referenced below, 2020, at p. 36, note 72) pointed out, the surviving text of this important passage by Festus is corrupt at both of the places that I have underlined.  Ferdinando Castagnoli (referenced below, at p. 192) suggested that ‘collastravit’, in the first of these problematic passages, should be emended to  ‘Cotta stravit’ , which would indicate that the Forum had been re-paved by an Aurelius Cotta in the 70s BC, and this is now widely accepted.  On this basis, Filippo Coarelli, referenced below, 1983, p.157, note 54) translated this passage as:

  1. “A statue (simulacrum) of Stata Mater was venerated in the Forum; but, when Cotta paved it, so that the stones would not be ruined by the fire that was often (?) lit there at night, a large part of the people moved the cult of the goddess to the various districts (vici) of the city”, (my translation into English of Coarelli’s translation into Italian).

On the basis of his reading of the passage, Coarelli argued (at p. 172) that, when Cotta re-paved the Forum after 80 BC:

  1. a sanctuary of Stata Mater that had previously stood there was covered over and never rebuilt; and

  2. the cult of the goddess was moved to various vici (local districts).  

I will return to his first point below: in the next section, I address his second point, for which  there is ample epigraphic evidence (at least, from 6 BC): as Bert Lott (referenced below, at p. 167) observed:

  1. “... [apart from] the Lares Augusti, the most common recipient of Augustan ... worship [in the Augustan vici of Rome] was ... the relatively minor goddess Stata Mater.” 

Stata Mater in the Augustan Vici of Rome

Bert Lott (referenced below, at p. 167) observed that:

  1. “The existence of of a Vicus Statae Matris on the Caelian, [as evidenced by CIL VI 36809, 2 BC]. suggests that Rome’s neighbourhoods had probably adopted the goddess as a patron before the reforms of [the city’s administrative districts by] Augustus; however, the reforms of Augustus evidently sparked an extensive expansion of her presence in Rome’s vici.  An astonishing four dedications to her by Augustan neighbourhood officers survive ...”

These are:

  1. CIL VI 0763 (6 BC), from an unknown vicus, was a dedication to Stata Mater;

  2. CIL VI 0764 (6-5 BC), from an unknown vicus, was a dedication to Stata Mater Augusta;

  3. CIL VI 0802  (3-2 BC), from vicus Amilustri, was a dedication to Vulcanus Quietus Augusto and Stata Mater Augusta; and

  4. CIL VI 0761 (12 AD), from vicus Sandalarius, was a dedication to Stata Fortuna Augusta


and CIL VI 30772 for another dedication by Augustus to an unknown deity near the Arch of Septimius Severus in 8 BC





Coarelli also argued (again at p. 172) that the connection between Vulcan and Stata Mater:

“... is also evidenced by the nature of the cult of the goddess, in which the fire had a pre-eminent part”, (my translation).





More speculative is his argument (again, at p. 172) that a statue of Stata Mater had stood in a sanctuary in the Forum until Cotta’s repaving, at which point it was covered over and never rebuilt.




This translation has been broadly followed (see, for example: Aaron Bartels, referenced below, at p. 91, note 384 ; and Eric Kondratieff, referenced below, at p. 332, note 48).  Bartels’ translation seems to be consistent with Coarelli’s model, but Eric Kondratieff came to a slightly different conclusion: in his translation:

  1. the sanctuary of Stata Mater remained in the Forum; although

  2. a large part of the populus also carried the worship of the goddess to their respective neighbourhoods (in the sense that they lit fires in her honour there), so that the new paving stones in the Forum would not be spoiled by the fires that used to be lit there during the night.


However,


Thus, for example, although Margaret Desmond (referenced below, at p. 180, note 483) accepted Castagnoli’s emendation for the first of these problematic passages, she omitted the second of them from her translation:

  1. “An image of Stata Mater was worshipped in the Forum after Cotta paved it, so the pavement would not be damaged by fire .. and a large section of the populace transferred the goddess's cult to their own neighbourhoods.”

This fundamentally changed the meaning:

  1. a sanctuary of Stata Mater was established in the Forum after its re-paving, specifically to protect the new paving stones from damage by fire; and

  2. the cult also spread to various vici (local districts).  

Other scholars have attributed a similar meaning to Festus’ passage: for example:

  1. Bert Lott (referenced below, at p. 167) asserted that:

  2. “An Aurelius Cotta installed [the cult of Stata Mater] in the Forum Romanum [in ca. 79 BC] to protect the Forum’s new pavement from fire”; and

  3. Harriet Flower (referenced below, at p. 335, note 9) asserted that:

  4. “The statue [of Stata Mater] was put up by an Aurelius Cotta in ca. 78 BC to protect the new pavement in the Forum built by Sulla.”



Closs (referenced below) pointed out that ‘Stata’ seems to derive from ‘sistere’, and suggested that Stata Mater was venerated where fires had been checked; and Margaret Desmond (referenced bellow, at p. 180) similarly argued that:

“Stata Mater was a goddess who stopped fires, [and was] worshipped on the spot where a spreading fire stood (stata) still.”



An inscription (CIL VI 0457) on a marble slab that was found in the northern part of the Forum records that, in 9 BC, the Emperor Augustus dedicated something to Vulcan:

  1. ‘.... ex stipe quam populus Romanus anno novo apsenti contulit ...’, (using money that the Roman people had collected on New Year’s day, in his absence [from Rome])”.

As we shall see below, the ‘thing’ that Augustus dedicated was almost certainly a new statue of Vulcan, presumably for the shrine of Vulcan in this part of the Forum.  It seems that the shrine still survived in 77 AD, when Pliny the Elder recorded that:

  1. “There is ... [a] lotus in Volcanali (near the shrine of Vulcan) founded by Romulus (sic) with the 10th part of the spoils of victory: according to Massurius [Sabinus, a jurist who was writing in the early 1st century AD, the tree] is generally considered to be as old as the City, ... ”, (‘Natural History’, 16: 86).

Pliny’s contemporary, Plutarch, who had probably seen the statue of Horatius in the Volcanal, believed that Cocles had been given the honour of a bronze statue after he had sustained a life-changing leg wound while defending Rome, and that the Romans had chosen to erect it:

  1. “... in the shrine of Hephaestus in order to console him with honour for the lameness consequent upon his wound, [a condition that he shared with Hephaestus himself]”, (‘Life of Publicola’, 16: 6). 




, and the slab that was found in 1548 had been cut from the front of its base.  The ‘Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL): VI’) records that it was taken to the palace of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese and is now (like much of the Farnese Collection) in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.

[See also CIL VI 1468 and 37068 for the repaving of the forum near the Lacus Curtius by L. Naevius Surdinus


The CIL records a number of surviving records of the find spot of the inscription, all of which came from antiquarians who were in Rome at the time of its discovery.  The most important of these seem to have been by Flemish antiquarian Martin Smet.  According to William Stenhouse (referenced below, at p. 170), he spent the years 1545-51 in the household of Cardinal Rodolfo Pio da Carpi in Rome.  He documented a large number of classical inscriptions in Rome and reproduced this original manuscript as in a presentation manuscript for his patron that is also now in Naples.  Unfortunately, the original version of this manuscript, which accompanied him back to his native land, was burned in 1558: only 51 pages survived, so  Smet had to reassemble his material with the help of his circle of antiquarian friends.  After completing this reconstructed manuscript in 1565, he gave it to his new patron, Marcus Laurinus, but further problems arose: it was stolen by English soldiers and taken to England.  Smet died in 1578, seven years before it was sold in England to the University of Leiden, where it remains.  The Latinist Justus Lipsius  supplemented it with more recent discoveries and prepared it for publication in Antwerp in 1588.  CIL gives two versions of Smet’s account of the find spot:

  1. a surviving manuscript (presumably the version of the original that Smet had given to Cardinal Pio) located it “ad aedem Hadriani” (near the church of Sant' Adriano al Foro, which had been established in the Curia Julia); while

  2. the published version of 1588 located it “ad aedem Saturni lacumque Curtii” (near the Temple of Saturn and the lacus Curtius)..

These locations are marked as ‘Smet (1)’ and  ‘Smet (2)’ respectively in the illustration above.  The other important source cited in CIL was the Italian antiquarian Onofrio Panvinio (1530-68).  According to William Stenhouse (referenced below, at p. 169) he arrived in Rome in 1549 and spent most of the rest of his life there.  His collection of classical inscriptions, which he cited in some of his published works, survives.  He moved in the same circles as Martin Smet; for example, Stenhouse referred (at p. 46) to letters that the Spanish scholar Antonio Agustín sent to Panvinio in Venice in 1558-9,  in which he enclosed details of inscriptions from the manuscript that Smet had prepared for Cardinal Pio.  Panvinio recorded the find spot of the inscription as "ad arcum Septimi" (near the Arch of Septimius Severus), which is also marked on the illustration above.  The other two sources cited in CIL, both of whom also belonged to these scholarly circles, are less important:

  1. the Flemish scholar Stephen Pigge (Stephanus Pighe), who recorded a large number of classical inscriptions during his stay in Rome in 1547-55, apparently agreed with the entry in the manuscript that Smet had given to Cardinal Pio (“ad aedem Hadriani”), but added "ad arcum Septimi”; and

  2. the Italian artist Pirro Ligorio (1513-83) gave the more general "in via sacra". 

On the basis of this collection of sources, most scholars assume that the inscription was found somewhere between the facade of the Curia Julia and the Arch of Septimius Sevurus.  However, only Stephen Pigge is known to have given both locations, and he might have simply been trying to reconcile the location recorded in Smet’s original manuscript with that recorded by Panvinio.  Furthermore, although the location recorded in Smet’s published work represents a revision to his original opinion, it is not necessarily less reliable: one of the scholars who were involved in restoring and enhancing his original work might have had more reliable information.   What this array of surviving records really tells us is that the precise location of the slab at the time of its discovery was soon forgotten, albeit that it was likely to have been somewhere within the area illustrated above. 


Augustan dedications to Vulcan (9 BC), the Lares Publici (4 BC) and Mercury (10 BC)

From M. Andrews and H. Flower (referenced below, p. 62, figure 15)

The content of the inscription allows us to recover the context in which Augustus dedicated this statue: as Margaret Andrews and Harriet Flower (referenced below, at pp. 59 and 61) pointed out, is indicates that it was one of a series of statues of deities that Augustus dedicated throughout the city, funded by the money he received from ordinary citizens on  New Year’s Day.  Suetonius provided an interesting record of this New Year custom:

  1. “Every year, all classes (of citizens) tossed an offering (stips) into the lacus Curtius (in the Roman Forum) to mark a vow for his (Augustus’) good health and safety.  In the same way, on the 1st of January (they donated) a gift (strena) on the Capitol, even [in years] when he was away.  He acquired pretiosissima (very valuable) statues of the gods (for example, [of] Apollo Sandalarius, Jupiter Tragoedus ...) from these collected funds and dedicated them vicatim (in the vici or local neighbourhoods)”, (‘Life of Augustus’, 57: 1, based on the translation by Andrews and Flower, referenced below, at p. 60).

A number of inscriptions from the bases of these (presumably expensive) ‘New Year’ statues survive, but only three (all illustrated above) still include the name of the deity in question: from left to right: Vulcan (9BC), the Lares Publici (4 BC); and Mercury (10 BC).  None of the associated statues survive, and the inscription to Mercury is the only one of the surviving inscriptions that survives in situ: it is still in the basement of a house on the Esquiline.


Form of the Augustan reconstruction of the original shrine of Mercury on the Esquiline

From M. Andrews and H. Flower (referenced below, p. 57, figure 11): my additions in red

The  archeological evidence from this site allowed Andrews and Flower to reconstruct the likely form of the monument to Mercury, both before and after its Augustan reconstruction (summarised in the figure above).  They observed (at pp. 54-5) that the original monument, which they dated to ca. 100 BC:

  1. “... consisted only of the travertine base with its statue of Mercury, ... .  Augustus’ New Year’s dedication and renovation in or soon after 10 BC was much more extensive than previously imagined.  ... Instead of a simple refurbishment of, or addition to, an earlier podium and altar, as has been argued until now, this renovation entailed the dedication of a new marble base for Mercury and the construction of the entire tuff podium, presumably intended for religious ritual or activity.”




They concluded that Augustus’ statue of Mercury (which was apparently never actually installed on this base) had been commissioned in 10 BC as part of the renovation of a modest, open-air shrine on the Esquiline, at a time when the Esquiline itself was the subject of extensive redevelopment.  There is no reason to doubt that it was one of the ‘New Year’ statues that, according to Suetonius, Augustus commissioned for individual Roman vici (local neighbourhoods).  Thus, it might well have been an important precedent to the ‘New Year’ statue of Vulcan that Augustus commissioned in the following year.





In the light of the evidence discussed so far, we can reasonably assume that this inscription was on the base of a statue of Vulcan that Augustus had commissioned using the New Year donations of 9 BC.  Unfortunately, the slab containing the inscription was cut off from the base of a statue and reused, perhaps as a paving slab, in the Forum, and there is no surviving evidence for its original location and architectural context.  It is possible that the statue base had been erected near the place where the slab was found in 1548,




As Andrews and Flower pointed out, pointed out (at p. 61):

  1. “The dedication to Vulcan in the Forum] is on a much larger scale [than those to Mercury and the Lares Publicus], and indicates a restoration (and enhancement?) of the famous Volcanal, one of Rome’s oldest and most central shrines.”

They observed (at p. 61, note 51) that Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2000):

  1. “... connects ... [the inscription in the Forum] with a restoration [of the Volcanale] after a ... fire in 9 BC”.

They therefore suggested (at p. 62) that this putative restoration of the Volcanal might have been the consequence of:

  1. “Recent fire damage to the Volcanal immediately before Augustus’ dedication ...” 

In fact, the evidence for this putative fire of 9 BC is somewhat complicated: our only surviving source is Cassius Dio, who recorded that, in 9 BC:

  1. “... Drusus became consul with Titus Crispinus, and omens occurred that were anything but favourable to him.  Many buildings were destroyed by storm and by thunderbolts, among them many temples; even that of Jupiter Capitolinus and the gods worshipped with him [were] injured”, (‘Roman History’, 55: 1: 1)

Margaret Desmond (referenced below, at p. 64) observed that Filippo Coarelli (in his book of 2014, at p. 73):

  1. “... refers to ‘the great fire of 9 BC’ and describes fire ravaging the area around the Basilica Julia in 9 BC, [although Cassius Dio only mentions lightening strikes on temples, and only names the Capitoline temple].  Coarelli’s description fits better with the fire of 14 BC [which she addressed at pp. 62-3].”

This fire of 14 BC was described by Cassius Dio:

  1. “The Basilica of Paulus [number 143 in this plan in Digital Augustan Rome] was burned and the flames spread from it to the temple of Vesta [number 129]  ... The basilica was afterwards rebuilt ... by Augustus and the friends of Paulus”, (‘Roman History’, 54: 24: 2).

However, there is circumstantial evidence of a fire in 9 BC: for example, Virginia Closs (referenced below, 2013, at p. 47) pointed out that that Cassius Dio (‘Roman History’, 55: 8: 5) recorded that:

  1. “... a fire [had] rendered the Forum unsuitable for games held in Agrippa’s honour in 7 BC (five years after his death) ... .”

She added (note 95) that:

  1. “Dio gives little indication of the exact date of [the fire that caused the relocation of Agrippa’s funeral games], but Nicholas Purcell suggests that a poorly attested devastation by fire in the latter part of 9 BC is ‘a strong candidate for a catalyst’ for this [relocation] and other major changes in the Forum’s function: see Purcell, LTUR ‘Forum Romanum’, (after Coarelli, ‘Foro Romano II’, 224-7, based on Dio 55: 8: 2 and 5, and CIL VI 0457).

Carlos Noreña cited this putative fire of 9 BC as the cause of the construction of the Temple of Concordia Augusta (see his commentary on this temple in Digital Augustan Rome) on the site of Opimius’ earlier  temple, for which the future Emperor Tiberius assumed responsibility in 7 BC (‘Roman History’, 55: 8: 2). 

We might therefore reasonably connect Augustus’ dedication of a new statue of Vulcan in the Forum in 9 BC to the fire or fires that caused the relocation of Agrippa’s funeral games of 7 BC.  However, there is no direct evidence that the Volcanal burned down at this time, and it is hard to believe that the irony of its destruction by fire would have escaped the notice of (for example) Cassius Dio or his sources.  Furthermore, there is no hard evidence that the new statue was destined for the Volcanal: Suetonius recorded that Augustus gave the ‘New Year’ statues to the vici (local neighbourhoods), which suggests that the statue of 9 BC was destined for a local shrine, rather than for the locus of the city-wide  Volcanalia (although it is possible that the tradition was varied in this year, and that Augustus commissioned the new statue for the Volcanal in order to propitiate Vulcan and thereby avoid further conflagrations).   In other words, the fact that this dedicatory inscription was found in the Forum does not necessarily add to our knowledge of the history of the Volcanal. 


Location of the Volcanal

Possible Epigraphic Evidence


Red asterisks = possible location of the inscription CIL VI 0457 when it was found in 1548

Smet (1) and Smet (2) = find spots recorded by Martin Smet:

1= “ad aedem Hadriani”; and 2 = “ad aedem Saturni lacumque Curtii”

Panvinio = Onofrio Panvinio: "ad arcum Septimi"

Possible sites of Volcanal also marked in red: the hypogeum under the Lapis Niger (Coarelli) and

the excavated site near the Umbilicus Urbis (which Boni identified as the Volcanal and Coarelli as the Ara Saturni)




Read more:

V. Closs, “While Rome Burned: Fire, Leadership, and Urban Disaster in the Roman Cultural Imagination”, (2020) Michigan

M. Desmond, “Fires in Rome: the Ancient City as a Fire Régime”, (2019) thesis of Trinity College, University of Dublin

H. Flower, “The Dancing Lares and the Serpent in the Garden: Religion at the Roman Street Corner”, (2017) Princeton and Oxford

F. Marcattili, “Culti e Purificazione Postbellica Lungo la Sacra Via”, in

  1. M. Giuman et al. (editors), “Hagnos, Miasma e Katharsis: Viaggio tra le Categorie del Puro e dell’ Impuro nell’ Immaginario del Mondo Antico; Atti del Convegno, Cagliari, 2016”, Otium: Archeologia e Cultura del Mondo Antico, 3 (2017) 11-2

M. Andrews and H. Flower, “Mercury on the Esquiline: A Reconsideration of a Local Shrine Restored by Augustus, American Journal of Archaeology, 119:1 (2015) 47-67

V. Closs, "While Rome Burned: Fire, Leadership, and Urban Disaster in the Roman Cultural Imagination", (2013) thesis from University of Pennsylvania

T. J. Cornell (editor), “The Fragments of the Roman Historians”, (2013) Oxford

R. Kaster (translator), “Saturnalia: Volume I: Books 1-2; Volume II: Books 3-5; Volume III: Books 6-7”, (2011) Cambridge MA

G. Farney, “Ethnic Identity and Aristocratic Competition in Republican Rome” (2010) Cambridge

A. Bartles, “Paving the Past: Late Republican Recollections in the Forum Romanum”, (2009) thesis of the University of Texas at Austin

E. Kondratieff , “Reading Rome's Evolving Civic Landscape in Context: Tribunes of the Plebs and the Praetor's Tribunal”, Phoenix, 63:3-4 (2009) 322-60

L. Fratantuono, “Madness Unchained: a Reading of Virgil's Aeneid”, (2007) Lanham, MD

N. Thomson de Grummond, “Etruscan Myth Sacred History and Legend”, (2006) Philadelphia PA

P. Holliday , “The Rhetoric of "Romanitas: The ‘Tomb of the Statilii’ Frescoes Reconsidered”, Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, 50 (2005) 89-129

G. Forsythe, “A Critical History of Early Rome”, (2005) Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA

W. , “Reading Inscriptions and Writing Ancient History.: Historical Scholarship in the Late Renaissance”, Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, Supplement 86 (2005) London

J. B. Lott, “The Neighbourhoods of Augustan Rome”, (2004) Cambridge

P. Carafa, “Il Comizio di Roma dalle Origini all' Eta di Augusto”, (1998) Rome

A. Ziolkowski, “The Temples of Mid-Republican Rome and their Historical and Topographical Context”, (1992) Rome

F. Coarelli, “Il Foro Romano: Periodo Arcaico”, (1983) Rome

H. Scullard, “Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic”, (1981) London

B. Combet-Farnoux, “Mercure Romain: le Culte Public de Mercure et la Fonction Mercantile à Rome de la République Archaïque à l'Épopque Augustéenne”, (1980) Rome

M. Crawford, “Roman Republican Coinage”, (1974) Cambridge

J. Briscoe, “A Commentary on Livy: Books XXXI-XXXIII”, (1973) Oxford

F. Castagnoli, “Note sulla Topografia del Palatino e del Foro Romano”, Archeologia Classica 16 (1964) 173-99

A. Degrassi “Fasti Capitolini”, (1954) Turin

R. Kent (translator), “Varro: On the Latin Language, Volume I: Books 5-7”, (1938) Cambridge MA

J. Frazer (translator), “Ovid: Fasti”, (1931) Cambridge MA

H. Rushton Fairclough (translator): “Virgil: Aeneid, Books 7-12; Appendix Vergiliana”, (1918) Cambridge, MA

F. J. Miller (translator), “Ovid: Metamorphoses, Volume II: Books 9-15”, (1916) Cambridge MA

H. Rushton Fairclough (translator): “Virgil: Eclogues: Georgics: Aeneid, Books 1-6.”, (1916) Cambridge, MA

E. Cary and H. B. Foster (translators): “Dio Cassius: Roman History, Volume I, Books 1-11”, (1914) Cambridge, MA

G. Boni (translated into English by W. St Clair Baddeley), “The Niger Lapis in the Comitium at Rome”, Archaeologia, 57 (1900)  175-84

G. Boni, “Iscrizione Latina Arcaica Scoperta nel Foro Romano”, Notizie degli Scavi di Antichità (1899) 151-8.


Linked pages:


Return to Regal Period


Home