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Vulcan – God of Fire

By Yona Williams    6/9/11

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The ancient Romans looked towards Vulcan as their god of fire. Even in the most ancient of writings depicting Roman gods, Vulcan is present. He is associated with the fire that comes out of volcanoes, and had various altars dedicated in his honor. In this article, you will learn more about the ancient god, who is the equivalent of Hephaestus (god of fire and smithwork) in ancient Greek mythology.

The oldest shrine in Rome belongs to Vulcan. Called the Vulcanal, you can find this attraction at the foot of the Capitoline in the Forum Romanum. It is thought that the shrine dates back to the archaic period referred to as a time of the 'kings of Rome.' The shrine is believed to have been the handiwork of Titus Tatius, who was the Sabine co-king. Traditionally, it is said that the shrine originated during the 8th century BC. The temple served as the location where sacrifices to Vulcan were offered during the Volcanalia, which took place on August 23. Another temple dedicated to the god was located on Campus Martius, which traces back to 214 BC.

Following in the same line as other Roman gods, the people associated Vulcan with the Greek smith-god named Hephaestus, and became known for playing a role in using fire to create metalwork. The co-mingling of the gods is evident as far back as the 6th century BC after a fragment of a Greek pot showing Hephaestus was found at the Volcanal. However, Vulcan was different in the aspect that he had a stronger connection to the destructive nature of fire. Because of this, his worshippers promoted the god to prevent harmful fires from taking place.

A Celebration of Vulcan

Every year, the ancient Romans would gather to celebrate Vulcanalia on August 23 – a festival dedicated to Vulcan. This was the time of year when the summer heat threatened the crops and granaries. The risk of getting caught on fire was greater during this time. The festival involved bonfires created in honor of the god. The people would toss live fish or small animals into the fire as a sacrifice, which was used in place of humans.

Some accounts say that during the Vulcanalia, it was not uncommon for people to hang their clothing and fabrics under the sun. Some believe this was an act to get closer to Vulcan through the sun. Another custom associated with the festival day was to work by the light of a candle – most likely their way of showing good use of the god's fire.

To learn about Vulcan's place in ancient mythology, read the article titled "Vulcan in Ancient Roman Mythology."

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