Sunday, 23 May 2021

The Vulcanalia!

May 23rd was the day of the Vulcanalia, in honour of the god Vulcan.


Vulcan was the god of good (beneficial) fires and also of destructive ones (conflagrations; volcanic; and earthquake fires). His portfolio was very large and he must have been a very busy god. He was also the god of: metal working, the manufacturer of art, arms, iron, and jewellery. He was the protector of armour for various gods and heroes, including the thunderbolts of Jupiter. He was also the patron god of those who used ovens – e.g. bakers and pastry makers.

Vulcan’s Greek counterpart was Hephaestus, and he was associated with the Etruscan god Sethlans. In all of those early religions, the god was an explanation for early natural events that the scientific knowledge of only came very much later on e.g. volcanic eruptions; earthquakes and massive forest conflagrations.

The Arch of Severus and the adjacent Vulcan shrine 

The oldest shrine to Vulcan in Rome,  the Vulcanal, was possibly situated at the foot of the Capitoline Hill (later built-over with the current buildings we know of as the Roman forum) which at the time of inception was likely to have been outside the city limits, important since fire spread so devastatingly quickly. There may also have been a shrine of some sort on the site of the Campus Martius.

Vulcan was also seen as a powerful male fertility symbol and placating him was important for crops to grow healthily and be successfully reaped and stored, before the main summer heat dried up the land. By importuning Vulcan’s blessings, the inhabitants of Rome hoped their food stocks would survive to feed them during the coming months.

As patron of the fire of the house hearth, Vulcan brought warmth, protection and sustenance to the household. During the Vulcanalia, festival bonfires were created which gave the inhabitants of Rome some symbolic empowerment over the control of beneficial fires, and maybe even of potentially destructive ones. Small animals or fish were thrown into the flames as ‘personal’ sacrifices.

On May 23rd there was also a Tubilustrium festival to Vulcan, as the god who was responsible for the making of the sacred war trumpets (tubas). The Salii (those12 youths, the dancing and leaping priests that I’ve written about before), sacrificed a female lamb before parading and dancing around the streets of Rome. (The Hall of the Shoemakers may have been the venue).

The Last day of Pompeii

After the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, and the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79,  Emperor Domitian (reigned from 81-96 A.D) instructed that a new altar be commissioned to Vulcan on the Quirinal Hill. As a new addition to the Vulcanalia festival, Domitian decreed that a red bull (calf) and a red boar should also be sacrificed.

There are many other stories about the birth of Vulcan, what he looked like, who he married etc but they need another whole blog entry which can be for another day on another year!

Enjoy your Sunday reading. 

 SlĂ inte!

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