This image is very similar to that on a fragment of an Attic cup dated to around 560 BCE that was found on the site of the Vulcanal, the ancient temple of Vulcan at the west end of the Roman forum. It shows that the Romans already associated Vulcan with Hephaestus at that early date.

Today, August 23, is the Roman festival of Vulcanalia. The constructive uses of fire, such as lighting and blacksmithing, were celebrated, and the destructive potential – especially in urban settings – was recognized. Like the Portunalia a few days ago, part of the focus for this festival was on the safety of the food supply, as warehouse fires were a constant threat. Evening bonfires would be held today in the god’s honor – outside city limits, for safety.

One of the ironies of history is that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE took place on August 24 – the day after the Vulcanalia. More about that tomorrow.

Image: Hephaestus, Greek god of forging Athenian red-figure skyphos (drinking cup), 5th century BCE, Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio.


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