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Vesta Aedes

Richardson, L. jr

Vesta, Aedes (Figs. 12, 13, 63): the only temple of Vesta in Rome, at the southeast end of the Forum Romanum at the foot of the Palatine between the Regia and the Lacus Iuturnae (Dion. Hal. 6.13.2) and probably at the Porta Ianualis of the pomerium of the Romulean city. The temple was in an Area Vestae and surrounded by other buildings connected with the cult and the state religion, of which it was in some sense the very heart. Its foundation was ascribed by some to Romulus, but by most to Numa (Ovid Fast. 6.257-60; Dion. Hal. 2.66.1; Festus 320L; Plutarch Numa 11.1). The temple was round and supposed to have been originally a structure of wattles with a thatched roof, essentially a primitive Italic hut (Ovid Fast. 6.261-66). It was not an inaugurated templum (A. Gellius 14.7.7; Servius ad Aen. 7.153); the explanation offered for this, that it was so that the senate might not be convened where the Vestal Virgins were assembled, is clearly inadequate. The temple contained the sacred fire (Ovid Fast. 6.297-98), the Palladium, believed to have been brought by Aeneas from Troy (Ovid Tr. 3.1.29), and other sacred objects and implements kept in a place called the Penus Vestae, which was shielded from view by screens and might not be seen by anyone but the Vestal Virgins and pontifices (Dion. Hal. 2.66.3-6; Festus 152L, Festus 296L; Servius ad Aen. 3.12). There was no image of the goddess (Ovid Fast. 6.295-98).

The temple was presumably burned in the sack of Rome by the Gauls ca. 390 B.C., but not before the sacred objects had been removed to safety (Livy 5.40.7-10, Livy 5.42.1-2; Plutarch Camil. 21.1, Plutarch Camil. 22.6; CIL 6.1272 = ILS 51 = A. Degrassi, Inscriptiones Italiae 13.3.11). It burned in 241 B.C., but Caecilius Metellus rescued the Palladium and the sacred implements at the cost of his sight (Livy Epit. 19; Dion. Hal. 2.66.4; Val. Max. 1.4.5; Pliny HN 7.141; Orosius 4.11.9). In 210 it was saved from a fire that ravaged the northeast side of the forum by the efforts of thirteen slaves, who were manumitted as a reward. In 48 B.C. it was threatened, and the sacred objects were removed (Cass. Dio 42.31.3). In 14 B.C. the temple burned again, but the sacred objects were rescued and taken to the Palatine (Cass. Dio 54.24.2). In the fire of Nero in 64 it burned again, but was apparently immediately restored by Nero (Tacitus Ann. 15.41, Tacitus Hist. 1.43), and it is shown on certain undated coins of Nero (B. M. Coins, Rom. Emp. 1.213 nos. 101-6). The temple appears to have been restored again at the time of the rebuilding of the Atrium Vestae under Trajan. After the fire of Commodus destroyed it again in 191, Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus, restored it (Herodian 1.14.4: cf. Cass. Dio 72.24) It is listed by the regionary catalogues in Regio VIII and was finally closed by Theodosius in 394.

The temple is represented on a number of coins, the earliest perhaps those of Q. Cassius of ca. 55 B.C. (B. M. Coins, Rom. Rep. 1.482 nos. 3871-75; Crawford 428), where it is shown with a curious parabolic roof surmounted by a figure holding scepter and patera and with large gryphon-head antefixes at the eaves, the latter evidently an identifying feature. Clearly at this time the temple preserved much of its character as a primitive hut. In its reconstruction in the imperial period, the temple appears to have been a more conventional tholus with a shallow dome, but it kept the figure surmounting its summit (B. M. Coins, Rom. Emp. 5.169-70 nos. 96-101). It is shown also on reliefs, notably one in the Uffizi in Florence (Nash 2.509) showing it as a tholus on a relatively high podium, the composite columns given individual plinths articulated on the podium, and the intercolumniations filled with grillwork, except for the double doors at the top of a narrow stair of approach. The roof is a flattened cone with a large final at the summit, evidently the base for a small statue. This agrees with the evidence of the coins and what has been found in excavation.

Between 1883 and 1900, especially in 1899-1900, the podium and various parts of the architecture of the temple were brought to light, and a section of the exterior as it appeared after is rebuilding by Julia Domna has been restored in situ. The podium consists of four layers of concrete, the lowest being a circular foundation sunk in the ground, 15.05 m in diameter and 2.17 m thick. In approximately the center of the podium was a large trapezoidal cavity, 2.30-2.50 m long, which descended to the bottom of the foundation, a depth of 5 m. This has been conjectured to be the ash pit of the temple. Most of the podium is Augustan, but the highest stratum is believed to be Severan.

In its final rebuilding, the temple was of white marble, raised on a base of three steps, above which rose the podium. The peripteros was of twenty fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, 0.51 m in diameter and 4.45 m high, standing on plinths broken out from the drum of the podium. To these an engaged order along the cella wall responded, appearing also in the interior of the cella, while the intercolumniations were filled with grillwork. Earlier the order seems to have been Ionic, while the order in republican times cannot be distinguished on the coins. The entablature is unremarkable, the frieze decorated with sacrificial implements. Pliny (Pliny HN 34.13) says the roof was covered with bronze from an early date. The interior arrangements are all unclear.

Lugli 1946, 202-7; Nash 2.505-9; G. Fuchs, Architekturdarstellungen auf römischen Münzen (Berlin 1969), 51-57.

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