Vesta (mythology)

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Remains of the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum

Vesta was a goddess of the ancient Italian, especially the Roman religion . She was the chaste guardian of the sacred fire, as the goddess of home and hearth in her role comparable to the goddess Hestia in the Greek religion . In addition to being worshiped on the hearth of every house, she also had a special state cult.

Origin of the Vesta cult

Marcus Terentius Varro names Vesta among the deities of Sabine origin. According to legend, the Vesta cult was introduced in Rome by King Numa Pompilius from Lavinium (where Aeneas is said to have brought the holy hearth fire and the Penates of Troy ). The Roman consuls and dictators made sacrifices when they took office and left their office in the Temple of Vesta at Lavinium. Newly founded colonies lit the fire of their Vesta at the hearth of the mother city.

It is not known whether the cult of Vesta is derived from the cult of the Greek Hestia , or whether both can be traced back to a common prehistoric origin.

As is usual in Roman religion, there are hardly any mythological stories about the goddess. Apollo and Neptune asked for her hand, but she refused both times and kept her virginity, the symbol of which is the ever-burning light in her temple. According to Ovid , the god Priapus wanted to do violence to Vesta while she was sleeping, but was prevented from doing so by the cry of a donkey from Silenus . He killed the donkey in anger, which was then placed in the sky as a constellation. Ovid tells a similar story about the nymph Lotis .

In the founding saga of Rome, Rhea Silvia was a Vesta priestess who received the twins Romulus and Remus from Mars , who are said to have founded Rome later.

Cult of Vesta in Rome

House of the Vestals

The Temple of Vesta in Rome stood in the Roman Forum . Her six virgin priestesses, the Vestals , lived in the nearby House of the Vestals . Augustus also set up an altar of the cult of Vesta in his house on the Palatine Hill .

As the goddess of the holy hearth fire of the individual houses and the whole city, Vesta was also the goddess of every sacrificial fire, therefore, like Ianus , she was worshiped at every service, and like that first, she was called last. A separate festival, the Vestalia , was celebrated for the goddess on June 9th and the following days until June 15th; The matrons of the city then went barefoot to their temple to implore the goddess to bless the household, and offered her food offerings in simple bowls. Millers stopped to commemorate the time when the stove was generally used to bake bread and baker's holiday, the mills were wreathed and wreaths and bread were hung on the miller's donkeys. On the first day of the vestals, the sanctuary of the temple ( penus vestae ) was open for the only time in the year . After the festival, the Temple of Vesta was cleaned and then closed again for a year.

The cult of Vesta lasted until late antiquity ; It was not until 382 AD that Emperor Gratian abolished it (other sources give the year 394). Even if there was no image of the goddess in the temples, it was not lacking in later Rome; like the Greek Hestia she was depicted now standing, now seated, fully clothed and veiled, with the attributes of the offering bowl, the torch, the scepter and the palladion .


Web links

Wiktionary: Vesta  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Vesta  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Marcus Tullius Cicero , de natura deorum 2, 67.
  2. Varro, De lingua Latina 5, 74.
  3. Livy 1, 20 .
  4. ^ Ovid, Fasti 6, 319 ff.
  5. ^ Ovid, Fasti 1, 415 ff.
  6. For the representation of Vesta see T. Fischer-Hansen: Vesta . In: Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 5.1, 412-420 (not viewed).