The great fire god of the Romans, whose power was always on display at the volcanos of Etna or Vesuvius. Where he came from originally was never clear, except that he was ancient, perhaps arriving in Rome through the Etrurians and via the Mediterranean. He was not a Roman original.

Later, when Greek influences were keenly felt in the Roman pantheon, Vulcan assumed all of the characteristics of Hephaestus. Thus he was viewed as the mighty smith of the gods, living and working beneath volcanos with his assistants, the Cyclops. According to legend, Romulus introduced Vulcan’s worship to Rome.

The deity received his own member of the Flamens, the Flamen Volcanalis, but was viewed as a counterpart to Vesta, the positive force of fire. Vulcan was the destructive side, the one that had to be appeased. His altar, the Volcanal, stood in the Forum Romanum at the base of the Capitol, and a new temple, built around 214 B.C.E., was found in the Campus Martius.

Two festivals were held in his honor, the Festival of the Fishermen, and the Volcanalia. The former was staged in June, involving the offering of fish caught by fishermen as an act of appeasement.

The Volcanalia, on August 23, was similar to the ceremony in June but was more state-oriented. Live fish were thrown into Vulcan’s fire, again to avoid his wrath. The fish were always caught in the Tiber because the fires were extinguished with water from that river.

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