Tempio di Vesta

( Temple of Vesta )

The Temple of Vesta, or the aedes (Latin Aedes Vestae; Italian: Tempio di Vesta), is an ancient edifice in Rome, Italy. It is located in the Roman Forum near the Regia and the House of the Vestal Virgins. The Temple of Vesta housed Vesta's holy fire, which was a symbol of Rome's safety and prosperity. The temple has a circular footprint, making it a tholos.

Since the worship of Vesta began in private homes, the architecture seems to pay homage to the architecture of early Roman homes. The temple's current, ruinous form employs elements of Greek architecture with Corinthian columns and marble. The sacred hearth was housed in a central cella. The surviving structure indicates that there were twenty Corinthian columns built on a podium fifteen meters in diameter. The roof probably had a vent at the apex to allow smoke to release.


The first Temple of Vesta was built by Numa Pompilius, the second king of the Roman Kingdom. He also built the original Regia ("king's house") and the House of the Vestal Virgins, and founded the priestly order of Vestal Virgins. At first there were just two Vestals, but by the end of the Republic, there were six.[1] Vesta was the goddess of Rome's hearths. The Romans believed that her sacred fire was closely tied to the fortunes of the city, and that its extinction signified imminent disaster for Rome. [2] Although it is known as a temple in modern times, its site, orientation and floor plan were not determined through augury. It was therefore known as a shrine (in Latin, aedes).

The aedes and the Vestals

The Temple of Vesta was tended by the six Vestal Virgins, drawn between the ages of 6 and 10 from freeborn, or traditionally, aristocratic families.[3] They surrendered all legal connections with their birth family, and came under the authority of the pontifex maximus, Rome's chief priest. The Vestal oath of virginity during their 30-year tenure set them apart from other Roman women. While chastity until marriage was considered proper in Rome, long-term celibacy was not, as women were generally expected to marry, and give birth to heirs for their husbands.[4] A Vestal who broke her vow of chastity during her priestly tenure disrupted the relationship between Rome and its gods. The Romans believed that this would lead to disaster, such as pestilence, social breakdown or military defeats.[4]

For minor failures of duty, Vestals could be whipped. For breaking their vow of chastity, a Vestal could be condemned to a living burial in a subterranean cell within the city boundary, with a little food and water, and left to die.[3] If disasters struck, in any form, Vestals who seemed less than perfect in attitude, morals or behaviour might be accused of secretly breaking their vows and thus causing the disaster. For example, in 114 BC, a virgin girl of equestrian family, named Helvia, was killed by lightning while on horseback. Her death was interpreted as a prodigy, proof of potentially disastrous oath-breaking by one or more Vestals; after investigations three Vestal Virgins were sentenced to death for inchastity, on the flimsiest of evidence.[4][5] Vestals were required to show a near supernatural level of moral superiority. Failures, and their punishment, were extremely rare. The respect and social privileges that came from their position, a generous pension, and a complete lack of personal experience of the duties attached to Roman marriage, seems to have encouraged many to remain in the priesthood after their term of service had officially ended.[6][7]


The temple of Vesta was unique in its design, as it was round as opposed to rectangular like many other temples. The circular shape of the Vesta temples were based on the primitive round hut.[1] Some researchers argue that the circular footprint of the Temple of Vesta was meant to symbolize the earth and the domed roof symbolized the heavens.[8] All temples to Vesta were round, and had entrances facing east to enhance the connection between Vesta's fire and the sun as sources of life. The Temple of Vesta represents the site of ancient religious activity as far back as the 7th century BCE.[1]

Archaeologists have found that the Temple of Vesta was built on a circular foundation. Circling the exterior of the temple were twenty fluted columns. Each column was 0.52 meters in diameter, with a base 1.6 meters in circumference. The columns were topped with a Corinthian capital. The radius of the temple was about 6.19 meters. This measured from the outer line of the architrave to the middle of the temple. The interior wall is 0.60 meters thick and the diameter of the inside of the temple is 8.6 meters. The Temple was on a high platform and wide steps lead up to the entrance.[9]


It was one of the earliest structures in the Roman Forum, although its final form was the result of subsequent rebuilding. While most Roman temples held a cult statue, Vesta's had a hearth and flame that burned continuously, day and night.[8] The temple was the storehouse for the legal wills and documents of Roman Senators and cult objects such as the Palladium, a statue of Athena (Roman Minerva) believed to have been brought by Aeneas from Troy; the statue was felt to be one of the Pignora Imperii, or pledges of imperium, of Ancient Rome. The temple was closed during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire in the 4th-century.[8] The Temple of Vesta, the Atrium of the Vestal Virgins (House of the Vestal Virgins), and the Regia are the earliest evidence of the Cult of Vesta. The original Temple of Vesta stood on the east end of the forum near the house of the Vestal Virgins and the Regia. Beyond that cluster of buildings is the Via Sacra (Sacred Way) which ran uphill.[10] This cluster of buildings was destroyed in the great fire of 64 AD; the temple was rebuilt by Trajan over several years. Another rebuilding was sponsored by Julia Domna, wife of Septimius Severus.[9]

Building history  Outer wall of the Temple of Vesta

The temple was destroyed and rebuilt many times. The first destruction of the temple was by the Gauls in 390 BC. Livy records that after the Gauls burned down the temple, they soon returned to find that the Vestals had rekindled their sacred fire among the ruins of the temple. According to Ovid, the second destruction in 241 BC may have started because of the fire in the temple itself. During the fire, the Vestals were unable to collect the cult objects, and they were destroyed along with the Temple of Vesta.[8] Lucius Caecilius Metellus, the Pontifex Maximus at the time, went into the burning temple to save the palladium. Lucius Caecilius was blinded by the flames, and it was believed that this was the result of him breaking the tradition of the temple which barres men from entering.[1] Fires also occurred again in 210 BC and again in the early first century BC. The temple was rebuilt again during the reigns of Augustus and Nero. Finally, it burned down in 191 AD and was rebuilt for the last time during the reign of Septimius Severus by his wife, Julia Domna.[1]

1805 Illustration of the Temple of Vesta. 
1805 Illustration of the Temple of Vesta.
The most prominent feature of the ruins that were once the Temple of Vesta is the hearth. 
The most prominent feature of the ruins that were once the Temple of Vesta is the hearth.
^ a b c d e Gorski, Gilbert (11 June 2015). The Roman Forum : a reconstruction and architectural guide. Packer, James E. New York. ISBN 978-0-521-19244-6. OCLC 858749352.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) ^ "Wildfang, Robin Lorsch (2006), Rome's Vestal Virgins, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-39795-7". Reference Reviews. 28 (4): 22–24. 2014-05-13. doi:10.1108/rr-11-2013-0288. ISSN 0950-4125. ^ a b Cody, Jane M. (January 1973). "New Evidence for the Republican Aedes Vestae". American Journal of Archaeology. 77 (1): 43–50. doi:10.2307/503231. JSTOR 503231. S2CID 193103816. ^ a b c DiLuzio, Meghan J., 1981- (11 October 2016). A place at the altar : priestesses in Republican Rome. Princeton. pp. 146–147. ISBN 978-1-4008-8303-5. OCLC 959609401.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link) ^ Erdkamp, Paul, in "War, Vestal Virgins, and Live Burials in the Roman Republic", editors, M. Dillon and C. Matthews, Religion and Classical Warfare. II: The Roman Republic, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2020, p.9 ^ Lindner, Molly M., Portraits of the Vestal Virgins, Priestesses of Ancient Rome, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbour, 2015, p. 34 ^ Plutarch, Life of Numa, 10.1, translation, Loeb edition, 1914, [1] available at Bill Thayer's website ^ a b c d Middleton, John Henry (1886). "XV.—The Temple and Atrium of Vesta and the Regia". Archaeologia. 49 (2): 391–423. doi:10.1017/s0261340900006366. ISSN 0261-3409. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference :33 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). ^ Sherlock, David (2011-08-17). "Rome: an Oxford archaeological guide (2nd edn). By Amanda Claridge, with contributions by Judith Toms and Tony Cubberley. Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 9780199546831". The Antiquaries Journal. 91: 354–355. doi:10.1017/s0003581511000230. ISSN 0003-5815. S2CID 162421099.
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