Vesta was one of the great Roman divinities, identical to the Greek Hestia. As the goddess of the hearth, she was represented in her temple by the eternal fire burning on her altar. Aeneas was believed to have brought the eternal fire of Vesta from Troy. It was kept up and attended to by the Vestals, her virgin priestesses, and had to be rekindled by rubbing two sticks together if allowed to go out. The private cult of Vesta goes back to very primitive times when each family in its hut had to propitiate the the spirit that watched over its hearth. A public cult of Vesta developed somewhat later and was centered on a round building —technically an aedes and not a templum— which retained the form of early huts.

The worship of Vesta culminated in the Vestalia on June 9th, but some days before and after were consecrated to her. On June 7th, the storehouse (penus), the inner sanctum of the temple of Vesta, was opened and was closed again on June 15th. On June 9th, only women were allowed in the temple, and they walked there with bare feet and a platter of food as offering.

The Vestal Virgins employed a sacred cake called mola salsa in the celebrations of the day. First, water was drawn by the Virgins from a sacred spring; the water could not be set down on the ground and was carried in narrow-bottomed vessels to prevent this. The salt used in the cakes was specially made from brine brought in a salt pan and then ground in a mortar and baked in a jar. The salt thus produced was cut with an iron saw. This salt was used on the grain or flour, using the ears of grain gathered on the 7th, 9th, and 11th days of May, and then turned into flour.

On the final day of the festival, the shrine of the goddess was ritually swept out and cleansed. The resulting debris was carefully collected and deposited in the River Tiber so it would be carried away from the city and out to sea.

For more information about the Vestalia, refer to these sources.

  • A translation of Ovid's Fasti (Book VI, June 9: V. ID.) begins on line 249 and provides a few more details about Vesta and the celebration of her festival.
  • An article entitled The Vestalia: Celebrating Vesta and Purifying Rome provides details about the offerings and rituals of the festival
  • An entry in Wikipedia offers details about the history, selection, and tasks of the Vestales, the order of virgin priestesses of Vesta.
  • A group at AncientWorlds called Fanvm Vestae is dedicated to Vesta and the life of Vestal Virgins.
  • A property at AncientWorlds is dedicated as the House of Vesta.

  • Some of the preceding information comes from Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, written by H. H. Scullard and published in 1981 by Cornell University Press (Ithaca, New York).

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