Vulcan, the God of Fire and Volcanoes

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Vulcan is the Roman god of fire, including the fire of volcanoes, deserts, metalworking and the forge, earthly eruption and destruction (also written as Volcanus, Volkanus, or Volkanus in Archaic Latin).

Vulcan belongs to the earliest phase of Roman religion. The Greek smith deity Hephaestus was associated by the Romans with Vulcan. Like his Greek counterpart, Vulcan came to be connected with the efficient use of fire in metallurgy. The two gods were likely already linked at this time, as evidenced by a Greek pot fragment with Hephaestus on it that was discovered at the Volcanal and dated to the sixth century BC. Nevertheless, Vulcan was more associated than Hephaestus with the destructive power of fire, and his followers made preventing devastating fires a top priority.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

Every year on August 23, when crops and granaries were most at risk of burning due to the summer heat, Vulcan’s celebration, or Vulcanalia, was observed. During the event, bonfires were built in the god’s honor, and live fish or other small creatures were sacrificed there instead of people. The Roman conception of Vulcan seems to link him to both the destroying and fertilizing forces of fire; his nature is tied to religious concepts about fire.

Featured image: Punishment of Ixion: in the center is Mercury holding the caduceus and on the right Juno sits on her throne. Behind her Iris stands and gestures. On the left is Vulcanus (blond figure) standing behind the wheel, manning it, with Ixion already tied to it. Nephele sits at Mercury’s feet; a Roman fresco from the eastern wall of the triclinium in the House of the Vettii, Pompeii, Fourth Style (60–79 AD).

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