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p253 Ara Maxima Herculis

Article on pp253‑254 of

Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby):
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome,
London: Oxford University Press, 1929.


Herculis Invicti Ara Maxima: the earliest cult-centre of Hercules in Rome, in the forum Boarium, erected, according to tradition, when Hercules had slain Cacus, and his divinity had been recognised by Evander (Liv. I.7.10‑11; IX.29.9; Dionys. I.40.6; Fest. 237; Serv. Aen. VIII.269‑271). The dedication of this altar was ascribed by one form of tradition — probably the earliest — to Evander (Dionys. loc. cit.; cf. Macrob. III.11.7; 12.4; Tac. Ann. XV.41; Myth. Vat. II.153; Strabo V.3.3), by another to Hercules himself (Liv. loc. cit.; Ov. Fast. I.581; Prop. IV.9.67; Solin. I.10; Verg. Aen. VIII.271),1 and by a third to the companions whom Hercules left behind in Italy (Macrob. III.6.17). In the forum Boarium, its site is also described as post ianuas circi Maximi (Serv. loc. cit.), iuxta circum (Schol. Iuv. VIII.13; cf. Schol. Veron. Aen. VIII.104), and within the line of the Palatine pomerium at one corner (Tac. Ann. XII.24). It stood, therefore, in the eastern part of the forum Boarium, near the carceres of the circus, and probably very near to the temple of Hercules Victor (q.v.), that is, at the north-east corner of the Piazza di Bocca della Verità, north of S. Maria in Cosmedin (LS III.41‑42; DAP 2.vi.274).

This altar was burned in the fire of Nero (Tac. Ann. XV.41), but was restored, and was standing in the fourth century (Fest. Serv. locc. citt.). To the second, third, and fourth centuries belong several inscriptions, dedicated by praetors to Hercules Invictus (CIL VI.312‑315, 317‑318; 316 Alcide; 319 Hercules Victor), which were found near by when the ruins of the round temple, identified with that of Hercules Victor (q.v.), were destroyed during the pontificate of Sixtus IV, and it is not certain whether these inscriptions belonged to the temple or ara, or both. No traces of the altar itself have ever been found (cf. an unsuccessful attempt to identify it with the early structure under S. Maria in Cosmedin, Mél. 1909, 107‑117).2 By Tacitus and Juvenal (loc. cit.) the altar is called magna instead of maxima.

It would be natural to enclose the altar, and some kind of a sacred precinct may be indicated by certain passages in literature rather than the aedes Herculis Invicti (Strabo V.3.3: τέμενος; Solin. I.10: consaeptum sacellum; Plut. q. Rom. 90: ἐντός τῶν περιβόλων). A statue p254of Hercules triumphalis (Rosch. I.2911) in the forum Boarium, ascribed by tradition to Evander (Plin. H. N. XXXIV.33) and probably referred to by Macrobius (III.6.17) and Servius (Aen. III.407; VIII.288),3 may have been in this ancient precinct of the ara rather than in the temple (Jord. I.2.481; Ann. d. Inst. 1854, 28‑38; Arch. Zeit. 1877, 107 ff.; Gilb. I.78‑82; RE VIII.552‑554; Rosch. I.2901‑2903, 2904‑2920 passim; Wissowa, Ges. Abhandl. 260; WR 273‑284). An inscription recently acquired by the Lateran Museum mentions an aedes dedicated to Hercules Invictus Esychianus (cf. CIL VI.280, 322; BPW 1889, 683). Its provenance is unknown, but Hülsen conjectures that it belonged to a chapel situated in the vicinity of the forum Boarium, in which the cult of Hercules was centred (RPA i.89‑94, and esp. 93 n10; cf. NS 1924, 67. For a Pompeian painting believed to represent Hercules at the ara Maxima see Mem. Acc. Napoli 1911, 169‑180). Like the first of the two inscriptions cited, it was dedicated to Hercules by Hierus and Asylus (cf. Mart. IX.103), slaves of Tiberius Claudius Livianus, praefectus praetorio under Trajan (Pros. i.384, 753; cf. CIL VI.1604; xv.932, 2317, 7882). The name Esychianus is explained by the fact that the second inscription is a dedication (also to Hercules) by one M. Claudius Hesychus, probably a freedman of Livianus.


The Authors' Notes:

1 Cf. Chron. 143.

2 See also Boll. Ass. Arch. Rom. v. (1915) 109‑120; ZA 257.

3 We are here told that the statue was 'operto capite,' i.e. wearing the lionskin (Boll. Ass. Arch. Rom. v. (1915), 126).


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