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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces part of
The Roman Forum — Its History and Its Monuments

by Christian Hülsen

published by Ermanno Loescher & Co
Publishers to H. M. the Queen of Italy

Text, maps, and black-and‑white images
are in the public domain.
Color photos are © William P. Thayer.


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 p80  IX. The Volcanal

Behind the Umbilicus and protected by a modern wooden roof lie the remains of some very old buildings made of blocks of tufa. They are generally considered the foundations of an altar of Vulcan which stood in a sacred enclosure under the open sky (Volcanal). This Volcanal, traditionally ascribed to Romulus, was considered one of the oldest sanctuaries in the city; even as late as the time of Pliny the Elder (about 70 A.D.) a lotos tree grew there, which was said to be as old as Rome itself, and the roots of which stretched as far as the Forum of Caesar. The space around the Volcanal (the Area Volcani, as it was called) covered originally considerable ground; in the time before Caesar various objects were exhibited there; a statue of Horatius Cocles, another statue standing on a column and representing an actor who was struck by lightning during the games in the Circus, a  p81 quadriga of bronze, which Romulus dedicated after his victory over the Caeninenses, and an inscription put up by Romulus himself 'in Greek letters' and recounting his deeds. Naturally no trace of any of these things has been found; but the fact that the cult of Vulcan continued here later, is shown by a marble slab which was excavated here in 1548 (now in the Naples museum) and which, according to the inscription on it, stood under a dedicatory gift which Augustus made to Vulcan in B.C. 9. The Volcanal was very much narrowed and partly done away with altogether by the building operations of the empire (the enlargement of the temple of Concord, the construction of the arch of  p82 Severus etc.). According to Roman tradition the Volcanal served as the speakers' platform in the time of the kings, before the erection of the Rostra; it is perhaps therefore no accidental coincidence that when Augustus restored the Rostra he moved it very near to this spot. Other old remains (pavement of tufa, with channels for drainage etc.) between the Volcanal and the Hemicyclium cannot be identified with certainty. Behind the foundation of the altar of Vulcan are to be seen traces of a flight of steps, cut into the tufa of the Capitoline hill, and leading up to the vestibule of the temple of Concord (see below p91 f.).

See: Livius XL, 19, 1; Dionys. II.50, VI.67, VII.17, XI.39; Plinius n. h. XVI.236; Gellius, IV.5; Festus 238, 290; hemerol. Arval. ad X kal. Sept.; CIL VI.457 (= Dessau 93).

Jordan I, 2, 339; Huelsen, R. M. 1893, 87. 1902, 10; Cantarelli, Bull. com. 1900, 124 f.; Lanciani, Bull. com. 1902, 125 f.; Vaglieri 161.

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Site updated: 12 Oct 06