The cult of Vesta in the Roman world

Cobb, Jennifer Mary (1984). The cult of Vesta in the Roman world. MPhil thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000f956

Abstract

This thesis comprises a study of the origins, history and importance of the cult of Vesta in the Roman world.

Its principal findings are that the cult was probably derived from the Greek cult of Hestia and entered Rome from the Greek colonies of Southern Italy no later than the sixth century BC., the period when it first appeared in the Forum. The organisation of the Vestal Virgins and the position of the temple near the Regia strongly suggests that the cult was connected with the monarchy and survived the expulsion of the regal family because the goddess had by then become regarded as one of the guardians of the State, whilst the Vestal Virgins participated in festivals such as the Parilia and the Argei which were connected with Rome's spiritual and material wellbeing.

The public cult was confined to these areas where Roman influence was paramount, especially to Rome itself, Tibur and Colonia or military settlements in Spain, Gaul and Germany. Evidence for a private cult comprises scattered references by classical writers and Pompeian wall paintings discovered in private houses and pistrina which depict Vesta in the company of an ass. Her association with the ass probably occurred at an early period in the development of the cult and resulted in her becoming a goddess favoured by the baking trade, following the growth of the large baking establishments and the introduction of the donkey-driven mill in the second century BC.

The cult achieved its greatest influence during the Empire when it became closely associated with the imperial house. Evidence from inscriptions and coinage indicates its prestige reached its zenith in the second and third centuries AD.; thereafter it declined owing to the rise of Christianity. There is no evidence of its survival into the fifth century.

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