1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Vulcan

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Vulcan (Volcanus), the Roman god of fire, and more especially of devouring flame (Virg. Aen. 5. 662). Whether he was also, like Hephaestus, the deity of smiths, is very doubtful; his surname Mulciber may rather be referred to his power to allay conflagrations. In the Comitium was an “area Volcani,” also called “Volcanal”, and here on the 23rd of August (Volcanalia) the Flamen Volcanalis sacrificed, and the heads of Roman families threw into the fire small fish, which the Tiber fishermen sold on the spot. This flamen also sacrificed on the 1st of May to Maia, who in an old prayer formula (Gellius 13. 23) was coupled with Volcanus as Maia Volcani. It is not easy to explain these survivals of an old cult. But in historical times the association of this god with conflagrations becomes very apparent; when Augustus organized the city in regiones and vici to check the constant danger from fires, the magistri vicorum (officers of administrative districts) worshipped him as Volcanus quietus augustus (C.I.L. vi. 801 and 802) and on the 23rd of August there was a sacrifice to him together with Ops Opifera and the Nymphae, which suggests the need of water in quenching the flames. At Ostia, where much of the corn was stored which fed the Roman population, the cult of this god became famous; and it is probable that the fixing of his festival in August by the early Romans had some reference to the danger to the newly harvested corn from fire in that month.  (W. W. F.*)