Atrium Vestae

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Atrium Vestae [see N1] (Atrium of Vesta) was an ancient Roman religious complex, comprising of a residential structure, a temple to the goddess Vesta, a street shrine (aedicula) and some secondary structures.

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The priestly order of Vestal Virgins (Vergini Vestali) dates back to the times of Romulus of Numa (circa eighth - seventh centuries BCE). Priestesses had to be young aristocratic virgins, and were chosen by the Pontifex Maximus when they were between the ages of six and ten. Their service as priestess lasted for thirty years and brought them wealth and privilege, but also required chastity and observation of rituals. The Vestals kept alight the public fire that burned in the adjacent temple of Vesta, looked aftersacred objects and celebrated annual festivals. On these occassions the Vestals prepared the mola salsa, a mixture of flour and salt, which was sprinkled on sacrificial animals.

Before being destroyed by fire during the reign of Nero the House of the Bestals had a different shape, size and orientation. The oldest surviving structure dates to the sixth century BCE; it was then rebuilt from tuff blocks in the third century BCE, and redesigned in the late Republican or early Empire period. Recent excavations have revealed a hut dating back to the mid eighth century BCE. This may have been the earliest home of the priestesses. The remains, including walls and mosaics, of the Republican period house of the Vestals were found beneath the imperial era paving with its chambers for heating system.

Notable Structures

circa 110 CE

House of the Vestals
The House of the Vestals (Casa delle Vestali) is located next (south-east) to the temple of Vesta. The structure that is visible today was built in brick-faced concrete after the fire during the Neronian era in 64 CE. It was then reconstructed by emperor Trajan and restored by Septimius Severus. In 394 CE Theodosius I, a Christian emperor, ordered it to be abandoned. Sleeping quarters, reception chambers with heating systems and marble paving and service areas such as kitchens and a mill were arranged on several levels around an arcaded courtyard, decorated with fountains and statues of the most famous of Vestals of the past.

circa 130 CE

Cult Shrine
Also called the aedicula, it was most likely a "public shrine" situated where the Via Sacra (the Sacred Way) intersects a small road, called the Vicus Vestae. Probably dedicated to the Lares Praestites (the spirits that protected the city of Rome), it was a compitum (a cross-roads shrine), placed at intersections of streets. The Senate ordered the construction of the shrine using public funds during Hadrian's reign, and it is located in the Roman Forum in Rome. This can be inferred from the brick stamps.

circa 191 CE

Temple of Vesta
Partially reconstructed in the twentieth century CE, the temple of Vesta (Tempio di Vesta) is linked to one of the Rome's most ancient and most important cults. Here the Vestals Virgins tended the sacred fire which was to burn perpetually as a symbol of city's life force. Men, with the exception of Pontifex Maximus, were severly prohibited from entering the temple. Today all that remains of the temple is the podium on which the collumns stood; the circular monument was reconstructed on several occassions. The current remains date to the period of Septimius Severus, who restored the building after the fire in 191 CE.

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