Great Altar of Hercules

(Redirected from Ara Maxima)

The Great Altar of Unconquered Hercules (Latin: Herculis Invicti Ara Maxima[1]) stood in the Forum Boarium of ancient Rome. It was the earliest cult-centre of Hercules in Rome, predating the circular Temple of Hercules Victor. Roman tradition made the spot the site where Hercules slew Cacus and ascribed to Evander of Pallene its erection.[2] Virgil's Aeneid tells of Evander attributing the original creation of the Ara Maxima to Potitius and the Pinarii.[3]

The original altar burned in the Great Fire of Rome, 64 CE,[4] but was rebuilt and still stood in the fourth century. A tentative identification of a tufa platform in the crypt of Santa Maria in Cosmedin with the foundation of the altar has been made by Filippo Coarelli and other archaeologists.[5][6]

Various references, with Varro as their source, justified the exclusion of women from ceremonies here, or of partaking in the sacrificial meats.[7] The rites at the Ara Maxima were unique within the cult of Hercules in that they were performed ritu Graeco, with heads uncovered.[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Tacitus and Juvenal both refer to the altar as magna (great") instead of maxima ("greatest")
  2. ^ The exhaustive treatment of the foundation myths surrounding the Ara Maxima is in James G. Winter, The Myth of Hercules at Rome (University of Michigan Studies 4) 1910.
  3. ^ Virgil's Aeneid 8.270
  4. ^ Tacitus, Annals, xv.41
  5. ^ Coarelli, F. Il foro boario dalle origini alla fine della repubblica. Edizioni Quasar, Rome, 1992, vol. 2:61-77.
  6. ^ Claridge, A. Rome. Oxford University Press, 1998, pages 256-258.
  7. ^ Celia E. Schultz, "Modern prejudice and ancient praxis: female worship of Hercules at Rome" Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 133 (2000:291-297) pp 292ff.
  8. ^ Macrobius, Saturnalia, iii.6.17;

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41°53′20″N 12°28′52″E / 41.8889°N 12.4811°E / 41.8889; 12.4811