Temple of Vesta: Aedes Vesta


Interior of Aedes Vesta.


Exterior of Aedes Vasta.

In Casting Lots, Centurion Cornelius visits the Temple of Vesta. He gives his slave, Lucinius, money to spend in the stores around the forum while Lucinius awaits Cornelius to accomplish his business. This business is a crucial plot element of the story.

Aedes Vesta is usually translated as the Temple of Vesta. The word ‘aedes’, perhaps more properly ‘aedis’, is derived from a word which meant “a place with a hearth”. Thus, one could probably translate it as Vesta’s hearth. Doing so, would add greater weight to the concept that Vesta was worshiped as the keeper of the sacred hearth of Rome.

In fact, because augurs had not set the Aedes Vesta apart and hallowed it, it is not technically a temple, but a sacred place. The word ‘aedes’ has several meanings including private sanctuary, but also including house, dwelling, and household. Often the word ‘aedes’ is paired with the word ‘sacra’, hence, aedes sacra or “sacred building”, which if the word ‘aedes’ meant ‘temple’ in the first place, it would seem odd to be a sacred temple, for are not all temples sacred?

One of the most singular features of the Temple of Vesta is that it is circular in its footprint. Why would the Romans build a temple which is circular in form?

Ovid wrote:

The current temple’s shape preserves the shape of old.

There is solid reason for its roundness: the Earth,

You see, and Vesta are one; for each, an undying fire,

And Earth, like hearth-place, signifies the Center.

The Earth, also, is round like a ball ….

Foolishly I used to think that Vesta had a statue,

Until I learned her curving dome held none.

A perpetual flame burns hidden in that temple,

But neither Vesta nor the flame have sculptured form.

Ovid, Fasti 6.265-269; 295-298

Some scholars have advanced the theory that the Temple mirrored the shape of the circular huts which housed Romans from the founding of Rome. Adding support to this theory is the fact that the worship of Vesta began in the homes of the Romans whop gathered around their hearths.

A second unusual feature is that Aedes Vesta did not house a statue of Vesta, only her sacred hearth. While Aedes Vesta served as the repository for important legal documents of Rome (which comes into play in Casting Lots), it also housed the Palladium, a statute of Pallas Athene, believed by Romans to have been rescued by Aeneas from the burning city of Troy.

The myth of Aeneas is central to the psyche of the Roman people. In the Aeneid, Virgil represents Aeneas as the exemplar of Roman piety, virtue, and devotion to duty. Aeneas is called ‘pius’ through the Aeneid. He carries his father Anchises upon his back, while he leads his young son, Iulus (Julius) through the burning flames to safety. Gaius Julius Caesar traced his lineage to Aeneas and through him claimed to be divine, because the mother of Aeneas was the goddess Venus.

Aedes Vesta did face east demonstrating that the sacred fire within has a connection with the rising sun. Life needs sunlight and life needs fire. Further, the fire of Vesta is eternal much like the sun.


Sejanus: Patron of Pilate

Pontius Pilate probably came to be Prefect over Judea because of the influence of Sejanus. But who was Sejanus? While Casting Lots does not fully answer this question, Sejanus is both a major character in Casting Lots and an extremely interesting historical personage.

Sejanus’ tria nomina was Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Born into the equestrian class in 20 BC, Sejanus died on October 18, AD 31, at the height of his power and influence, having attained the Consulship.

Born to the powerful Seii clan, he was fortunate to be adopted by the prestigious and more powerful Aelian clan, which counted among its members two recent consuls and a military commander who had earned a triumph. In 2 BC, Sejanus’ adoptive father, Strabo, was appointed the prefect of the imperial bodyguard. Sejanus accompanied Gaius Caesar during his campaigns in Armenia in 1 BC. Then in 14 BC, Sejanus was appointed to the Praetorian Guard and served under his father. With his father’s appointment as Governor of Egypt in 15 BC, Sejanus became Prefect of the Praetorian Guard.

While the Praetorian Guard was established under Emperor Augustus, Sejanus refashioned it to be much more than the mere bodyguard to the Emperor. He transformed it into a powerful and influential branch of the government controlling public security, civil administration, and endowed with a veto over the acts of the Senate. He did this by centralizing the previously scattered nine cohorts of the Guard in one place just outside of Rome, by increasing the nine cohorts to 12, and by placing all of them under his sole command, rather than retaining the prior dual command system.

Sejanus also gained power by his influence over the Emperor Tiberius. In 22 AD, Tiberius began to share power with his son, Drusus. Because Tiberius was growing older, Sejanus hoped to establish himself as the heir apparent, even though Tiberius had a son. To establish himself as the heir apparent, Sejanus eliminated potential political opponents, including the emperor’s son, Drusus. Sejanus seduced Livilla, the wife of Drusus, and conspired with her to kill her husband. Livilla was able to poison her husband such that it appeared he had died of natural causes. So by 23 AD, Sejanus was called “Socius Laborum” (my partner in my toils) by Tiberius and appeared to be the heir apparent.

Sejanus thought the time was ripe for him to marry into the Emperor’s family. He divorced his wife in 23 AD. After waiting a discrete period of time, he then proposed to Tiberius in 25 AD that he marry Livilla. The emperor denied this request, warning Sejanus that he was in danger of overstepping his rank. (This episode appears in detail in Casting Lots.)

Sejanus changed his tactics and proceeded to isolate Tiberius. When Tiberius withdrew to the Isle of Capri in 26 AD, Sejanus was the de facto ruler of the empire. Sejanus’ star continued to rise until the death of Livilla in 29 AD. Her death affected Sejanus and made him undertake a program to remove all opposition. Spies and informers flew throughout Rome providing Sejanus with information which he used in trials against his opponents.

When Tiberius learned of Sejanus’ actions, Tiberius plotted a campaign to undermine Sejanus. He wrote letters to the Senate, some of which praised Sejanus and some of which denounced him. He resigned his consulship forcing Sejanus to do the same. Next, he conferred an honorary priesthood upon Caligula (who unfortunately was one of the few nobles who escaped Sejanus’ net). With these steps, support for Sejanus diminished. Then Tiberius appointed a new head of Praetorian Guard. Finally, Tiberius sent a letter to the Senate which summoned Sejanus to hear the letter read. Sejanus believed he was going to receive an honor. The letter began with a celebration of Sejanus. Then it abruptly changed to an order to arrest and imprison Sejanus. For a time the most influential and feared citizen of Rome, now amidst suspicions of conspiracy against Tiberius, Sejanus was executed, along with his followers.

Caesarea Maritima: The Place for New Beginnings

Although the site of Caesarea Maritima was the site of an ancient Phoenician city, Caesarea Maritima literally was a brand new city built by Herod the Great during the period 25 to 13 BC.

At first, Herod envisioned this city as being ‘his’ city and so he built his palace on a promontory jutting into the Mediterranean Sea. The palace had a freshwater pool, almost Olympic size, which required water to be brought via an aqueduct from Mt. Carmel, some ten miles away. He then had a 40 acre artificial harbor constructed, which was the largest one in antiquity and which could accommodate 300 ships. Beyond that an amphitheater, theater, and a 10,000 seat hippodrome were built. The 3,500 seat amphitheater was situated such that the patrons were looking out at the sea. The city was surrounded by great city walls and graced with columned temples, parks, docks, warehouses and beautiful villas. The city was dedicated to Augustus Caesar, as was the harbor, which was named Sebastos that is ‘Augustus’ in Greek.

In time, Herod came to realize that his city boasted too much of his Hellenism and too little of his heritage as a Jew and, thus, was driving a wedge between his monarchy and the Jews of his kingdom. While Herod continued to build new many important buildings and fortresses, such as Masada and Herodium, he built his greatest political, and perhaps, architectural achievement in Jerusalem, the expansion of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Caesarea is also the first place where Pilate set foot in the Province of Judea, because Caesarea was the administrative capital of the province. Jerusalem at this time was the religious center of Judea. Roman Prefects, and then later governors, went to Jerusalem usually only for the most important festivals of the Jewish year, and then only to keep peace.

Finally, Caesarea Maritima is the place where Christianity first embraced the Romans, as Gentiles, and the Roman Empire. Peter was called from Joppa to Caesarea to baptize a Centurion named Cornelius. This Centurion is not only the first Roman official, but also the first Roman to embrace Christianity. Before the baptism ceremony, Peter, and those with him, saw the Holy Spirit pour out the gift of tongues upon these Gentiles. Moreover, Peter had a vision in which God directed him to no longer view the Gentiles as being unclean, but to view all men as being worthy in God’s sight, if they believed in God and worked for righteousness.

It is because Caesarea Maritima is a place for new beginnings that the central characters of Casting Lots begin their journey throughout the Roman Empire from Caesarea Maritima.

“Guestpost for Magic City Morning Star: Who was Pontius Pilate Really?”

Shakespeare’s Juliette asked the question: “What’s in a name?” While her answer is pure poetry, names actually tell us a great deal about the person named.

In ancient Rome, most nobles had three names (the ‘tria nomina’), for example, Gaius Julius Caesar. First names were limited to a few, such as Gaius, Marcus, Lucius, and Titus. Unlike in our era, the family name is in the middle, so Gaius Julius Caesar is of the Julii clan. Nicknames were usually in the third position. They were given for interesting or distinguishing bodily features, such as ‘Caesar’, which comes from the Latin word “caesaries” meaning luxuriant hair (here, a family nickname, because both Caesar’s father and grandfather were so named), or for feats accomplished, like Scipio who, by defeating Hannibal conquered Africa, became Scipio Africanus.

Pontius is a distinguished Samnite family name. The Samnite people were a fierce, hardy, and very proud mountain tribe (the modern Abruzzo region). They resisted Rome in several wars. In the Social Wars of 90-88 BC, they were the last holdouts of all the allies. Gavius Pontius, a probable ancestor of Pilate, defeated the Romans at the Battle of Caudine Forks in 321 BC. Reinforcing this view of Pilate as a Samnite is an old tradition of Pilate being born in the town of Bisenti, which dates from Samnite times.

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