Great Altar of Hercules
The Great Altar of Unconquered Hercules (Herculis Invicti Ara Maxima) 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. The altar stood until it was demolished by order of Pope Sixtus IV. Roman tradition made the spot the site where Hercules slew Cacus and ascribed to Evander its erection. In modern Rome, the site is in the north-east corner of Piazza di Bocca della Verità, north of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.
The original altar burned in the Great Fire of Rome, CE64, but was rebuilt and was still standing in the fourth century. Its exact site is uncertain, as no traces of it have been identified. 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.
Various references, with Varro as their source, justified the exclusion of women from ceremonies here, or of partaking in the sacrificial meats. The rites at the Ara Maxima were unique within the cult of Hercules in that they were performed ritu Graeco, with heads uncovered.
- Tacitus and Juvenal both refer to the altar as magna (great") instead of maxima ("greatest")
- Samuel Ball Platner and Thomas Ashby, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome 1929
- 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.
- Tacitus, Annals, xv.41
- Platner and Ashby 1929; F. Coarelli, Il foro boario dalle origini alla fine della repubblica Rome, 1992, vol. 2:61-77.
- 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.
- Macrobius, Saturnalia, iii.6.17;