God of the Month: Hercules

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Temple of Hercules Victor

Hercules of the Romans is different from Heracules (Hercules) of the Greeks. They are both Demi-gods who performed the Twelve Labors (of Hercules). However, Hercules of the Romans is so uniquely Roman as to be another God.

As one of the early founders of Rome, Hercules set up the Ara Maxima (the Greatest Altar) for sacrifices. Cacus, a fire monster, who had been terrorizing the early Romans, stole Hercules’ cattle. After killing Cacus, He erected this altar (later known as the Ara Maxima of Hercules Invictus, the Unconquered Hercules), and sacrificed cattle to the Gods. Rejoicing at the demise of the fire monster, the early Romans celebrated Hercules’ victory, and made his altar a cult center.

Popular with merchants, Hercules receive one tenth of their profits. Unlike Heracules, He is considered a God of Commercial Enterprises. At the Ara Maxima, traders would make business deals, swearing oaths to Him. He is especially beloved by olive merchants, who called Him, Hercules Olivarius.

Nearby this altar, the Romans erected a statue of Hercules Triumphalis (Hercules Triumphant). Before setting off for battle, generals would ask Him, Hercules Victor (Hercules Victorious) and Hercules Invictus for victory. Afterwards in gratitude, successful generals would sacrifice at the statue, now clothed in triumphal robes.

In 218 BCE, on the orders of the Sibylline Books, a temple to Hercules Magnus Custos (Hercules the Great Custodian) was erected. The Romans then asked Him to save them from Hannibal of Carthage who was intent on invading Rome. Like all of his temples, this one was round. (Today, a person can ask for protection against home invasions from Hercules Magnus Custos.)

Hercules Musarum (Hercules of the Muses) is the Friend of the Muses. He is usually depicted playing the lyre. At his temple in the Circus Flaminius, Hercules and the Nine Muses were honored.

Hercules of Rome is a multi-faceted God/Hero. He is the Patron of Olive Merchants (Olivarius) and of Quarrymen (Saxanus, of the Rocks). Besides being noted for his gluttony and strength, Hercules is also recognized for being a Friend of the Muses. He is also Hercules Augustus, who protects the ruling emperor of Rome.

Salve Hercules!
You ended human sacrifices
You established the worship of fire
You slew Cacus, the fire demon
You protected Rome
You grant success in war
You sing with the Muses
You give health and strength
You grant commercial success
Undefeated and always victorious
Salve Hercules!

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