Date(s) - 12/08/2020 - 13/08/2020
Hercules was one of the first foreign gods to be admitted into Rome and his earliest cult centre was the Ara Maxima in the Forum Boarium. Thus placed within the Cattle Market and near the Tiber, his cult became popular with merchants, and it was possibly introduced by Phoenician traders.
He was also identified with the Greek hero Heracles, who was recognized as ‘a warder off of evils’ as well as a traveller through his enforced Labours. His cult appeared in Rome early and his altar is said to have been dedicated by Evander after Hercules had killed the legendary Cacus. Near the altar was a round temple of Hercules Invictus (Victor). Until 399 BCE the cult was strictly sacra privata until the lectisternium.
The cult was celebrated in the Greek manner, with head uncovered, though crowned with laurel. Plutarch also mentions that at the sacrifice to Hercules there must be no reference to any other gods and dogs were excluded from the precincts. Oaths were often taken at the altar and business transactions agreed. Further, merchants were accustomed to pay Hercules a tithe on the profit of a business deal. But besides successful merchants, victorious generals also might offer tithes of their booty. It has been suggested that the tithes were used to provide a free feast on the day of the festival – this is made more probable because Hercules shared with Silvanus the unusual distinction that no part of the sacrificial animals might be removed from the precinct, and this would entail that what was not actually
burnt on the altar was eaten on the spot. Further, while other gods were somewhat restricted in the foods they might receive as offerings, Hercules could eat and drink everything.
Traditionally on 12 August the praetor urbanus sacrificed a heifer to Hercules and poured a libation from a special cup which was known as the skyphos of Hercules, this official offering was no doubt supplemented from the tithes and contributions which private worshippers had made on that day as well as on other occasions throughout the year. Hercules gives the impression of having been rather a ‘popular’ deity with an appeal to the individual man.
It appears in some locations these celebrations continued into a second day on the 13th.