The Romans relied extensively upon blacksmiths to craft metal objects for their every day use. From swords and shields, to horseshoes, drinking goblets, jewelry, and chains, metal workers employed in forges created many useful objects. Romans widely regarded a god called “Vulcan” as responsible for fire, volcanos, and metal working.
Early blacksmiths depended upon fire to melt metal until it became soft enough to shape and bend with the help of a hammer. The Roman believed Vulcan served as the highly skilled blacksmith for the gods residing on Mount Olympus. He frequently manufactured magical objects from metal. The Romans closely associated Vulcan with metal and metal working, and with periodic vulcanic eruptions. They sometimes symbolized him as a hammer.
According to most legends, the Queen of the Roman gods, Juno, gave birth to Vulcan on Mount Olympus. She recoiled in disgust when she saw him for the first time, however. As a baby, Vulcan appeared very ugly. Juno hurled him from the top of Mount Olympus and he fell into the sea.
Fortunately for Vulcan, a kindly sea nymph named Thetis found the baby. She did not allow him to drown. Instead, she carried him to her home below the surface of the waters and she raised him as her son. Vulcan has suffered broken legs during his fall, so he always walked with a slight limp. He remained very grateful to Thetis for serving as his adopted mother, and he enjoyed a happy childhood living with her in the sea.
Vulcan Learns The Art of Metal Working
As a youth, Vulcan spent many pleasant hours wandering along the shoreline beside the ocean, exploring the beach. He learned to build a fire and melt metal after he discovered the remains of a campfire in the sand. Soon he taught himself to become a very skilled blacksmith. He succeeded in crafting beautiful and useful objects from metals such as iron, copper, and gold. Vulcan made gifts for Thetis and other sea nymphs.
When other gods learned about Vulcan’s talent as a blacksmith, they began praising his skill. The news eventually reached his mother, Juno. Still residing on Mount Olympus, she decided to summon Vulcan to meet with her.
However, Vulcan harbored great resentment towards Juno for tossing him out of Mount Olympus as a baby. Instead of accepting her invitation to meet, he chose to send her a magical throne made from precious metals instead. It contained a hidden device which entrapped anyone sitting in the chair. Juno eagerly accepted the gift. She quickly discovered the magical chair would not allow her to rise; the more she struggled to leave the throne, the more tightly bound to it she became. She complained loudly about her imprisonment.
Juno’s husband Jupiter, the ruler of Mount Olympus, became concerned for his wife. He told Vulcan to free Juno from the golden throne. In return, he would allow the young man to marry Venus, the Roman goddess of beauty. Vulcan could not resist this tempting offer, and he freed Juno in order to wed the lovely Venus. Vulcan, possibly the ugliest of the Roman gods in appearance, became the husband of the most attractive goddess on Mount Olympus.
Volcanic Eruptions And Vulcan
Unfortunately, Vulcan did not enjoy a happy marriage to Venus: she frequently found herself attracted to other gods and men. These episodes made Vulcan very jealous. The Romans attributed some volcanic eruptions to Vulcan losing his temper. Vulcan did take up residence on Mount Olympus, where he became the full time blacksmith serving the other Roman gods.
During the eruption of a volcano, lava (molten rock) flows from an exceedingly hot crater. Many Romans lived near an active volcano called Mount Vesuvius. It erupted in 79 AD, completely burying the prosperous Roman community of Pompeii in ash and lava. Archaeologists later learned a great deal about Roman society by studying the remains of buildings, artifacts, and people preserved there.
The Birth of Minerva And Other Feats
Some legends contend Vulcan played a role in the birth of the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva. One day Jupiter suffered from a severe headache. In great pain, he asked the blacksmith Vulcan to help him stop the pounding in his head. Vulcan tried to alleviate the pain by hitting Jupiter with his hammer. When he did so, the goddess Minerva emerged fully grown from the crack in Jupiter’s skull!
The Romans attributed many great blacksmithing feats to Vulcan. He produced a variety of tools and gifts at the direction of different gods on Mount Olympus. Whenever Romans referred to skilled metal working in myths and legends, they frequently credited Vulcan’s talented workmanship.