/ves"teuh/, n.
1. the ancient Roman goddess of the hearth, worshiped in a temple containing an altar on which a sacred fire was kept burning by the vestal virgins: identified with the Greek Hestia.
2. Astron. the third largest and one of the four brightest asteroids.
3. (l.c.) Brit. a short friction match with a wood or wax shank.
4. a female given name.
[1350-1400; ME < L]

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In Roman religion, the goddess of the hearth, identified with the Greek Hestia.

Because maintaining a hearth fire was important in ancient times, she was worshiped in every household. Her state worship was elaborate: her temple in Rome had a perpetual fire that was attended by the Vestal Virgins. The fire was officially extinguished and renewed annually on March 1st; its extinction at any other time was viewed as a portent of disaster to Rome.

Vesta (seated on the left) with Vestal Virgins, classical relief sculpture; in the Palermo Museum, ...

By courtesy of the Palermo Museum, Italy

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▪ Roman goddess
 in Roman religion, goddess of the hearth, identified with the Greek Hestia. The lack of an easy source of fire in the early Roman community placed a special premium on the ever-burning hearth fire, both publicly and privately maintained; thus, from the earliest times Vesta was assured of a prominent place in both family and state worship. Her worship was observed in every household along with that of the Penates and the Lares, and her image was sometimes encountered in the household shrine.

      The state worship of Vesta was much more elaborate. Her sanctuary was traditionally a circular building, in imitation of the early Italian round hut and symbolic of the public hearth. The Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum was of great antiquity and underwent many restorations and rebuildings in both republican and imperial times. There burned the perpetual fire of the public hearth attended by the Vestal Virgin (Vestal Virgins)s (q.v.). This fire was officially extinguished and renewed annually on March 1 (originally the Roman new year), and its extinction at any other time, either accidentally or not, was regarded as a portent of disaster to Rome. The temple's innermost sanctuary was not open to the public; once a year, however, on the Vestalia (June 7–15), it was opened to matrons who visited it barefoot.

      The days of the festival were unlucky. On the final day occurred the ceremonial sweeping out of the building, and the period of ill omen did not end until the sweepings were officially disposed of by placing them in a particular spot along the Clivus Capitolinus or by throwing them into the Tiber.

      In addition to the shrine itself and between it and the Velia stood the magnificent Atrium Vestae. This name originally was given to the whole sacred area comprising the Temple of Vesta, a sacred grove, the Regia (headquarters of the pontifex maximus, or chief priest), and the House of the Vestals, but ordinarily it designated the home or palace of the Vestals.

      Vesta is represented as a fully draped woman, sometimes accompanied by her favourite animal, an ass. As goddess of the hearth fire, Vesta was the patron deity of bakers, hence her connection with the ass, usually used for turning the millstone, and her association with Fornax, the spirit of the baker's oven. She is also found allied with the primitive fire deities Cacus and Caca.

 third largest and the brightest asteroid of the asteroid belt and the fourth such object to be discovered, by the German astronomer and physician Wilhelm Olbers (Olbers, Wilhelm) on March 29, 1807. It is named for the ancient Roman goddess of the hearth.

 Vesta revolves around the Sun once in 3.63 years in a nearly circular, moderately inclined (7.1°) orbit at a mean distance of 2.36 astronomical units (AU; about 353 million km [219 million miles]). It has an ellipsoidal shape with radial dimensions of 280 × 272 × 227 km, equivalent to a sphere with a diameter of 520 km—i.e., about 15 percent of the diameter of Earth's Moon. Its diameter and that of Pallas are so nearly the same that the two bodies can exchange titles of “second largest” and “third largest” when new measurements are published. Although Vesta is only about half the size of the largest asteroid, Ceres, it is about four times as reflective (Vesta's albedo, averaged over its rotation, is 0.40, compared with 0.10 for Ceres), and it orbits closer (Ceres's mean distance is 2.77 AU). Vesta is the only main-belt asteroid visible to the unaided eye. Its mass is about 2.7 × 1020 kg, and its density is 3.5 grams per cubic cm (about the same as that of the Moon). It rotates once in 5.3 hours, showing large-scale colour and brightness variations over its surface. Compositionally, Vesta resembles the basaltic achondrite meteorites and is widely believed to be the parent body of the meteorites known as basaltic achondrite HEDs (a grouping of the howardite, eucrite, and diogenite types). In other words, most and perhaps all of these meteorites were once part of Vesta.

Edward F. Tedesco

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Universalium. 2010.

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