The Kingdom of the West: Hercules at Volubilis

Hercules, the Greek Herakles, was a bit of a hit in ancient Morocco. Ancient writers, writing about the Phoenicians in North Africa, identified Hercules with the Phoenician god Melqart and there are reports of many temples across North Africa dedicated to Hercules.

At Volubilis, the best-known Roman site in Morocco, there are a few indications of the continuing allegiances to Hercules/Melqart into the Roman period. At the centre of the city stands the Basilica and the Capitol which is the site of the temple to the three main Roman deities; Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.

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The people of Roman Volubilis were giving the proper respect to the Roman gods, but old habits die hard. At the side of the temple platform, almost unseen at the base of a door pilaster…

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is this tiny little image of Hercules.

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He’s holding a bag and his club and is nude, as befits all ancient heroes.

There’s another, similar but larger image on a stone block near the entrance to the site. In an area where a number of grave markers have been lined up, is this,

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There’s no text on it, and I’ve no idea where it may have originally been found, but it’s certainly the same Hercules image, although he does look a bit less cut than the temple Hercules.

Just off the decumanus maximus is the House of the Labours of Hercules, so-named account of this mosaic.

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The mosaic depicts the Twelve Labours, albeit in a rather naive style.

Here’s Labour Twelve – ‘Dog Walking’ (capturing the hell-hound Cerberus).

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And Labour Six – ‘Duck  hunting’ (slaying the Stymphalian Birds).

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Labour Seven – Capturing the Cretan Bull.

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And the  Fifth Labour – Cleaning the Augean stable.

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And here is Hercules’ earliest heroic task, killing the snakes sent by Juno to kill him in his cradle.

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There are other references to Hercules around the ancient province. You can see one here.

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