Dionysius of Halicarnassus in Roman Antiquites touches on, in brief, that the entiguishing of the flame was an omen for the destruction of the city.

There are many indications, it seems, when a priestess is not performing her holy functions with purity, but the principal one is the extinction of the fire, which the Romans dread above all misfortunes, looking upon it, from whatever cause it proceeds, as an omen that portends the destruction of the city; and they bring fire again into the temple with many supplicatory rites, concerning which I shall speak on the proper occasion. - Dionysius of H. Book 2, LCL 319, Pages 509

Livy also talks about the Sacred Fire of Vesta twice and speaks of it as an omen but again does not go into greater depth about WHY it needed to be alight and what would happen if it went out

Here is the Capitol where in the old days a human head was found, and this was declared to be an omen, for in that place would be fixed the head and supreme sovereign power of the world. Here it was that whilst the Capitol was being cleared with augural rites, Juventas and Terminus, to the great delight of your fathers, would not allow themselves to be moved. Here is the Fire of Vesta; here are the Shields sent down from heaven; here are all the gods, who, if you remain, will be gracious to you. - Livy 5.54.7


What need is there for me to speak about the perpetual fire of Vesta, and the Image —the pledge of our dominion — which is in the safe keeping of her temple? And you, Mars Gradivus, and you, Father Quirinus, what need to speak of your sacred shields? Is it your wish that all these holy things, coeval with the City, some of even greater antiquity, should be abandoned and left on unhallowed soil? - Livy 5.52.7

Cicero in Book 2 of De Legibus also says that the flame must be guarded but again does not touch on WHY

The several gods shall have their several priests, the gods all together their pontiffs, and the individual gods their flamens. The Vestal Virgins shall guard the eternal fire on the public hearth of the city. - Cic. De Legibus 2.20

Plutarch, Pliny and others, talk to great lengths about the punishments Vestals received for letting the fire go out. However, apart from the excerpts above, I cannot find any other gobbets about WHY the fire needed to stay alight.

Could anyone help me out with any further ancient sources that talk about this? Thank you!

  • 2
    The answer on this question might answer it. history.stackexchange.com/q/59117/36253
    – Tom Sol
    Jan 21, 2021 at 17:22
  • 5
    Does this answer your question? How many times did the the sacred fire of Vesta die?
    – Tom Sol
    Jan 21, 2021 at 17:23
  • 1
    I noticed that OP was asking for primary/ancient sources; verified that the answer referenced by TomSol/authored by L. Bosteen does reference ancient sources. I hope that answers @phoebepixies' question.
    – MCW
    Jan 22, 2021 at 11:21
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    @MarkC.Wallace Thank you so much for approving my edit, I have even edited it further since to include all my own research. You said: "t may not be possible to provide an answer other than that the fire was a contract with the gods and violation of the contract would risk the gods' displeasure." and that is simply the answer I am looking for but just in the form of an ancient source. Also forgive me I am new to the website, it says my Q is closed, what does that mean? Jan 22, 2021 at 16:36
  • 2
    @TomSol Thank you so much for your response. I had actually seen your Q about how many times the fire extinguished and read the answers before posting my own Q. Unfortunately, the answers to your Q, whilst helpful, are not what i'm looking for as I need as an ancient source that says WHY it couldn't be extinguished. Jan 22, 2021 at 16:38


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