Sunday, October 8, 2017

Role of Vestal Virgins

Introduced by King Numa Pompilius during his reign from 715-673 BC, the Vestal Virgins were considered the priestesses of Vesta, the hearth goddess. These 6-10 year old vestal virgins were selected from Roman noble families.

Vestal Virgins

 During the time of Emperor Augustus, however, they were selected by lot. Vestal Virgins were required to maintain their chastity up to the age of thirty. After thirty, they could marry or retire. In cases where they break their vows, they were buried alive because it was unlawful to spill their blood.

Major role

The major role of these priestesses was to keep the sacred fire of Vesta’s shrine burning. It was believed that through the rituals and chastity of the Vestal Virgins, Rome would remain safe, stable and free from political turmoil. They acted as guardians to Rome’s well-being. Aside from this primary role, the Vestal Virgins were also tasked to perform the following roles.

Person of power and influence

Vestals figured significantly in Ancient Rome and were some of the most powerful and influential persons. As such, they were in-charge of keeping wills and legal documents of emperors and statesmen. This was because of their unblemished integrity and character. They guarded sacred objects in the temple and were tasked to make mola salsa, a unique kind of flour sprinkled on all offerings to gods, during the Festival of Vestalia.

Vestal Virgins were also highly regarded by even the highest Roman officials, hence, they occupied seats of honor during events; they bought and owned lands without a male guardian, and they had the privilege to ride in a special two-wheeled carriage called the carpentum.

They were granted the power to free slaves or condemned persons and were given the privilege to provide evidence without the customary oath, as well. Romans celebrated the Festival of Vestalia every 7th until the 15th of June, with the Vestal being honored as a powerful entity.

Other punishments

Earlier records revealed that Vestals who lost their virginity, were whipped to death. When the sacred fire was extinguished, Romans believed that the Vestal Virgins had violated their vows of chastity or that they had neglected their duty, so they punished them by whipping or burying them alive in Campus Sceleratus (Evil Fields), an underground small area, with a meager amount of food and water.

The College of Vestals was disbanded in 394 by order of Emperor Flavius Theodosius Augustus, who reigned from 379 to 395. Also known as Theodosius the Great, the emperor had destroyed pagan temples, including the Vestal shrines. The last chief Vestal recorded was Coelia Concordia in 380. The Vestal Virgins were part of the fascinating history of the Roman Empire.

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