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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Vestal Virgins

Jean Raoux 1727
Vestal Virgins were priestesses that followed Vesta, the goddess of the hearth.  It was considered  to be a honor for a female  to be chosen  to be a Vestal Virgin. They were the daughters of the upper Roman class who were chosen, between the ages of 6 and 10, to become Vestal Virgins and then they would have to take a vow of chastity and  for the next 30 years of the virgin's life was to serve Vesta.They did this by maintaining the sacred fire at the Temple of Vesta at the Forum Romanum (Roman Forum), baking mola salsa ( salt bread ) for sacred rituals throughout Rome, they guarded important state documents and in time of national crisis the advisory power of the senior Vestal, Virgo Vestalis Maxima, who was under the direct authority of the Pontifex Maximus , was undisputed.

The chastity vow was so important that those that broke the vow were killed. This was done by burying the Vestal Virgin alive in Campus Scleleratus the "Evil Field" just outside the Servian Wall. While her lover was flogged to death on the Comittium. And if the sacred fire at the Temple of Vesta went out the Vestal Virgin it proved that she was impure.

  Considering that the broken chastity vow was rare most of the women did their 30 year duty. Once the her time as a priestess was done she was given many privileges that normal Roman women did not have. They were not subject of their father's rules known as pater potestas, they could own their own property and engage in legal contracts, marry and have children. But most opted to remain single.

  The end of the Vestal Virgins came in 394 A.D. when the Catholic Church banned non-Christian cults. Trying to give the general population a sense of familiarity, the Church adopted the use of conventsand positions that nuns held many of the same rules and customs of the Vestals.

Forum Romanum

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