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Neoflash

Vestal Virgins

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Hi all,

 

Here are a few questions and observations regarding the Vestal Virgins. Your answers and comments are welcomed.

 

First here is some general information about the Vestal Virgins.

 

- For most of Rome's history, there was 6 of them.

- They we're generally picked between the ages of 6 and 10 years old.

- They served for 30 years. 10 as Novices, 10 as full fledged Vestal Virgins and 10 as trainers/supervisors of Novices.

- They had to remain virgins.

- If they broke their vow of chastity, they were buried alive.

 

Now here are some questions. In answering them, please try to give information pertaining to the middle and late republic.

 

- At any given time, how many Vestal Virgins were there? They were often said to be 6 in ancient texts. Does that mean that there was 2 novices, 2 full-fledged, and 2 trainers? Or does it mean that there was 6 novices, 6 full-fledged and 6 trainers?

- Also, I have read that most Vestal Virgins, after having served the 30 years, chose to stay in Vesta's service instead of returning to public life. This would mean that there was probably much more than 18 Vestal Virgins at any given time. What do you think?

- Was there ever exceptions where a girl older that 10, possibly even a young woman, was selected to become a Vestal Virgin?

- When was the selection of a new Vestal Virgin done? When one of the trainers finished her 30 years term ? When one of them died ? When one of the actual Vestal Virgins became a trainer ?

- Could a vestal virgin renounce her vows (like catholic monks or nuns can) before the 30 years were over?

- If she technically could not renounce her vows, in practice, what do you think would happen if one day she just decided to get up and quit? You know, just get out of bed, throw away the Vestal Virgin's outfit, don the regular dress and move to the country.

- I have read that Vesta was worshipped, not only in the city of Rome, but in other roman cities (municipes). Is there evidence of there being vestal virgins in the municipes as well?

- Is there a record of a VV being rescued AFTER being buried alive ?

 

Thanks for your help,

 

Neoflash

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Hi all,

 

Here are a few questions and observations regarding the Vestal Virgins. Your answers and comments are welcomed.

 

First here is some general information about the Vestal Virgins.

 

- For most of Rome's history, there was 6 of them.

- They we're generally picked between the ages of 6 and 10 years old.

- They served for 30 years. 10 as Novices, 10 as full fledged Vestal Virgins and 10 as trainers/supervisors of Novices.

- They had to remain virgins.

- If they broke their vow of chastity, they were buried alive.

 

Now here are some questions. In answering them, please try to give information pertaining to the middle and late republic.

 

- At any given time, how many Vestal Virgins were there? They were often said to be 6 in ancient texts. Does that mean that there was 2 novices, 2 full-fledged, and 2 trainers? Or does it mean that there was 6 novices, 6 full-fledged and 6 trainers?

- Also, I have read that most Vestal Virgins, after having served the 30 years, chose to stay in Vesta's service instead of returning to public life. This would mean that there was probably much more than 18 Vestal Virgins at any given time. What do you think?

- Was there ever exceptions where a girl older that 10, possibly even a young woman, was selected to become a Vestal Virgin?

- When was the selection of a new Vestal Virgin done? When one of the trainers finished her 30 years term ? When one of them died ? When one of the actual Vestal Virgins became a trainer ?

- Could a vestal virgin renounce her vows (like catholic monks or nuns can) before the 30 years were over?

- If she technically could not renounce her vows, in practice, what do you think would happen if one day she just decided to get up and quit? You know, just get out of bed, throw away the Vestal Virgin's outfit, don the regular dress and move to the country.

- I have read that Vesta was worshipped, not only in the city of Rome, but in other roman cities (municipes). Is there evidence of there being vestal virgins in the municipes as well?

- Is there a record of a VV being rescued AFTER being buried alive ?

 

Thanks for your help,

 

Neoflash

First, Have you checked this out?

 

Then, there is some terrific material on this issue from some UNRV members, especially Nephele; try the search function in the Forum section.

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First, Have you checked this out?

 

Then, there is some terrific material on this issue from some UNRV members, especially Nephele; try the search function in the Forum section.

 

I have checked the UNRV page on the subject and did a search in the forum. But I have not yet found a satisfying answer to the above questions.

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Hi, Neoflash. I dug up this old posting of mine (with UNRV discussion following) that you might find helpful: Female Magistrates in Broughton's

 

Also, I recommend to you Robin Lorsch Wildfang's book: Rome's Vestal Virgins: A Study of Rome's Vestal Priestesses in the Late Republic and Early Empire. I've been meaning to review the book, but I'm a bit of a slacker when it comes to book reviews. So here is the mini review I did in a Quintus Libri posting back in 2007:

 

Rome

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Thanks Nephele, I will try to get my hands on that book.

 

So are you saying that at any given time there were only 6 women on the college of Vesta (novices and trainers included) because the UNRV page on vestals says that there was 18 (6 novices, 6 actual vestals and 6 trainers).

 

Here is another interesting question, could vestals spend more or less than 10 years as novices, vestals and trainers? Because if most vestals would stay on after their 30 years, it would mean than most of the "trainers" would occupy this function for more than 10 years. And if they occupied it for more than 10 years, would the actual vestals be promoted to trainers after 10 years of service as vestals? If so, there would then be more than 6 trainers. Also, the novices would become vestals and new novices would have to be appointed, bringing the total number of women on the college of Vesta to possibly much more than 18. Do you understand where I'm going with this, it's kind of hard to explain with words, I feel like I should be drawing a diagram or something.

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So are you saying that at any given time there were only 6 women on the college of Vesta (novices and trainers included) because the UNRV page on vestals says that there was 18 (6 novices, 6 actual vestals and 6 trainers).
My reading of the same passage is a little different; judge by yourself:

" The college of Vesta had 18 members, though 6 were considered actual Vestal Virgins at any given time"

Not being my area, and irrespectively of the previous passage, I understand that, at least in historical times, the Vestals must always have been six (the priests' job, BTW); they simply couldn't ever have been either less or more.

Here is another interesting question, could vestals spend more or less than 10 years as novices, vestals and trainers? Because if most vestals would stay on after their 30 years, it would mean than most of the "trainers" would occupy this function for more than 10 years. And if they occupied it for more than 10 years, would the actual vestals be promoted to trainers after 10 years of service as vestals? If so, there would then be more than 6 trainers. Also, the novices would become vestals and new novices would have to be appointed, bringing the total number of women on the college of Vesta to possibly much more than 18. Do you understand where I'm going with this, it's kind of hard to explain with words, I feel like I should be drawing a diagram or something.

There were just six positions; my idea is that as in any other Roman magistrature, no one would have been able to get in as long as there were no vacancies, no matter how much time was required for that.

 

PS.- For the record, are you writing a novel or something like that?

Edited by sylla

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PS.- For the record, are you writing a novel or something like that?

 

That's the plan. I had started doing some research about a year ago and then things got crazy at work and I had to shelf the project for a few months. Now I'm back at it.

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Near as I can tell, ma donna Nephele's post includes nearly all that is known about the august priestesses. There were apparently never more than 6, regardless of the status of the individuals. When a vacancy occured due to retirement or death the Pontifex Maximus nominated 20 nobly born girls from whom the new priestess was chosen by lot.

 

There were three instances of consternation due to the sacred fire going out! In 206 and 178 BCE the responsible Vestal was punished by being scourged by the Pontifex Maximus, but Valerius Maximus says (1.1.7) the Vestal Aemilia was saved by the miraculous intervention of the godess.

 

One duty of the Vestals that has not been mentioned (I don't think?) was guardianship of the mysterious secret relics which protected the Roman state. These were apparently kept in one of 2 earthenware jars kept in the innermost sanctuary of the temple of the Vestals (adyum ?), that no one but the Vestals and the Pontifex Maximus could enter. Speculation is that the jar contained the "Palladium' - the small figure of Athena that had fallen from heaven, been taken from Troy by Odysseus and Diomede and brought to Italy by Aeneas.

 

There is also the grim possibility that the Vestals got caught up in the fierce political struggles within the nobility following the fall of Gaius Gracchus. Munzer thinks the conviction of three Vestals in 115 -114 BC could have been politically motivated.

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Hello friends.

Just wanted to thank you on this interesting subject and discussion. I was going to post a question about if any of you had a tip on a good factual book on the subject of Vestals. And then I stumbled on this posting.

I, on the other hand, am wanting to write any novel or anything alike. I'm just very curious about it all, historically speaking.

 

I'm also new on this forum so...this is my first post in which I'd like to salute you all :)

 

Vale Bene!

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Hello friends.

Just wanted to thank you on this interesting subject and discussion. I was going to post a question about if any of you had a tip on a good factual book on the subject of Vestals. And then I stumbled on this posting.

I, on the other hand, am wanting to write any novel or anything alike. I'm just very curious about it all, historically speaking.

 

I'm also new on this forum so...this is my first post in which I'd like to salute you all :)

 

Vale Bene!

 

Welcome aboard, Vesta! The Vestal Virgins make up one of my favorite subjects in Roman history. Not because I have a thing for virgins, I hasten to add. But rather it's the power and privilege that this unusual sisterhood had, that fascinates me.

 

-- Nephele

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Thank you, N.

I find it rather frustrating that so little has been written about this interesting and so outstanding topic (especially being right in the middle of such a patriarchal world!). One might point out the fact that so little is known and thus...less books.

Sure, but that will not suffice as a proper answer (to me) since there are books written all around the world about topics with equally little evidence or archeological base. With the risk of sounding bitter, without actually being it, I really think

it has to do with men writing, men doing the research etc, etc. Still in this day and age. But....I really hope this will change. How can it not?! I will be on the search onwards anyway :)

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The special status that some women's cults had in Roman religion - Vesta's virgins, Bona Dea's cult, the Isiac cult (though it accepted men as well) - is indeed interesting. I'm not sure what more could be said about it that hasn't already been said. However, I could see someone taking all of what has been said and putting it in one book for convenience.

 

Roman Women touched on some of these topics if you're interested.

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The special status that some women's cults had in Roman religion - Vesta's virgins, Bona Dea's cult, the Isiac cult (though it accepted men as well) - is indeed interesting. I'm not sure what more could be said about it that hasn't already been said. However, I could see someone taking all of what has been said and putting it in one book for convenience.

 

Roman Women touched on some of these topics if you're interested.

 

Well, thank you Ursus for that tip/link. I will look into this shortly. I guess we are pretty on the same page on this subject all in all. The only thing I can add here is my own thoughts on the future prospects and vouges that might be.

Empires and Cultures come and go. We humans tend to look both back and beyond our future in quite short time spans, in my view and experience. But if we take this and our history back thousands of years and even further we

come across both huge female cults (dieties and matriarchal cultrures (actually, there are some small spots on earth where we still have the latter). So, what am I trying to say here....I belive that we, after now have lived under/in very patriarchal influences

for very long, we might be in for a/or some major shifts in ways of firstly thinking and then live.

We have now long "worshipped" the "square" way of thought and action. As well as ground values = Force by force, the will to conquer in absurdum, war, an all-in-all male leading of thought "how the world works" (religiously speaking as well as the secular), the non-nurturing, lack of real humility, the Ego boosting, lack of understanding the core the oneness of all living creatures here on earth, being stuck in the 5 sensed limited world of thinking etc, etc. We have for thousands of years seen the repeating outcome of these ground values.

I belive that there will come (and in fact it is already in motion) a general "female counsiousness" in people all around the world with the result of a personal need to balance up/taking back/lifting up the opposite values we once have so cherrished and valued.

 

Well, I could go on but I am sure you get what I'm trying to say here. A major shift in values with more balanced aproach, simply put.

 

In this kind of "new" way of living women in all sections of life (even historically speaking) will be brought up to the surface. Yes, in books too :)

You have to admit....it IS unbelievable that 50% of the human race has about as much place in the history books as less than 1%! Now that is JUST books, mind you ;)

 

Anyway, enough said about that.

 

Salve!

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In this kind of "new" way of living women in all sections of life (even historically speaking) will be brought up to the surface. Yes, in books too :)

 

Well, my most recent experience of the Vestals having been "brought up to the surface" in books revolves around a work of fiction. In Lindsey Davis' novel, Saturnalia, the Vestals play a significant role.

 

I love the way Lindsey Davis ties her fiction in with historical fact. In this scene from Saturnalia, she has the Vestals agreeing to lead a deputation of respectable Roman matrons (properly dressed in black), to go before the emperor Vespasian in order to plea for the life of the historical Germanic priestess and enemy of Rome, Veleda, who has been captured. To establish a reasonable justification for this scene, Davis mentions in passing the historical account of when the Vestals had formed an earlier deputation to plea on behalf of the general Vitellius with Vespasian's general Antonius. (Tacitus 3.81).

 

Even though such intervention by the Vestals didn't always prove successful, it interests me that Roman generals, and even the Emperor, himself, would pause to respectfully receive the Vestals and give due consideration to their petitions.

 

-- Nephele

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I belive that there will come (and in fact it is already in motion) a general "female counsiousness" in people all around the world with the result of a personal need to balance up/taking back/lifting up the opposite values we once have so cherrished and valued.

 

Well, I could go on but I am sure you get what I'm trying to say here. A major shift in values with more balanced aproach, simply put.

 

In this kind of "new" way of living women in all sections of life (even historically speaking) will be brought up to the surface. Yes, in books too :)

You have to admit....it IS unbelievable that 50% of the human race has about as much place in the history books as less than 1%! Now that is JUST books, mind you :)

 

Anyway, enough said about that.

 

Salve!

 

This feminist critique of the focus on the elites of traditional historiography it's the same with the ones that decry the neglect of commoners, poor, peasants, provincials etc and this led the creation of studies about every day lives and all categories of people.

If for the Roman Empire we have enough information for this studies, for other societies, sadly, there is historical data only about the less then 1% that make up the political elite.

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