Vestal Virgins – The Guardians of the Flame
Ancient Rome was a place of strange yet powerful beliefs. So many interesting people and a rich culture make it seem like a fantastical place to us, a powerful and successful kingdom. And the vestal virgins played a very important role in holding the empire together, or so they strongly believed. So who the vestal virgins?
They were the priestesses of Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth and Home. They were virgins who were consecrated to her and had to look after the flame in the temple of Vesta, never allowing it to burn out.
Each vestal virgin had to take a 30-year vow of chastity (celibacy) from the time they are committed to priestesshood, which happened before puberty (6-10 years). After the 30 year term, a retired vestal was replaced by a new girl. And once a vestal retired, she was allowed to marry and was given pension. Back in those days, the Vestals were given the highest regard and marrying one was considered to be auspicious.
The people of ancient Rome credited its success and prosperity to Vesta and her virgins who kept the fire from burning out. But the vestals’ lives weren’t quite that easy.
In order to become a vestal, a girl had to be free of physical and mental defects. She should have two living parents and should be a free-born resident of Rome. However, once she became a vestal, all familial ties were severed.
Their tasks included the maintenance of the sacred flame of Vesta, collecting water from a sacred spring, preparation of food used in rituals and caring for sacred objects in the temple’s sanctuary.
Even the smallest of mistakes could invoke severe punishment upon a vestal. These punishments usually included harsh beatings on naked flesh by the Pontifex, the only person to whom the vestals were answerable.
If a Vestal broke the vow of chastity, she would be buried alive, that is, shut in a deep, dark room built underground with no light or air. She would be locked in it until her death.
As the public owed its success, especially military success to the ever-burning flame of Vesta, if the military lost a battle, they would blame it on the vestals for not looking after the flame properly. In short, they became the military’s scapegoat.
When Christianity took over Rome, the Vestals were banished, along with every other religion other than Christianity and their temple was closed.
The ancient Romans believed that closing the temple and banishing the vestals were the reason for the fall of the great Roman Empire.
What do you think? Is that really the reason for their fall?