The Vestal Virgins were the priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, in charge of maintaining the sacred fire within the Temple of Vesta on the Forum Romanum. Vesta symbolized collectively the hearths in citizens’ houses; she presided over the basic need of fire (Cadoux 163). The fire in the Temple of Vesta was a pure fire and was not fed with wood from dead trees, or any rubbish thrown upon it, or any impious act done in its presence. If the Vestal Virgins allowed the fire to go out, they had to make a new one by drilling a hole in a board of 'lucky wood', until a flame was produced by friction. The fire was then carried into the temple in a bronze sieve (Prowse 180).
Vestal Virgins were the only female priests within the roman religious system and played an important part in Roman public religion. The vestal virgins lived in the round House of the Vestal Virgins on the Forum Romanum, near the Temple of Vesta. The fact that the House of Vesta retained its circular shape cannot be explained merely by this similarity, but it is important. The shape of the temple indicates that it too was an important residence. It has been argued that the circular shape was a magic, defensive circle (Prowse 178).
The vestal virgins were selected from distinguished patrician families at age six to ten. To obtain entry into the order they were required to be free of physical and mental defect and have two living parents and to be a daughter of a free born resident in Italy. The position was an honorable one so parents frequently offered their daughters voluntarily (Cadoux 163). A vestal virgin served a minimum of thirty years. The first ten years as novices, then ten years as vestal virgins proper, and at last ten years as supervisors. The holiness of the priestesses was directly related to their virginity and purity (Beard 12). After the thirty years of duty they were free and could get married. However, few took the opportunity...
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