logo for the-romans.eu

How sexy were the Vestal virgins?

Chastity is everything
The answer to that question is simple: these Vestal virgins were not sexy at all. Or at least the Vestal virgins were expected not to be. If one of them would show a little too much skin, she would be warned or even punished by the Pontifex Maximus. The chastity of these Vestal virgins was very important to the Romans.
House of the Vestal virgins. Click to enlarge









temple of Vesta Temple of Vesta
temple of Vesta, domain of the Vestal virgins
Remains of the
temple
statues of Vestal virgins Statues of
Vestals
remains of Vestal house
Remains of the
Vestals' house
large fountain in vestal atrium
Large fountain
Little fountain in Vestal atrium
Little fountain
Staues of Vestal virgins
Statues
large peristylum in Vestal Atrium
Large peristilum

 

 

 

 

Vestal virgin carring mola

A job for 30 years
In the temple of Vesta lived and worked 6 Vestal virgins. They would stay for 30 years. When a Vestal left after these 30 years or died, a new girl of about 6 to 10 years was chosen by de Pontifex maximus. She had to be free of mental or physical defects and from still living patrician parents. Later when it became difficult to find new virgins a plebeian girl from a noble family would be acceptable.

Keep it burning baby
The Vestal virgins were responsible for the fire in the temple of Vesta, from where every Roman household could receive fire for his home. To let this fire die, was a serious offense. The Romans thought that this meant that Vesta had withdrawn her protection from the city. The responsible Vestal virgin(s) would be flogged.
But see also and Livius (28.11)

Public ceremonies
Apart from maintaining the fire, the vestals had numerous duties and had to be present at public ceremonies. They also had to prepare the mola salsa, that mainly consisted of flour and salt that was used to sprinkle over the animal that was to be sacrificed to one of the many gods, just before it was killed.

There were also important advantages
Being a priestess of Vesta had also some important advantages:
Vestal virgins were not in manus of their father or a guardian. Which means that they could have property and make their own decisions.
The vestals were seen as sacred:

  1. Their testimony was to be believed without an oath.
  2. Whenever a vestal encountered a condemned criminal
    being led to his execution, he would be spared. 
    Plutarchus states that she then had to swear(!); this had
    happened by accident.
  3. Whoever assaulted or hurt a Vestal, was condemned to death
  4. At the public games they had their own place of honor
  5. Wen a Vestal virgin was transported through the city
    she had the right of way and was preceded by one lictor.


Be virgin or die
The punishment for a Vestal having sex was harsh.
Plutarchus Life of Numa(10) where the execution of an offender is described

It has to be mentioned that the man (or men) who seduced her was to be flogged and executed.Statue of a Vestal virgin

It is striking though that these offences mostly took place in times of tension and disaster. The Romans really believed that Vestal had polluted the rites and thus had angered the gods.

Titus Livius describes how short after the disaster of the battle of Cannae  the Vestals Opimia and Floronia were convicted of fornication. One of them was buried alive near the Colline gate, while the other had sought her own death. Lucius Camillus, one of the lesser flamines, who had slept with Floronia, was scourged so harshly by the Pontifex maximus, that he died under the lashes.
See also Livius (2.42)where a certain Oppia is accused of unchastity.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus(8.89)
tells about the same story but, calls her Opimia. The chance that there had been 2 Opimia's(=daughter in the clan Opimius), Vestal and ex-virgin is pretty slim.
See also Dionysius(9.40) and
Livius (8.13) Where the Pontifex maximus forbids Minucia to manumit her slave. Why? When interrogating a slave torture was mandatory, where a free man could not be tortured. This suggests the slave was                                                              suspected to have had sex with the vestal.

        A vestal virgin.
       Abguß-museum München

Vestal virgin with mola
Abguß-museum München



footer for Romans  page