The Ancient Library

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On this page: Pontifex (continued)



other members were also elected in the comitia out of a fixed number of candidates presented by the college. Under the Em­pire a preliminary election was held by the Senate, and merely confirmed by the comitia. Besides the pontiffs proper, there were also included in the college the rex sacro-rum, the three higher flamens and the three pontlfices mlnorSs, who assisted the pontiffs in transactions relating to sacrifices and in their official business, besides sharing in the deliberations and the banquets of the whole college: these ranked according to length of service. In the earlier time an advanced age, with freedom from secular offices, was necessary for eligibility to the pontificate; the high-pontiff, among other restrictions, was not allowed to leave Italy, was obliged to have a wife without reproach, and might not enter upon a second marriage or see a dead body, much less touch one. As regards his position, he was, as spiritual successor of the king, the sole holder and exerciser of the pontifical power; and his official dwelling was in the king's house, the regia of Numa adjoining the F6rum, the seat of the oldest State worship. The college existed by his side only as a deli­berative and executive body of personal assistants. He appointed to the most im­portant priestly offices of the State, those of flamen, of vestal, and of rex sacrOrum ; he made public the authoritative decisions of the college, In matters which came within the limits of his official action, he had the right of taking auspices, of holding assemblies of the people, and of publishing edicts. He also exercised a certain juris­diction over the persons subject to his high-priestly power, especially the flamens and Vestals, over whom his authority was that of an actual father. Owing to the great importance of the office, the emperors from the time of Augustus undertook it them­selves, and retained it, even in Christian times, until the year 382. As regards the functions of the college, besides performing a number of special sacrifices in the service of the household gods, they exercised (as already mentioned) a superintendence over the whole domain of the religious services recognised by the State, public and private. In all doubts which arose concerning the religious obligations of the State towards the gods, or concerning the form of any religious offices which were to be under­taken, their opinion was asked by the Senate and by the other secular bodies, who were obliged unhesitatingly to follow it.

In the various religious transactions, ex« piatory offerings, vows, dedications, conse­crations, solemn appropriations, undertaken on behalf of the State, their assistance was invited by the official bodies, in order that they might provide for the correct perform­ance, especially by dictating the prayers.

The knowledge of the various rites was handed down by the libri pontlficli, which were preserved in the official dwelling of the high-pontiff and kept secret. These included the forms of prayer, the rules of ritual for the performance of ceremonial observances, the acta pontiflcum, i.e. the records relating to the official actions of the college, and the commentQrllpontificwn, i.e. the collection of opinions delivered, to which they were as a rule obliged to have recourse when giving new ones.

An important and indeed universal influ­ence was exercised by the pontiffs, not only on religious, but also on civic life, by means of the regulation of the calendar, which was assigned to them as possessing technical knowledge of the subject; and by means of their superintendence over the observance i of the holidays. Owing to the character of j the Roman reckoning of the year, it was necessary from time to time to intercalate certain days, with a view to bringing the calendar into agreement with the actual seasons to which the festivals were ori­ginally attached; and special technical know­ledge was needed, in order to be sure on what day the festivals fell. This technical knowledge was kept secret by the pontiffs as being a means of power. It was for the month actually current that they gave in­formation to the people as to the distribution of the days, the festivals falling within the month, and the lawful and unlawful days (fasti and ncfasti, q.v.) for civil and legal transactions. In 304 b.c. the calendar ot the months was made public by Gnseus Flavins; but the pontiffs still retained the right of regulating the year by intercala­tions, and thereby the power of furthering or hindering the aims of parties and indi­viduals by arbitrary insertion of intercalary months. This they kept until the final regulation of the year introduced by Csesar as high-pontiff in 46 B.C. Closely connected with the superintendence of the calendar was the keeping of the lists of the yearly magistrates, especially of the consuls, since it was by their names that the years were dated, as well as the keeping of the yearly chronicle. (See annals.) As experts in the law of ritual, the pontiffs

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