The Ancient Library

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83, Domit. 8 ; Orell. Inscript. n. 2233, &c, ; ^ 7rpe(T§<H'ourra, Dion Cass. liv. 24 ; ^ apxteP6*a9 Ixxix. 9). and we find also the expressions Vesta-Hum vetustissimam (Tacit. Ann, xi. 3'2) and ires maarimae. (Serv. ad Virg. Ed. viii. 82.)

Their chief office 'was to watch by turns, night and day, the everlasting fire which blazed upon the altar of Vesta (ViRGiNESQUE vesta^es in


ternum, Cic. de Leg. ii. .8. J2 ; Liv. xxviii. 11 ; Val. Max.i. l.§ 6 ; Prov. 5), its extinc­tion being considered as the most fearful of all pro­digies, and emblematic of the extinction of the state. (Dionys. ii. 67 ; Liv, xxvi. 1,) If such misfortune befell and was caused by the careless­ness of the priestess on duty, she was stripped and scourged by the Pontifex Maximus, in the dark and with a screen interposed, .and he rekindled the flame by the friction of two pieces of wood from a felioc arbor. (Dionys., Plut., Val. Max. //. cc. ; Fes-tU6, s. v. fc/nis.) Their other ordinary duties con­sisted in presenting offerings to the goddess at stated times, and in sprinkling and purifying the shrine each morning with water, which according to the institution of N?uma was to be drawn from the Egerian fount, although in later times it was considered lawful to-em-ploy any water from a living spring or running stream, but not such as had passed through pipes. When used for sacrificial purposes it was mixed with muries, that is, salt which had been pounded in a mortar, thrown into an earthen jar and baked in an oven. (Ovid. Fast. iii. 11 ; Propert. iv. 4. 15 ; Plut. Num. 13 ; Fest. s. v. Muries.) They assisted moreover at all great public holy rites, such as the festivals of the Bona Dea (Dion Cass. xxxvii. 45) and the consecration of temples (Tacit. Hist. iv. 53), they were invited to priestly banquets (Macrob. ii. .9 ; Dion Cass. xlvii. 19), and we are told that they were present at the solemn appeal to the gods made by Cicero during the conspiracy of Catiline. (Dion Cass. xxxvii. 35.) They also guarded the sacred relics which formed the fatale pignus imperil, the pledge granted by fate for the permanency of the Roman sway, deposited in the inmost adytum [penus Ves-tae, see Festus, s. v.) which no one was permitted to enter save the virgins and the chief pontifex. What this object was no one knew, some supposed that it was the Palladium, others the Samothracian gods carried by Dardanus to Troy and transported from thence to Italy by Aeneas, but all agreed in relieving that something of awful sanctity was here preserved, contained, it was said, in a small earthen jar closely sealed, while another exactly similar in form, but empty, stood by its side. (Dionys. i. 69, ii. 66 ; Plut. CamiU. 20 ; Liv. xxvi. 27 ; Lamprid. Elagab. 6; Ovid. .Fast. vi. 365 ; Lucau, ix. 994.)

We have seen above that supreme importance was attached to the purity of the Vestals, and a terrible punishment awaited her who violated the vow of chastity. According to the law of Numa she was simply to be stoned to death (Cedrenus,, Hist. Coinp. p. 148, or p. 259, ed. Bekker), but a more cruel torture was devised by Tarquinius Prisons (Dionys. iii. 67 ; Zonaras, vii. 8) and in­flicted from that time forward. When condemned by the college of pontifices, she was stripped of her vittas and other badges of office, was scourged (Dionys. ix. 40), was attired like a corpse, placed in a close litter and borne through the forum at-


tended by her weeping kindred, with all the cere­monies of a real funeral, to a rising ground called the Campus Sceleratus, just within the city walls, close to the Colline gate. There a small vault underground had been previously prepared, con­taining a couch, a lamp, and a table with a little food. The Pontifex Maximus, having lifted up his hands to heaven and uttered a secret prayer, opened the litter, led forth the culprit, and placing her on the steps of the ladder which gave access to the subterranean .cell, delivered her over to the common executioner and his assistants, who conducted her down, drew up the ladder, and having filled the pit with earth until the surface was level with the surrounding ground, left her to perish deprived of all the tributes of respect usually paid to the spirits of the departed. In every case the paramour was publicly scourged to death in the forum. (Plut. Num. 10, Fab. Max. 18, Quaest. Rom. vol. vii. p. 154, ed. Reiske ; Dionys. ii. 67, iii. 67, viii. 89, ix. 40 ; Liv. iv. 44, viii. 15, xxii. 57 ; Plm. Ep. iv. 11 ; Suet. Do))i. 8 ; Dion Cass. Ixvii. 3, Ixxvii. 16, and iragg. xci. xcii. j- Festus s. v. Probrum et Sceleratus Campus.)

But if the labours of the Vestals were unre­mitting and the rules of the order rigidly and pitilessly enforced, so the honours they enjoyed were such as in a great measure to compensate for their privation. They were maintained at the public cost and from sums of money and land be­queathed from time to time to the corporation. (Suet. Octav. 31, Tib. 76 ; Sicul. Flacc. 23, ed. Goes.) From the moment of their consecration they became as it were the property of the goddess alone, and were completely released from all parental sway without going through the form of emancipatio or suffering any capitis deminutio. (Gell. i. 11..) They had a right to make a will, and to give evidence in a court of justice without taking an oath (Gell. x. 15), distinctions first conceded by an Horatian law to a certain Caia Tarratia or Fufetia, and afterwards communicated to all. (Gell. i. 12 ; Gains, i. 145 ; compare Plin. H. N. xxxiv. 11.) From the time of the triumviri each was preceded by a lictor when she went abroad (Dion Cass. xlvii. 19), consuls and praetors made way for them, and lowered their fasces (Senec. Controvert*. vi. 8 ; compare Plut. Tib. Gracch. 15), even the tribunes of the plebs respected their holy character (Oros. v. 4 ; Suet. Tib. 2 ; compare Cic. pro Cod. 14 ; Val. Max. v. 4f § 6), and if any one passed under their litter he was put to death. (Plut. Num. 10.) Augustus granted to them all the rights of matrons who had borne three children (Dion Cass. Ivi. 10 ; Plut. /. c.), and assigned them a conspicu­ous place in the theatre (Suet Octav. 44 ; Tacit. Ann. iv. 16), a privilege which they had enjoyed before at the gladiatorial shows. (Cic. pro Muren. 35.) Great weight was attached to their interces­sion on behalf of those in danger and difficulty, of which we have a remarkable example in the en­treaties which they addressed to Sulla on behalf of Julius Caesar (Suet. Jul. 1 ; compare Cic. pro Font. 17 ; Suet. Vitell. 16, Dion Cass. Ixv. 18 ; Tacit. Ann. iii. 69, xi. 32, Hist. iii. 8j), and if they chanced to meet a criminal as he was led to pun­ishment they had a demand his release, provided it could be proved that the encounter was accidental. Wills, even those of the emperors were committed to their charge (Suet. Jul. 83, Octav. 101 ; Tacit. Ann. i. 8), for when in such

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