The fire that symbolized Rome’s perpetuity was kept lit by six ladies specifically chosen to not only care for the flame among other duties, but to live chaste lives (thus Vestal Virgins). There were specific rules for these ladies, who were treated very well and, if they fulfilled their agreement and remained faithful as a keeper of the flame for 30 years (10 in training, 10 performing the duties, 10 training the novices) and kept her vow of chastity, then she was free and able to marry. I’m still not sure why it takes ten years to learn how to keep a fire going.
The House of Vestal was the remains of what appears to have been a nice courtyard that is still well maintained and right beside the Temple of Vesta. The courtyard was lined with statues of women and you could see the remains of the actual house but entry was not permitted. Around the courtyard the statues date back to the 3rd century AD. The house was where the Vestal Virgins lived as well as the Pontifex Maximum when he was in town. The house itself dates back to the Republic and was rebuilt after the fire in AD 64.
Within the Temple of Vesta was the Palladium, a secret place where a statue of Pallas Athena was supposed to have been stolen from Troy. Only the Vestal Virgins and the Pontifex Maximus were allowed inside this part of the temple because according to tradition, the safety of Rome depended on this fire and statue.
Temple of Vesta had round shape and dates from 8th century B.C., from the time of King Numa Pompilius. It was built to guard the Palladium, where image of Minerva was preserved, and other sacred objects brought to Italy by Aeneas. At that time it was believed that the security of the city depend on the Palladium.
The temple was guarded by six Vestals, who were chosen from patrician maidens and should have been daughters of free men and had to keep the fire burning. The Vestals enjoyed special privileges, but if any of them broke her vow of chasity, was buried alive in the Campo Scellerato (Field of Villains).
The Vestals lived nearby the temple in the House of the Vestal Virgins. Both the temple and the house of the Vestals once belonged to the first Regia of Rome. According to the traditions the first Regia was the royal residence, founded by the King Numa Pompillius.
The circular Temple of Vesta was built in the 4th century AD on the site of an older temple and served the cult of the Vestals. Six virgin ladies were selected at a young age to devote their lives to keeping the sacred flame in the centre of the temple burning. These virgins lived next door in the House of the Virgin Vestals. Their residence contained a central garden surrounded by statues of senior Vestals. Little of the House remains, but many of the now headless statues can still be seen.
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The Temple of the Vestal Virgins was home to six Roman women - each became a priestess and attended the eternal flame. These holy women were revered in their time and the only female priests within the roman religious system - given rights and priviliges not even available to the upper class - they even controlled their own finances. Duties included performing rituals in regards to the Goddess Vesta, and baking the sacred salt cake to be used at ceremonies during the year.
There were, however, some drawbacks. If one of the Virgins let the flame go out she faced death. While enjoying many benefits, including a rather luxurious life in the House of Vestal Virgins, punishment for breaking the rules were severe. Breaking the vow of chastity was punished by burial alive. This method was adopted to kill a vestal without shedding her blood. Such executions would take place in the "Evil Fields", or Campus Sceleratus, just outside the Servian Wall. The lover would be flogged to death on the Comitium. While these executions took place several times, it was also an event that wrought various forms of negative omens.
Vesta was the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Hesta, who was the goddess of the hearth. Vesta, however, was worshipped both as the guardian of the domestic hearth and also as the personification of the ceremonial flame. Vesta's chief festival, the Vestalia, was held on 7 June.
The House of Vestal Virgins was located in a complex which also included Vesta's temple. It had one large room facing the temple, with six adjoining rooms. As I mentioned before, they once chosen they had to serve for 30 years. They had to take the oath of virginity for 30 years. At the end of the 30 years they could marry and live their own lives.
The first duty of the Vestals was to protect the fire in the Temple of Vesta, the oldest and most sacred shrine in the forum. If the fire went out, it was a sign that a Virgin had broken her vow. Once caught, she would be killed right away.
If a Vestal was found to have broken her vow of chastity she was buried alive (no blood of a Vestal had to be shed, therefore the only way to execute her was to bury her alive). She was carried on a stretcher and wrapped in cloth to muffle her screams. A special chamber was created, furnished with a bed, food for few days, oil, and a lit lamp. This way, the Vestal would not die of starvation but suffocation, because such a sacred person could not die of hunger.
The Vestal was lowered onto the bed in the chamber, the ladder was removed, and the opening was filled in. No one could ever know where she was buried and no funeral services were performed for her. It was believed that a curse on Rome was lifted with the death of the sinful Vesta.
The Vestal Virgins were free and independent and they could make a will (unlike the other Roman women who were controlled by their fathers or husbands). They lived in luxury (on the state money) for the length of their service. They had specially allocated seats in the very front row at the games (you will see the section allocated to them when visiting the Colosseum) and they were taken around the city in carriages. They were dressed in white dresses and were allowed the honor to wear the hairstyle of a Roman bride.
At the time of their death, they had the great privilege of being buried inside the walls of the city if they had been blameless in life.
Temple of Vesta was built by the king Numa who also it is said to have established the sisterhood known as the Vestal Virgins. The Vestal Virgins (6 total) were the only female priests and were considered to be the goddesses of hearth and home. They were chosen by the high priest, called pontifex maximus, when they were between the age of 3 years old and 10 years old. They had to have both parents alive and have no bodily imperfections. They served for 30 years: 10 years in training, 10 years in service and the last 10 years training the future Vestals. After the 30 years of service, any Vestal Virgin was free to marry and live a normal life.
Temple of Vesta was the most sacred building in Rome. It contained a sacred fire (the hearth fire of the city) and the Palladium, a wooden statue of Pallas Athena (the legend says that she was brought from Troy to Italy by Aeneas).
Temple of Vesta continued to be the city altar and the fire kept burning, until Christianity became the religion of the Empire. The emperor Theodosius ordered the temple closed around 395 AD and the Vestals were banished from the Atrium.
The business of the Temple of Vesta was to keep the home fire burning. At a time when fire was not so readily available, a communal flame was lit; its maintenance was organized around Vesta, the Goddess of the Hearth. First four, then six priestesses, known as the Vestal Virgins, officiated at the ceremonies and festivals held at the temple. Included among these holy days — holidays — were New Years Day (March 1st, on the Julian calendar); and the Harvest and Vintage.
The temple, as well as the city, was destroyed by fire several times. It was always rebuilt in a circular shape to resemble the original hut. Of the 20 fluted Corinthian columns that supported the portico only three remain.
originally a circular building with twenty columns the temple of vesta was built in the 4th century AD. six vestal virgins were required to keep alight the sacred flame in the temple. next to the temple was the house of the vestal virgins.
The Temple of Vesta was a very small, round temple which housed the sacred flame of Vesta. It was the job of the Vestal Virgins, who lived in the palace next door, to tend the flame and ensure that it never went out. This was a very ancient tradition dating back to the earliest days of civilisation when every settlement had a communal fire from which the residents could light their own fires, essential for cooking, light, and warmth. If the sacred flame ever went out, the vestal virgin who was held responsible would be publicly flogged.
Other temples of Vesta existed in ancient Roman times, all of which were built in the same circular shape. This one was built in the 3rd century B.C., though like much of the forum it was looted for its marble in Renaissance times; the part that is standing today was reconstructed in the 1930s.
Photo by saridder
The goddess Vesta - the goddess of the hearth and home- was an ancient Greek goddess whose worship was adopted by the early Romans. The Vestal Virgins were priestesses who were chosen at a young age to tend the sacred fire of Vesta, ensuring that it never went out. The vestal virgins served as priestesses for thirty years: ten years as an apprentice, ten years as a priestess, and ten years as a teacher for the next generation. During this time they were required to remain celibate; if a Vestal Virgin was found guilty of breaking her vow of chastity then the punishment was for her to be buried alive. After thirty years of service they were allowed to marry if they chose to, but most of them continued in the service of the goddess because of the great priviledges the title conferred upon them. Unlike all other women in Rome, they had the right to own property, to right a will, and to vote. They had special seats of honour in the Colosseum and in other theatres and stadiums, and the death penalty would be given to anyone who injured them.
The House of the Vestal Virgins was a three-story palace with about fifty rooms where the women lived. It is located right next to the Temple of Vesta where the sacred flame was kept. Today the remains of the courtyard and pools are visible, and several lovely statues of vestal virgins line the courtyard, though unfortunately they have all lost their heads.
Excavations were taking place in front of the House of the Vestal Virgins in 2005, so I'm not sure if it is presently accessible. In any case there is a great view looking down on the house from the Palatine hill.
Photo by jay_bee
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