The worship of the Roman goddess of chastity, the hearth and home was done by the six Vestal Virgins in the Roman forum. They guarded the sacred flame of Vesta which they were entitled to keep alive all day and night as its well-being were regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome. The women chosen for this job were selected as young girls and swore to be chaste and were granted special rights and privileges unavailable to any other women in Europe.

According to Roman authors, this cult was founded by Numa Pompilius, a semi-mythical Roman king who ruled around 715 to 673 B.C. He started this tradition and this worship continued on until 394CE when a Christian emperor made a decree against pagan rituals and the flame of Vestae went out.

Becoming a Vestal Virgin was mostly to do with luck. The process by which young girls were selected to become priestesses, Captio, means capture in Latin. Showing that the young girls had no choice to become a Vestal Virgin if they were chosen to be one. The following selection process was quite simple. Girls aged between 6 to 10, with patrician parents and without any mental or physical defects were chosen by the Pontifex Maximus, Rome’s supreme religious authority. Then the shortlisted girls were chosen by the public.

Then the chosen girls were taken in training for the first decade of their service where they learned simple chores such as collecting water to cleanse the temple of Vesta. The next decade was dedicated to serving the goddess and keeping the flame alive. These ten years were indisputably the most important section of the priestesses’ worship. The final decade of the Vestal virgin was spent on teaching the younger girls and mentoring them on how to become a faithful and pure Vestal Virgin.

Out of the numerous Vestal Virgins in Rome’s history, Tarpeia was one of the most famous ones, known for her betrayal of the city of Rome. Daughter of the Roman commander Spurius Tarpeius, Tarpeia was a mythological Vestal of Rome who opened the city gates to allow the Sabines to attack Rome in exchange for their gold. 

Even though this story has little historical evidence, many believe Tarpeia’s story was told to young Vestal Virgins as an example of how not behave.

Sarah Park
Sarah Park

Member of NLCS Jeju
Member of NLCS Jeju Latin Society


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