Autumn’s August
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Autumn’s August

A Time When Chastity Meant Power: Story of the Vestal Virgins

A Roman Vestal Virgin Tending the Eternal Fire in the Temple of Vesta by Wenzel Tornøe| Uploaded by Beau Bellman on Pinterest

Licinia was glad that it was Marcus Licinius Crassus’s avaricious intent rather than lust to woo her and pay his court to her. Licinia owned a pleasant villa in the suburbs and Crassus wanted to get it at a lower price.

As a woman in the modern era, one would be upset and feel betrayed by Crassus’s actions but in Ancient Rome, for Licinia, this turned out to be a boon. If a Vestal Virgin was found guilty of being intimate with a man, both she and the man would have to pay the price by giving their lives.

Licinia is one of Ancient Rome’s Vestal Virgins whose story is well-known since she was accused of breaking her vow of Chastity and was almost facing death when Crassus’s intentions were revealed, acquitting both of them.

Who were the Vestal Virgins and how did anybody even become one?

Vesta is one of the virgin Goddesses of Rome and is often known as the Goddess of the hearth. Unlike other Roman Gods, Vesta does not have a statue and is worshipped in the form of a flame that is supposed to burn day and night.

For this very reason, six virgin priestesses were chosen to be the Vestal Virgins, who would act as full-time officiates, forever tending to the flame in Vesta’s temple. It was important that Vesta’s flame never went out, for it represented two things: the continuation of Rome as a power in the world and the continuing virginity of Vesta’s priestesses.

Vestal Virgins were chosen by the Pontifex Maximus, Rome’s supreme religious authority. A potential list of candidates was drawn up and probably, one among them would be chosen as a Vestal priestess. But to be chosen, a girl had to satisfy certain criteria such as being between the age of 6 and 10, born to patrician parents, and having good health. A Vestal Virgin had to take an oath of Chastity and serve as a priestess of Vesta for at least 30 years.

If you’d been paying attention, I mentioned that a Vestal Virgin was chosen. Ah! Up until now, nothing about the life of a Vestal virgin seems appealing. It seems like a sacrifice of your will to save your skin. But Licinia’s story sheds some light on the privileges that a Vestal virgin enjoyed and the power that came with it.

Unlike other women in Ancient Rome, the Vestals were emancipated from their family’s patriarchal power and had the right to own property by themselves. They could make their own wills and could also give evidence in a court of law without taking an oath.

Well, they had all these perks but the price?- 30 years of enforced Chastity and if found guilty of breaking her vow, she would be buried alive since it was forbidden to shed the blood of a Vestal Virgin.

According to various Roman authors, the cult of the Vestal Virgins was founded by the king Numa Pompilius, who ruled around 715–673 BC. However, Christianity ended the cult in AD 394 and with that, the custom of the Vestal Virgins came to an end.


1. TED-Ed- Who were the Vestal Virgins, and what was their job? — Peta Greenfield

2. National Geographic- Rome’s Vestal Virgins: protectors of the city’s sacred flame



The best way to gain perspective is through other people’s stories. We’re all different and have unique experiences to share. So, go ahead, share what’s in your heart and maybe you’ll stumble upon a place called home.

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