Vestal Virgins, Sibyls, and Matrons
Women in Roman Religion
Publication Year: 2008
Published by: University of Texas Press
List of Abbreviations
The purpose of this book is to elucidate Roman women’s role and function in Roman religion and, by extension, its history and culture through literary and epigraphic sources. The Roman state was an agricultural, patriarchal, militaristic, and imperialistic society. While men acquired territory and controlled Rome’s Empire, women functioned as the guarantors of the continuance of the...
One. The Silent Ones Speak
Literature, a cross-section of genres, provides us with paragons and opposites of Roman womanhood. It is here that we encounter makers and destroyers of Rome, where we see women move outside the private, domestic sphere and enter the public arena. Some were harshly judged for their abandonment of family; others were not. All the judges were men, for it is their records we have, employ, and analyze. Literary examples make clear the distinctions between a respectable and disreputable Roman woman. The emphasis is on moral behavior, understood as the single most important factor for the proper functioning of society. Roman historical writing, in particular, demanded moralization and much hinges on the private/public...
Two. Life Cycles and Time Structures
Religious rituals that were carried out by women for the well-being and continuation of the Roman state are the focus of this chapter. Rome was an agricultural society, which its cultic cycle reinforced. Like the seasons, there was great religious activity in preparation for and during the growing season, while there was little of note after the harvest season. Rome was a militaristic society, governed by male warriors, and one might expect that women had very limited roles in cultic activities. With Rome’s historical understanding of itself, however, women played an important role in the creation of the state, as we have seen. A closer look at the calendar reveals that for every cultic action performed by...
Three. The Making of Rome
This chapter focuses on divine beings that were instrumental in shaping Rome and its Empire, in particular, its self-definition. While territorial acquisition was men’s business, the preservation of Empire was linked to female entities, among them the Sibyls, the Great Mother (Mater Magna), and Isis. When the Roman state was faced with a portent indicating a rupture in the reciprocal relationship between the Romans and their gods, the Senate instructed the priestly college in charge of the Sibylline Books, which consisted for most of Rome’s history of the fifteen men, the quindecimviri sacris faciundis, to consult the books. The interpretation of the sayings guided Rome’s political elite in the...
Four. Rome Eternal
The six Vestal Virgins dedicated their lives to the goddess Vesta and, by extension, to the Roman state. Though they were “between categories,” neither matrons nor priests, they dressed as married women, and for the entirety of their priestly tenure they were to remain in a virginal state. They preserved, as it were, rather than expressing or experiencing, their procreative potentiality, which was controlled by the Roman state. One of the main duties of the Vestals was the upkeep of the fire in the temple of Vesta. This fire symbolized procreation. The Vestals and the fire formed a controllable symbiotic whole of...
Five. Rome Besieged
A reciprocal relationship between the divine and the human sphere (pax deorum—pax hominum) was at the center of Roman understanding of religion. The proper and timely implementation of prescribed rituals translated into territorial rewards or Empire.1 Rome was successful because of the inhabitants’ care for their gods. Whenever the Roman state found itself in trouble, the underlying cause for it was sought in the religious sphere, as we have seen in the previous chapter. This is not to say that Romans did not address and solve political and societal problems within those spheres, but in their resolution...
Six. Rome and Its Provinces
Rome’s administration of its Empire brought religious structures to the provinces and provincial concepts to the capital. We see an example of this exchange process in the female flaminate and the Matres/Matronae, which, although not empirewide systems, allow a glimpse, especially in the case of the female flaminate, at a provincial adaptation of originally capital-specific priesthoods. The Matres/ Matronae, on the other hand, show how soldiers carried their ancestral worship outside their original home area to foreign territories and thus broadened the cult’s base of worshipers. In both cases, however, religion bound the center and the periphery, and women, either as priestesses or...
Roman religion was polytheistic and open, conservative yet flexible. Roman religion was not about faith, dogma, or morality; it was about the proper performance of prescribed rituals. Social standing defined the agents who performed the cultic actions on behalf of the state. The aim was a community’s prosperity and, by extension, the continued success of the Roman state. In this, its religion and politics were interrelated. The most important Roman citizens held the most important priestly positions. If there was a religious authority, it was the Roman Senate (only notionally from the time of Augustus onward, when the...
Appendix A. Ancient Authors
Appendix B. Timeline
Appendix C. Maps
Page Count: 220
Illustrations: 9 b&w illus., 4 maps
Publication Year: 2008
OCLC Number: 234193782
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