25 June 2024 The Future is the Product of the Past

Holy Virgins of Ancient Rome

Rome was not a place that promised a lot for women. Lower-class women were typically public, helping to earn a living for their families. Upper-class women were expected to be more private, but they could also have a lot of political and intellectual power depending on the positions of their relatives. However, it is clear that much of a Roman woman’s life was defined by her male relatives.

But there was another group in Rome that didn’t have to think about it. These were women who held a sacred duty, from whom girls from noble families were removed from their families for 30 years. These women were expected to spend 30 years of their lives serving the virgin goddess Vesta. They were concerned with the task of perpetuating an eternal flame in Vesta’s temple, and symbolically, with the heart of all Rome.

They have given their families many advantages because of their services, such as individual power and wonderful seats in the Coliseum.

However, if Vestal lets the flame go out, or worse, breaks the vow of chastity, she may face extreme consequences. Her privileged and powerful life is plagued by strict restrictions and high stakes. The fate of Rome itself was in her hands.

Goodness Hestia
Goddess Hestia is the god of family and eternal fire. (Goddess Vestal)

How to become a Vestal Virgin?

First of all, you had to be of nobility to be a Vestal Virgin. It was out of the question that one of the lower strata was a Vesta virgin.

Vestal virgins were chosen among daughters of about 6-10 years old. The chief priest, or pontifex maximus, looked for a new Vestal from amongst the most respectable families. In the early days of tradition, girls must be free, and parents’ daughters must also be free. Both parents must be alive, and the girl must have no physical or mental defects.

Later, as fewer families were willing to let their daughter into a restrictive life as nuns, the rules relaxed and the girls of freed slaves became eligible.

After these girls were publicly selected, the young girls would be sent to live in the Atrium Vestae or Vestals House with older nuns who would form their new family for the next thirty years of their lives.

When a Vestal Virgin was chosen, she would join the other nuns at the Temple of Vesta in the Roman Forum. They were expected to perform different tasks such as carrying water from the holy spring and preparing sacred food. But undoubtedly their most important task was to light Vesta’s fire.

Symbolically, the hearth represented the heart of the home, where the family did their most basic work. The fire burning in the Temple of Vesta represented the house fire for the Roman people. İf on fire it represented stability and strength for all.

In a house, the fire was run by the women of the house. Vestal Virgins, who were unmarried and quasi-independent as opposed to the family’s mother and daughter, were mothers to all of Rome.

Vestal Virgin
Vestal Virgin

İf the Vesta fire goes out?

For a vesta virgin, the burning out of the fire meant that the girl would receive a great punishment when the fire was extinguished, no matter how sacred. Their high status meant that only the high priest, also called the Pontifex Maximus, was allowed to strike them. Their punishment was given in a private place. Curtains were drawn to hide Vestal’s shame.

She says that if the Virgin Vestal is very lucky, she can fix things before anyone finds out and tries to beat her. One day, Aemilia, one of the lucky Vestals, saw that the flame was extinguished and immediately prayed to Vesta. There are many versions of the Aemilia tale. Seeing that the fire was extinguished, the girl throws a piece of cloth on the embers and the fire burns again.

If Vestal virgins break their oaths?

As part of his ministry, Vestal would remain chaste. They were like family members of all Rome – mothers, and sisters of the entire population. Therefore, it was a great betrayal for a Vestal to have a romantic or physical relationship with a Roman.

That particular crime was termed crimen incesti. A confirmed case is rarely found, but when it happened, it caused everyone’s dissatisfaction. The crime was so abhorrent to the Romans that the Vestal Virgins who were found to have violated the celibacy clause suffered a terrible fate.

Vestaller, who was found guilty of this crime, was buried alive. Most scholars agree that this particular punishment was not implemented because no Roman wanted to be directly responsible for the death of the Vestal, although there may be a connection between burying the Vestal alive and the goddess Vesta’s connection to the earth.

Vesta Temple Rome.
Vesta Temple Rome.

Freedom after 30 years

According to the Greek historian Plutarch, the first ten years were devoted solely to learning how to become the best Vestal Virgin possible. The last ten years of a Vestal service had to focus on educating the next group of nuns, while the next ten were devoted to performing rituals.

By 30 years they were free to reenter society and become normal Roman wives. However, although some believe that an old Vestal wedding would bring good fortune, few have been documented to be married.

Being a Vestal Virgin wasn’t too bad! 

Being a Vestal wasn’t all that bad, considering the Roman women. While the wives and daughters of Rome were indebted to men who practically dictated their every move in their lives, the Vestals were rare women who were at least responsible for their own destiny.

The Vesta Virgin Virgins formally got rid of the patriarchy that ruled the lives of almost all other women of that era. They have the ability to own their own property, so they can make their own last wishes. Vesta sometimes even appears in court. Because Vestal is considered to have outstanding status and virtue, she can testify without first taking an oath. They are sometimes commissioned to provide important legal documents, such as treaties. In some cases, they can even vote, which is an extremely rare privilege for the male-dominated Roman women.


  • Cook, SA (ed.). Cambridge Antik Tarihi. Cambridge University Press, 1971
  • Icks, M. The Crimes of Elagabalus. Harvard University Press, 2012
  • Gruen, E. (1968). M. ANTONIUS AND THE TRIAL OF THE VESTAL VIRGINS. Rheinisches Museum Für Philologie, 111(1), 59-63. Retrieved February 23, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41244355
  • Staples, A. (2013). From Good Goddess to Vestal Virgins: Sex and Category in Roman Religion. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.
  • Beard, M. (1980). The Sexual Status of Vestal Virgins. The Journal of Roman Studies, 70, 12-27. doi:10.2307/299553
Related Articles

Imperial cult temple discovered in Spello: It opens a new chapter in the Roman Empire’s transition from paganism to Christianity

6 January 2024

6 January 2024

American researchers have announced the discovery of an Imperial cult temple in Spello, Italy. The discovery was announced by Douglas...

A marble slab with an inscription from the 2nd century was discovered during excavations in Bulgaria

18 October 2023

18 October 2023 3

Archaeologists discovered a 1,900-year-old marble slab bearing an ancient Greek inscription in the Roman Baths of Hisarya, a small resort...

Archaeologists identify three new Roman camps in Arabia

27 April 2023

27 April 2023

Through remote sensing analysis, archaeologists have identified three new Roman fortified camps throughout northern Arabia. Their study, released today in...

Ancient skeletons buried with gold jewelry and expensive leather shoes found in newly discovered Roman necropolis in Italy

5 January 2024

5 January 2024

Archaeologists involved in a two-year-long excavation project at the site of a planned solar energy plant ancient city of Tarquinia,...

2000-year-old passage found after Latrina at Smyrna Theater

28 January 2022

28 January 2022

Archaeologists discovered a 2,000-year-old passage that was 26 meters long and constructed in an “L” form in the theater part...

Huge Ancient Roman Public Baths in ‘Excellent’ State Discovered in Augusta Emerita

23 July 2023

23 July 2023

In Mérida, Spain, archaeologists have discovered a “massive” Roman bathing site in “excellent” condition. The discovery was found in the...

This Month in the “You Will See What You Don’t See” Project

11 February 2021

11 February 2021

Izmir Archeology Museum started to exhibit the unseen artifacts in its warehouses last month in the project that started under...

Unique 2,000-year-old Decorated Roman Sandal Discovered in Spain

20 October 2023

20 October 2023 1

A 2,000-year-old Roman sandal was discovered during archaeological excavations at Lucus Asturum (modern-day Lugo de Llanera) in Asturias, northern Spain....

A stunning fresco depicting Helen of Troy is revealed during excavations at the ancient Roman city

11 April 2024

11 April 2024

Archeologists have uncovered remarkably preserved ‘fresco’ paintings on a wall in the banqueting room of a large house along Via...

An extraordinary votive treasure was unearthed in the ancient Roman bath sanctuary of San Casciano Dei Bagni in Italy

7 August 2022

7 August 2022

In San Casciano Dei Bagni, a Tuscan hill town famous for its hot springs, 40 miles southeast of Siena, unique...

To The West of Turkey Ancient Quarry Found

28 March 2021

28 March 2021

Turkey is very lucky in terms of ancient settlements. It is home to many unexplored artifacts, along with well-preserved ancient...

New mosaics unearthed in “Zeugma of the Black Sea”

3 October 2022

3 October 2022

New mosaics with various figures were unearthed during the ongoing excavations in the ancient city of Hadrianopolis, which is called...

Archaeologists discover one of the largest Phallus Relief Carving of ancient Rome

28 August 2022

28 August 2022

According to an announcement by the region’s local history museum, a large Roman-era relief carving of a phallus has been...

‘Miniature Pompeii’ found beneath Astra cinema in Verona

15 June 2021

15 June 2021

Archaeologists have uncovered a “miniature Pompeii” in the shape of a well-preserved ancient edifice near Verona, Italy. An old Roman...

The world’s largest Byzantine winepresses have been discovered in Israel

11 October 2021

11 October 2021

Archaeologists say they’ve discovered the world’s largest known Byzantine-era winery in the city of Yavne, south of Tel Aviv. The...