Fun Facts about Roman Vestal Virgins

Who were the Vestal Virgins?

The vestal virgins of ancient Rome were entrusted with maintaining the temples of Vesta, the virgin goddess of hearth, home, and family. They were responsible for performing the rites of the goddess and attending to the sacred fire that burned at her temples. The fire that was said to have been carried from the city of Troy must not have been put out.

Privileges of Vestal Virgins

Vestal virgins had several privileges that no other woman, or person for that matter, could enjoy in Rome:

  • They were held in luxury at public expense.
  • They were free from paternal authority.
  • They kept wills and treaties safe and secure. They also could make a will for themselves.
  • They were allowed to do business in their own name.
  • They could provide evidence in court without having to take an oath.
  • They could ride through Rome in wheeled carriages.
  • They were given way by even the highest magistrates in the city.
  • Criminals they met on their way to execution were spared.

Ivory doll, with a gold necklace, found at Tivoli in the tomb of Cossinia, a vestal for 66 years.
Ivory doll, with a gold necklace, found at Tivoli in the tomb of Cossinia, a vestal for 66 years.

What happened if a Vestal committed sexual misconduct?

It didn't happen very often, but when a vestal virgin was convicted of sexual misconduct, it was a momentous event. Such cases occurred more frequently at times of public unrest or military crisis, and the vestal virgin in question was punished as part of a ritualistic cleansing of the state.

Because vestal virgins were regarded as sacred and inviolable, they could not be executed. But the punishment was no less severs, as they would be entombed in an underground vault with just a bed, a lamp, and some food and drink, and left to die. Their male accomplices were brutally flogged to death in public.

Pliny, in his Natural History, writes about a vestal virgin named Tuccia who was accused of sexual misconduct but cleared her name by carrying water in a sieve to the temple of Vesta from the River Tiber.

Vestal Virgins Celebrating the Birthday of Rome
Vestal Virgins Celebrating the Birthday of Rome

More Fun Facts about Vestal Virgins

Vestal virgins were granted additional legal privileges by Augustus usually reserved for women who had give birth to three children. Caligula, on the other hand, made all 3 of his already-married sisters honorary vestal virgins.

Elagabalus (218–222 AD) married the vestal virgin Aquilia Severa, then divorced her, and then married her again. This sequence of events fueled a public uprising in which Elagabalus himself was assassinated.

Privileged seats were maintained for Vestals at public events. They would sit there in restrained abstinence watching the rabid fanaticism of spectators at chariot races or gladiatorial fights. The poet Prudentius reports that at gladiator shows, having observed as the winner thrust his gladius in the neck of his opponent, one vestal would jump to her feet and demand the sprawling man's immediate execution for fear that there was still life in him.

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Comments 13 comments

Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

Tracy Lynn Conway 5 years ago from Virginia, USA

I had only heard of Vestal Virgins from a Simon and Garfunkel song. Interesting hub!


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

Interesting! I learned. Thahnks for sharing. Flag up!


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM

What a title- I had to come and have a look! Would love have to known what priviledges Augustus gave for three children- I qualify!! voted up


Haunty profile image

Haunty 5 years ago from Hungary Author

CASE1WORKER - I'm not sure you will love this whole concept, but the privilege was actually about allowing women to get rid of their guardian. You see, in Rome, children (and women too) had personal guardians/supervisors/tutors to make sure they are not led astray by whatever comes along. So Augustus probably thought that women with three children or more would have some integrity (to not cheat on their husbands, etc) so they might not have to be watched over all the time by some guardian. This is called jus trium liberorum in Roman law.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

Fascinating fun facts, Haunty, thanks for digging them up.

So the vestal virgins could ride through Rome in wheeled carriages? What a lucky break. Riding in those carriages without wheels would have been really hard on the kidneys.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Oh shucks, I missed my calling by about 2000 years. I don't know if these are fun facts, but they certainly are important facts. As drbj says, thanks for digging them up.


Haunty profile image

Haunty 5 years ago from Hungary Author

Oh I know. The title is unoriginal. But we are supposed to make them so. They told us in the blog. ;) Thanks for stopping by.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

.....a most intriguing hub subject and made so very enlightening by your world class research which all adds up to an esssential hub experience and a posting to my Facebook page with a direct link back here.

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Haunty profile image

Haunty 5 years ago from Hungary Author

Thank you for the kind comment and the share, epi! Have a great day.


MAKUSR 5 years ago

Haunty,

Greetings from MAKUSR. I like your article and hub pages because here you may get many things like wikipedia like I found in this article.

Lots of Love,

MAKUSR


Haunty profile image

Haunty 5 years ago from Hungary Author

Hi Makusr! I'm glad you enjoy HubPages. Maybe you should join us here. :)


Eve 4 years ago

A group of crazy women go on a trip somewhere every few years...it is an "older" group of women and we have done a senior prom outing, Fla, cracker outing and mardi gras also....this year we will be doing a vivacious vestal virgins vegas venture. We are in the organizing stage, rules are not set but we will be flying in from Tx. Georgia, N.C. N.J. and Fl. This should be a fun adventure again with all of our creative minds going to work for the event.


somedude 3 years ago

sheeby deeby

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