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Vestal Virgins

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220px-Chief Vestal

One of the chief Vestals

Alessandro Marchesini - Dedication of a New Vestal Virgin - WGA14054

The dedication ceremony of a Vestal Virgin

The Vestal Virgins, or Vestals, were Roman women dedicated to the service of Vesta (Greek: Hestia). They tended to the sacred fire of Vesta and had many rights and privileges, such as being carried in a palanquin (which had a right of way), being able to pardon criminals/slaves, the right to own property and vote, being able to give evidence without an oath and a reserved seat at games and performances. Their body was sacrosanct: harming or injuring them physically was punishable by death.Vestal virgins were sworn to celibacy, after they took their vows, they passed from the protection of their father to the protection of the state, and were thus considered daughters of the state. Any sexual relations with citizens was deemed incestuous in nature.

Those who broke their vows were punished harshly.Those who failed to attend the sacred fire were scourged. Breaking the vow of celibacy was punished by burying the offending priestess alive, outside the city of Rome. Roman law forbade the burial of persons inside the city, but ancient traditions decreed that the Vestal should be buried inside the city limits. Therefore, the priestess was buried outside the city, but with food and water for a few days, thus being a guest of the city. It was also forbidden to shed the blood of a Vestal. Rhea Silva, the mother of Romulus and Remus, was a Vestal.

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