A Vestal Virgin Vest ( 2017) Lecce paper, gold leaf, swarovski crystals, thread, work by Christine Palamidessi


I don’t know if this was a good job or not. A Vestal Virgin observed chastity in a society where procreation was of fundamental importance. There were 6 ( sometimes 5) Vestal Virgins, who were carefully selected and served 30 years of service.  They lived together in a sacred building in the Forum.

The selected women worked with fire (male) and water (female) elements.  Their day began each morning by carrying buckets of water from a sacred well to the steps and area surrounding the sacred fire. Then the girls got down to scrubbing the altar area and around the hearth. The fire represented not only the men of Rome but Rome itself. The women had to keep the fire going, vibrant and clean. Supposedly the flame was from the same fire taken from the sack of Troy.

It was a terrible omen if the fire happened to go out ( I believe this happened only on three occasions). It was equally bad for a Vestal Virgin to become unpure, because if she did engage with a man, her behavior put the city of Rome at risk.  A breach of either standard–dimming of fire or breaking virginity– meant one of the Virgins had to be sacrificed in order to reestablish political stability of the city and to assure the blessings of the gods.  Essentially a Vestal Virgin’s virginity was the wall surrounding Rome.

What happened if there was a breach of chastity?  A situation of political instability?  A problem in Rome? How did the Romans get rid of a Vestal Virgin?

In Ancient Rome people were not buried within the inner city walls, except for the Vestal Virgins. The Romans used tricky language to make it seem the Virgin was not really buried because she was not dead when she entered her tomb.  The girl/woman entered her small tomb which contained a few provisions and she was left “not to die.”

Since I will be looking at the virginity issue in Late Antiquity, I am following the thread of how charged the story of chastity might have been to Early Romans and Romans in general.

NOTE:  The six Vestal Virgins tended the state cult of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. The cult is believed to date to the 7th century BC; like other non-Christian cults, it was banned in 394 AD.