SACERDOTES: Mamia | Alleia Decimilla | Junia Rustica |
FLAMINICAE: Egnatia Aescennia Procula | Vitellia Rufilla | Vibia Modesta | Coelia Victoria Potita | Avidia Vitalis | Lucilia Cale
The position of priestess (sacerdos) was one of the few socially acceptable public roles a woman could hold. However, the most venerable priestess positions (sacerdotia), the Vestal Virgins (Vestales) and Flaminicae, wives of the flamens, were limited to women of elite families. By tradition instituted by King Numa Pompilius (c.717-623 BCE), the Vestals spent thirty years of service to the goddess Vesta, maintaining her sacred fire, grinding the sacred flour (mola salsa) that was sacrificed to the gods, and guarding the Palladium, a statue of Pallas Athena thought to have been brought from Troy by Aeneas. Romulus is credited with instituting the first two flamens, of Jupiter and of Mars. Most is known about the wife of the flamen Dialis (priest of Jupiter), who helped her husband in certain rites, wore a special costume, and was subject to several taboos. Her term of office concluded with her own death or that of her husband.
The epigraphic record, however, indicates that during the Republic and Empire, within Rome and extra Romam, women also served as priestesses of several deities, such as Ceres, Venus, Juno Populonia, Isis, and Magna Mater, while women of freed or slave status held lower positions as ministrae or magistrae. The dress of priestesses varied according to the deity and, perhaps, the period. One priestess of the Sanctuary of Diana at Nemi (c. 200-100 BCE) is shown with a high diadem on her head, while another (see above) has a shoulder-length veil over her hair. The Vestal Virgins are often depicted with a special headdress composed of a band of wool wrapped several times around the head (infula) with long looped side pieces (vittae). However, if the statue of Eumachia, a sacerdos publica of Pompeii, shows her dressed as a priestess, the garments were no different from her daily clothing of stola, tunica, and palla, though her palla might have had a purple border, paralleling the toga praetexta worn by magistrates and by provincial priests when presiding over sacrifices. Sacerdotes were often garlanded, while Flaminicae of the imperial cult might wear a crown adorned with the busts of emperors, as does Plancia Magna of Perge. Isaic priestesses had the most distinctive dress; they carried a ritual bucket for Nile water (situla) and a special rattle (sistrum). Usia Prima is shown in her Isaic priestess dress on her tombstone from the Via Appia (40 BCE); Cantinea Procla wears a rearing cobra (uraeus) between 2 stalks of wheat on her veiled head in her funerary portrait (first century CE). A wall painting from Stabiae shows Isaic priestesses of the mid-first century CE in ritual dress, wearing purple tunics, golden breastplates, and a rearing gold cobra on their headbands. Alexandra, Isaic priestess of Athens in the Hadrianic period (early second century CE), wears a mantle tied with the Isaic knot.
Sacrifice was the main form of worship of a temple cult. Carried out in public before the temple, sacrifice was a spectacle, often including a procession of sacrificial animals (hostia; victima) bedecked in vittae, accompanied by the utterance of prayers, the pouring of libations, the burning of incense, and the playing of a tibia to drown out ill omens. Less impressive but more common was the offering of sacrifice in the form of libations (variously of unmixed wine, honey, oil or milk) or spelt or fruits and cakes (sometimes formed in the shape of a sacrificial animal). Through such sacrifices the priestess communicated with the deity on behalf of all the community (pro populo). Those in attendance consumed any sacrificial food left over in a meal that created and maintained communal bonds.
Mamia (sometimes written Mammia) was a member of an old and prominent Pompeian family. At some point during the late Augustan period (before 14 CE) she was elected sacerdos publica, perhaps a priestess of Venus Pompeiana, the principal tutelary divinity of Pompeii (see Temple of Venus). In this role she followed Eumachia, and, like her, as priestess contributed to the development of Pompeii's civic center, adopting features of Augustan architecture that symbolized the city's accord with imperial Rome. In a gesture typical of the upper classes but impressive at this time for a woman, Mamia assumed the considerable expense of building a temple (#5) on the east side of the Forum of Pompeii, in the area adjoining the building of Eumachia (#7). In the courtyard leading to the temple stands a well-preserved marble altar of the Augustan period: on the front is carved a scene of animal sacrifice before a temple (Mamia's?), perhaps at its dedication; the other three sides are decorated with ritual items and a civic crown. The historic identification of Mamia's temple as the Temple of Vespasian (Sanctuary of the Genius of Augustus), located between the Sacellum Larum Publicorum and the Aedificium Eumachiae, has been much debated. Similarly, a segment of Mamia's dedicatory inscription, carved in Augustan style capitals and assumed to have been set on the temple's architrave, has been questioned. The marble plaque was found broken in several places, notably where the name of the temple deity was incised, leaving only the letters GENI, which have traditionally been resolved as GENI[o Augusti] (see CIL 10.816). Recent scholars, arguing persuasively from wider archaeological, epigraphic and cult evidence, have proposed the alternative resolution below.
In recognition of Mamia's priesthood and doubtless in consideration of her generous benefaction to the city, the decuriones (municipal councilmen) voted her a generous grant of land for her burial, just outside the Porta Herculanensis along the Street of the Tombs (#4). Her funerary monument, probably built by her heirs according to her direction, is in the form of a semi-circular bench (schola) some seventeen feet in diameter, and is constructed of Nocerian tufa blocks; her cinerary urn may have been buried in the ground at the back of the bench. The schola, one of eight discovered in Pompeii and dated between 14-25 CE, was built on a podium a step up from the street and is decorated on either end by a griffin leg. The inscription on the backrest of the bench is deeply incised in oversize Augustan-style capital letters (see opening, middle, end) that extend around the entire bench. A. Mau (1899) writes, “This monument was intended at the same time to do honor to the dead and render service to the living. Here, on feast days of the dead, relatives could gather and partake of a commemorative meal.” The form of her monument guarantees that weary travellers will pause there to rest and, seeing her name, consider the woman whose merits were so highly esteemed by her city.
Alleia Decimilla served as a public priestess of Ceres (see Livia as Ceres) for the city of Pompeii during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE). Public priestesses usually were members of prominent families, and the gens of the Alleii certainly was prominent in the area of Campania. In addition to the impressive cursus honorum of her husband, Marcus Alleius Luccius Libella, who was adopted out of the Luccius family by her father Marcus Alleius, other members of the Alleii held high office in Pompeii (e.g., Cn. Alleius Nigidius Maius was quinquennial duovir in 55-56 CE and later Flamen Vespasiani; another Alleia, Maius' daughter, served as priestess of Venus and Ceres toward the end of the reign of the Emperor Nero, 54-68 CE). Alleia Decimilla may have been elected priestess before her marriage to Libella, but more probably after her husband's death, since priestesses of Ceres were to be unmarried during their tenure of office (for this argument, see Schultz, pp. 75-83 in the Bibliography). Since Libella held his highest magistracy, duovir quinquennalis, in 25/26 CE, Alleia Decimilla was probably elected sacerdos publica as a widow not long afterward. The impressive altar tomb she built for her husband and her son stands nearly 15 feet high, on land granted by the city council (ordo decurionum) outside the Porta Herculanensis, between the Street of the Tombs and the Upper Road (Tomb 37). Marble plaques carved with the funerary epitaph below were set under the cornice on the east and south sides of the tomb where they would be visible to those passing by.
M[arco] ALLEIO LVCCIO LIBELLAE PATRI
ANNIS XVII LOCVS MONVMENTI
PVBLICE DATVS EST. ALLEIA M[arci] F[ilia]
DECIMILLA SACERDOS PVBLICA
Junia Rustica is distinctive for the level of her benefactions to her community, even in Spain where recognition of female euergetism was highest in the Roman West. She was born into a long-established and politically prominent family in Cartima (near coastal Malaca in Hispania Baetica), a Punic town taken over by the Romans in 195 BCE and given its name. Her father, Decimus Iunius Melinus, was an equestrian in the Galeria tribe, who possibly received Roman citizenship as a local dignitary prior to the Flavian grant to Spain of the ius Latii (the right of commercium et connubium). When she married Gaius Fabius Fabianus, she entered another leading Baetican family noted for its public display of wealth through euergetism so typical of local aristocracies. She herself was honored locally as sacerdos perpetua et prima after her town became a municipium under the Emperor Vespasian (69-79 CE). While towns in Italy and Baetica are known to use the titles sacerdos and flaminica interchangeably, since the text makes no reference to the imperial house, she is listed among the sacerdotes. This honorary inscription, found on her marble statue base and dated to c. 70 CE, celebrates her as a wealthy benefactress of her community. Judging from the repeated phrase D P S (de sua pecunia), her wealth was her own, its use determined by her: the three males in her life, her father, husband and son, are referred to only for purposes of filiation or benefaction. For a discussion of the social and economic implications of her inscription see Donahue (Bibliography).
IVNIA D[ecimi] F[ilia] RVSTICA, SACERDOS
PERPETVA ET PRIMA IN MVNICIPIO CARTIMITAN[o],
PORTICVS PVBLIC[as] VETVSTATE CORRVPTAS REFECIT, SOLVM
BALINEI DEDIT, VECTIGALIA PVBLICA VINDICAVIT, SIGNVM
[A]EREVM MARTIS IN FORO POSVIT, PORTICVS AD BALINEV[m]
[so]LO SVO CVM PISCINA ET SIGNO CVPIDINIS EPVLO DATO
[et] SPECTACVLIS EDITIS, D[e] P[ecunia] S[ua] D D[edicavit]; STATVAS SIBI ET C[aio] FABIO
[Iu]NIANO F[ilio] SVO AB ORDINE CARTIMITANORVM DECRET[as
remis]SA IMPENSA, ITEM STATVAM C[aio] FABIO FABIANO VIRO SVO
D[e] P[ecunia] S[ua] F[ecit] D[edicavitque].
Nothing more is known about the priestess Egnatia Aescennia Procula than what can be learned from her epitaph, carved in handsome Augustan-style capitals on this marble plaque with dovetail handles (tabula ansata), a shape popular for votive and funerary inscriptions among the Romans. It contains her full formal name, including her filiation Publi filia, which thus marked her as a freeborn Roman citizen. In Rome's port city (map) of Ostia, she held the important post of flaminica of the divine Empress Faustina (ca. 100-140 CE). The empress, admired for her beauty and wisdom, was deified at her death by her husband, the Emperor Antoninus Pius, and honored with a temple in the Roman Forum, coins in her image as diva, and the named benefaction Puellae Faustinianae, a program of support (alimenta) for poor orphaned girls. Procula was married to Marcus Modius Successianus, also a freeborn Roman citizen, who survived her.
EGNATIA P[ubli] F[ilia] AESC
ENNIA PROCVLA FLAMI
NICA DIVAE FAVSTINAE
HIC SITA EST. M[arcus] MODIVS
M[arci] F[ilius] SVCCESSIANVS
Vitellia Rufilla was a member of one of the four most powerful and influential gentes of Rome in the last half of the first century CE. Her priestly office was a significant one, as Salus Augusta Salviensis was the tutelary goddess of Urbs Salvia (Urbisaglia, in Picenum) and the town's only temple was dedicated to this goddess. She and her husband were members of two related wealthy consular families (he was consul suffectus in 81 CE); they, though active in Rome, maintained a political and philanthropic presence in their home town, where her funerary inscription was found. It was probably the site of their family tomb as well. In Urbs Salvia her husband, Caius Salvius Liberalis, was elected a magistratus quinquennalis (a magistrate in the municipal towns who held his office for five years) for four terms and was voted the distinctive title patronus coloniae as well; their son Vitellianus, who dedicated her epitaph, served as magistratus quinquennalis three times.
V I T E L L I A E
C[ai] F[iliae] RVFILLAE
C[ai] SALVI LIBERALIS CO[n]S[ulis] [uxori]
FLAMINI[cae] SALVTIS AVG[ustae], MATRI
Vibia Modesta was twice awarded the title of flaminica sacerdos by her adopted town Italica (Santiponce, Seville), a colony founded by Scipio Africanus in 206 BCE, in the Roman province of Hispania Baetica. As Modesta twice held the position of flaminica, she must have twice paid the required summa honoria, a kind of initiation fee, sometimes substantial, that magistrates and priests paid upon entering civic office in the western cities of the Roman Empire. This inscribed marble pedestal for a statue of Victory dating to the period of Septimius Severus (193-211) records Modesta's opulent gifts to her community, some of which she placed in the Temple of the deified Trajan (called the Trajaneum) where she was the imperial cult priestess. The temple was located in the center of the urbs nova, which was rebuilt and renamed Colonia Aelia Augusta Italica by Trajan's successor, the Emperor Hadrian (117-138), no doubt because the families of both emperors were native to Italica. To give some small idea of her donations, a surviving price list for a silver statue of the Empress Faustina lists its cost at 1,593 sesterces (see valuation); to this figure must be added the expense of the lavish jewelry that once adorned the Victory statue as well as Modesta's other precious gifts. Because the monument is so damaged (resulting in many variant readings), some details of the text defy translation (punctuation has been added to assist reading). However, the overall meaning of the inscription is comprehensible, and it clearly testifies to Vibia Modesta's wealth, prestige and civic commitment. (AE 2001.1185)
Coelia Victoria Potita is the first known imperial flaminica in Cirta, a town in Numidia which Julius Caesar added to the senatorial province of Africa Proconsularis. The text no longer indicates the object dedicated ([sacrum]), but the inscription is carved on what appears to be an epistyle of white marble, now broken into three damaged parts (CIL 8. 19492). The combined status of its dedicator, Quintus Marcius Barea, proconsul of Africa for two terms (41-43 CE), and its wealthy benefactor, Coelia Victoria Potita, the town's first flaminica of the imperial cult, suggests that the dedication was undertaken to bring Cirta to the attention of Rome, particularly the ruling family. While scholars differ as to the identification of the object – a statue, an altar (see Pompeii's Altar to the Genius of Augustus), or a small temple – they agree that it was dedicated to Livia Augusta (30 January 58 BC– 28 September AD 29), the wife of Augustus, as a local response to her deification in 42 CE (commemorative coin) by her grandson, the Emperor Claudius.
Avidia Vitalis was awarded the title of flaminica perpetua by the Roman colony of Carthage. Destroyed in 146 BCE at the end of the 3rd Punic War, the site remained undeveloped until Julius Caesar in 46-44 BCE Julius Caesar proposed the foundation of Colonia Iulia Karthago in Africa Proconsularis. In 28 BCE Augustus settled 3,000 colonists there, renaming it Colonia Concordia Iulia Karthago. As a result of its good harbor and rich farmland, by the 2nd century CE it had become a flourishing Roman town of over 300,000 inhabitants (see aqueduct, Baths of Antoninus Pius), making it the second largest city after Rome in the West. Although Avidia Vitalis is otherwise unknown, her Roman citizenship is evidenced by her filiation (C[ai]F[iliae]) and her election to the special honor of flaminica perpetua, presumably in the imperial cult. Her benefactions are acknowledged but unidentified, as is the object of her dedication. The inscription (AE 1949.36) is preserved on a fragment of a marble plaque, datable perhaps to the Trajanic period (98-117 CE).
AVIDIAE C[ai] F[iliae] VITALI
CN[aeus] SALVIUS SATVRNINVS
Lucilia Cale was a flaminica of the imperial cult of the colony of Thuburnica (Thuburbo Maius, south of Tunis in northern Tunisia). Originally a Punic town that the Romans occupied in 27 BCE as a colony for veterans in the province of Africa, its civic center was built primarily between 150-200 CE. This dedicatory inscription (CIL 8.14690, ILS 4484), once mounted over the entrance to the Temple of Mercury (erected 211-217 CE), credits Lucilia Cale with generously paying its building expenses. The costs of temple construction varied according to the size, location and opulence of its decoration (note the elegantly carved cornice of this Temple of Mercury, located near the Forum); surviving price lists indicate that the smallest temple would cost 3,000 sesterces (see valuation).
PATRIAE TOTIVSQVE DOMVS DIVINAE EORVM, LVCILIA CALE
Click on the underlined words for translation aids and commentary, which will appear in a small window. Click on the icon link to the right of the text for related images and information.