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[12arg] AT what age, from what kind of family, by what rites, ceremonies and observances, and under what title a Vestal virgin is “taken” by the chief pontiff; what legal privileges she has immediately upon being chosen; also that, according to Labeo, she is lawfully neither heir of an intestate person, nor is anyone her heir, in case she dies without a will.

Those who have written about “taking” a Vestal virgin, of whom the most painstaking is Antistius Labeo, 1 have stated that it is unlawful for a girl to be chosen who is less than six, or more than ten, years old; she must also have both father and mother living; she must be free too from any impediment in her speech, must not have impaired hearing, or be marked by any other bodily defect; [p. 61] she must not herself have been freed from paternal control, 2 nor her father before her, even if her father is still living and she is under the control of her grandfather; 3 neither one nor both of her parents may have been slaves or engaged in mean occupations. 4 But they say that one whose sister has been chosen to that priesthood acquires exemption, as well as one whose father is a1 flamen or an augur, one of the Fifteen in charge of the Sibylline Books, 5 one of the Seven who oversee the banquets of the gods, or a dancing priest of Mars. Exemption from that priesthood is regularly allowed also to the betrothed of a pontiff and to the daughter of a priest of the tubilustrium. 6 Furthermore the writings of Ateius Capito inform us 7 that the daughter of a man without residence in Italy must not be chosen, and that the daughter of one who has three children must be excused.

Now, as soon as the Vestal virgin is chosen, escorted to the House of Vesta and delivered to the pontiffs, she immediately passes from the control of her father without the ceremony of emancipation or loss of civil rights, and acquires the right to make a will.

But as to the method and ritual for choosing a Vestal, there are, it is true, no ancient written records, [p. 63] except that the first to be appointed was chosen by Numa. There is, however, a Papian law, 8 which provides that twenty maidens be selected from the people at the discretion of the chief pontiff, that a choice by lot be made from that number in the assembly, 9 and that the girl whose lot is drawn be “taken” by the chief pontiff and become Vesta's. But that allotment in accordance with the Papian law is usually unnecessary at present. For if any man of respectable birth goes to the chief pontiff and offers his daughter for the priesthood, provided consideration may be given to her candidacy without violating any religious requirement, the senate grants him exemption from the Papian law.

Now the Vestal is said to be “taken,” it appears, because she is grasped by the hand of the chief pontiff and led away from the parent under whose control she is, as if she had been taken in war. In the first book of Fabius Pictor's History 10 the formula is given which the chief pontiff should use in choosing a Vestal. It is this: “I take thee, Amata, as one who has fulfilled all the legal requirements, to be priestess of Vesta, to perform the rites which it is lawful for a Vestal to perform for the Roman people, the Quirites.”

Now, many think that the term “taken” ought to be used only of a Vestal. But, as a matter of fact, the flamens of Jupiter also, as well as the augurs, were said to be “taken.” Lucius Sulla, in the second book of his Autobiography, 11 wrote as follows: “Publius Cornelius, the first to receive the surname Sulla, was taken to be flamen of Jupiter.” Marcus [p. 65] Cato, in his accusation of Servius Galba, says of the Lusitanians: 12 “Yet they say that they wished to revolt. I myself at the present moment wish a thorough knowledge of the pontifical law; shall I therefore be taken as chief pontiff? If I wish to understand the science of augury thoroughly, shall anyone for that reason take me as augur?”

Furthermore, in the Commentaries on the Twelve Tables compiled by Labeo 13 we find this passage: “A Vestal virgin is not heir to any intestate person, nor is anyone her heir, should she die without making a will, but her property, they say, reverts to the public treasury. The legal principle involved is an unsettled question.”

The Vestal is called “Amata” when taken by the chief pontiff, because there is a tradition that the first one who was chosen bore that name. 14

1 De Iure Pontificali, fr. 21, Huschke; 3, Bremer.

2 The Roman father had control over his children (patria potestas) until he died, or lost his civic rights through some misconduct, or voluntarily “emancipated” them; for a striking example see Suet. Tib. xv. 2.

3 If a man was emancipated after having children born to him, the latter remained under the control of their grand-father (cf. Gains, i. 133) and were legally orphans, hence not patrima et matrimra; Pruner, Hestia-Vesta, p. 273, N. 1.

4 Cf. Cic. De Off. i. 150.

5 The X V viri sacris faciundis, who had charge of the Sibylline Books. Tarquin appointed IIviri sacris faciundis for the purpose (Livy, v. 13. 6), but by the Licinian laws of 367 B.C. the number was increased to ten, five patricians and five plebeians. The Fifteen are first mentioned by Cicero (Epist. viii. 4. 1) in 51 B.C. They were ex-praetors or ex-consuls until a late period, and the priesthood continued to exist until the books were burned by Stilicho in the fourth century.

6 At the tubilustrium, on March 23, the trumpets used in sacred rites were purified by the tibicines sacrorum populi Romani; at the same time the Salii had their third procession in honour of Mars and Nerio; cf. Festus, 482. 27, Lindsay.

7 De lure Pontificali, fr. 11, Huschke; 7, Bremer.

8 The date of this law is unknown; it is not identical with the lex Papia-Poppaea of 250 B.C.

9 The comitia calata; see xv. 27. l. ff.

10 Fr. 4, Huschke; 1, Bremer.

11 Fr. 2, Peter.

12 The title of the oration is variously given as Contra Servium Galbam and Pro Direptis Lusitanis; perhaps the two titles were combined in one. See Jordan's Cato, p. 27.

13 Fr. 24, Huschke; 2, Bremer. The comment quoted by Gellius is on Twelve Tables V. 1.

14 Various other reasons have been given, of which perhaps the most attractive is that it is from an original ἀδαμάτα, inwedded. According to Pruner, Hestia-Vesta, p. 276, followed by Rossbach in Pauly-Wissowa, s.v., amata is not a proper name, but means “beloved.”

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  • Cross-references to this page (14):
    • Harper's, Lex
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), AUGUR
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), EPULO´NES
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LEX
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), MIMUS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), PATRI´MI
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), PO´NTIFEX
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), QUINQUATRUS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), VESTA´LES
    • Smith's Bio, Galba
    • Smith's Bio, La'beo, M. (?) Anti'stius
    • Smith's Bio, Pictor
    • Smith's Bio, Sulla
    • Smith's Bio, Sulla
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