So who exactly were these Vestal virgins?
They were the high order priestesses in ancient Rome whose responsibility was to keep the scared fire of Vesta lit and preserve a sacred pledge on which depended the very existence of Rome. The Romans believed that as long as he fire was lit, Rome would endure everything and never fall.
But why keep virgins for that? We find it baffling too. Perhaps some of the interesting facts about Rome’s Vestal virgins can help clear away the confusion.
#1. Keeping the sacred fire lit
The most important task of a vestal was to keep the sacred fire burning. The fire symbolized Vesta, the goddess of hearth and home. Their other tasks included collecting water from the sacred spring, preparing food for the rituals and taking care of the temple’s sanctuary.
#2. Chastity was important but not forever
As you can guess from their order, they had to remain chaste. The vestal priestesses were chosen when they were young and were forbidden from sex and bearing children as long as they tended to the sacred fire. These women were expected to be pure of heart. If one of the vestals broke her vow of virginity, it was believed that great doom would befall Rome.
However, each vestal served for only 30 years. After the completion of her term, she was free to go and enjoy a married life.
#3. They were the most powerful women in Rome
Women in ancient Rome were legally the property of their fathers and husbands. Because of this, common women did not enjoy the same rights as men. However, the vestals were considered to be extraordinary women. They were the most important women in the whole Roman empire as it was them who was keeping Rome from being destroyed.
They were free from the control of their fathers and could enjoy property rights.
#4. Marrying a former Vestal was a matter of pride
If you lived in ancient Rome, you would be proud to have a former vestal as your wife. Though they were few in number but Vestals were well respected, enjoyed various rights and pensions and therefore became targets of male gold diggers.
#5. Deviation from path wasn’t forgiven
When young girls were chosen to become vestals, they became brides of the city itself. They were forbidden from indulging in any kind of sexual activity, failing which they could be condemned to death. There have been instances where Vestals have been condemned to death. Vestal Minucia was accused and found guilty of incest for her “improper love of dress”. Others have been sentenced based on the testimony of temple slaves. Since harming or killing a vestal was forbidden, other means to execute them were devised. In 114 BC, Vestal Marcia was accused of taking a lover and buried alive for that.