Brook hopes you'll make yourself at home and read through her scrolls to learn more about her work as an author, her research, travels, thoughts, and adventures!"
In the heart of the Forum Romanum is a small shrine-like building that is only half standing. Originally, it was circular. Beyond, is a lovely complex and the shrine, along with the beautiful grounds was occupied by the Vestal Virgins.
I think of Vestals as ancient Roman nuns. Priestesses were girls selected from noble households. They usually entered service between ages 6-10 years. Their tenure to the cult lasted for thirty years, after which they were allotted a generous pension and allowed to marry. Usually, there was no problem in finding husbands for retired Vestals, since the pension was so attractive! And marriage to a former Vestal Virgin was considered to be extremely good luck and quite an honor.
Though they were burdened with a vow of chastity, Vestals were given honors that many women looked upon with envy. They received special seating at public games (ludi), they were always conveyed in a wagon of honor wherever they went, and preceded by a lictor. Apparently, the mere touch from a Vestal would legally release and free a prisoner or slave. Vestals were considered inviolate and were trusted without question in courts of law. Whatever they said was considered truth. Important to my books on Marc Antony, they also kept the wills of important men within their complex, safe and sound. Historians tell us that both Caesar's and Antony's wills were kept under the Vestals' protection. It's difficult for us to know how "secure" those wills were.
There are accounts of Vestal Virgins whose chastity was questioned and a few cases in which they were sentenced to death. A particular priestess during the reign of Domitian, named Cornelia, was found guilty, taken by cart, and was forced to climb down a ladder into a hole. The hole was sealed and she was "buried alive", left to die by suffocation, thirst, or starvation, whichever came first.
A Vestal Virgin's most important task was to keep the flame of Vesta lit at all times. One of the priestesses would be guarding constantly, and failure to keep a vigilant watch resulted in scourging. Ouch! Romans believed that if the flame was extinguished, Rome could fall.
When visiting Rome, be sure to take a stroll through the Vestal complex. In it are lovely statues of previous priestesses and each is unique and lovely. One can also view remains of the dormitory used for these women, considered to be both privileged and holy.
'(Above left)Remains of the Temple of Vesta today. (At right) An artist's representation of Vestal Virgins tending to the sacred hearth of Vesta.