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Date Permissions Signed


Date of Award


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Garfinkle, Steven J.

Second Advisor

Diehl, Peter D.

Third Advisor

Eurich, S. Amanda, 1956-


The city of Rome developed from a small agricultural village near a small river on the Italian peninsula into the capital of an empire encompassing the entire Mediterranean world and its hinterlands beyond. The Romans themselves attributed the success of their city and society, in part, to their piety. The priesthood of Vesta and the sacred flame that burned within the goddess's temple symbolize Rome and its denizens. The women who served in this priesthood maintained a sacred and undying flame and performed a variety of other significant religious tasks in order to perpetuate Rome's achievements. The rigorous process through which a young Roman girl became a Vestal priestess set her apart from society and conferred a status on her that enabled her to be venerated, modeled and representative of the ideal Roman society. The important religious duties the Vestals performed and the rituals in which they directly or indirectly participated permitted the priesthood to represent and unify various demographic categories. Furthermore, the Vestals and their religious role connected Roman society to its past and functioned to instill a collective identity of what it meant to be a Roman. The significance of this function is demonstrated by the accusation and potential execution of a priestess for failing to live up to these expectations through violating her vow of virginity. This work endeavors to understand the status of the women in this priesthood in Roman society. Their ability to unify the collective and create a common identity in a rigidly categorized and divided society across a millennium of history suggests that the Vestals functioned as a public spectacle.





Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Vestal virgins; Women and religion--Rome--History; Women--Religious life--Rome--History; Rome--Social life and customs; Spectacular, The

Geographic Coverage





masters theses




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