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Special role of Roman flamin of Jupiter

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Flamin head from the middle of the 3rd century CE
Flamin head from the middle of the 3rd century CE

Roman priests, in addition to their cult activities, sometimes played another role – representing the function of “their” deity. A special case of such a priest was the flamin of Jupiter, the most venerable of the college of fifteen. He was concerned with observer rules, orders and prohibitions, which contained an extremely complex symbolism. On the surface it may seem that Jupiter’s flamin is a man like all the others: here he is an ordinary citizen and does not need to undergo any initiation in order to attain his dignity.

Nevertheless, the “investiture” of the flamin is made by pontifex maximus – this moment is a turning point in the life of the flamin. The lifestyle of the couple (and this word is extremely important) of flamines from the outside looks quite normal, it corresponds to the standard of married life. However, the first issues of separateness appear. The flamin and the flaminer, married according to the most perfect rite of confarreatio (the only one possible, in the event of the desire to become Jupiter’s flamin), perform their function together, as it were, and are needed by each other. “If the Dialis has lost his wife he abdicates his office” – says Aulus Gellius and adds: “the marriage of the priest cannot be dissolved except by death”. This explains the popular custom of Roman brides wearing flammeum (fire-red spice). It was a good sign for the future, a symbol of fidelity and affection. The flamin wore the aforementioned coil constantly.

The uniqueness of flamin is also noticeable in other aspects. He is the only priest with the right to sit in the senate. Moreover, he has the right to a curule chair and to move around the city in a cart. Attempts were also made to symbolically reinforce the notion of “rooting” the flamin in Rome – he could not spend even one night outside the city, and three nights in a row outside the marriage bed. The legs of the bed in question were additionally covered with a thin layer of mud – a symbol of constant connection with the land of Rome. The bed was placed in the vestibule of the flamin’s house, which meant that the priest was always available to his fellow citizens. Jupiter’ flamin was to be the most Roman of the Romans, and at the same time the most human of men: he was not allowed to touch fermented flour and raw meat – food unsuitable for human needs.

These extremely static rules illustrate the unusual role of the flamin and the state of isolated exaltation in which he lived. Flamin existed constantly in the sacred context – when he was passing through the city, the sprouts work nearby ceased, so that the priest was surrounded by the eternal yew of the great festival. Such rules can be exchanged and exchanged: absolutely nothing but a fire intended for sacred purposes was to be taken from the flamin’s house, and at the head of the priest’s bed there must always be a box with sacrificial cookies. The flamin headgear, called the apex, was also important. It created a sacred context; sewn from the skin of a sacrificial animal, it had a twig on its tip entwined with thread spun from the animal’s wool. Flamin also had a liqueur and a rod – necessary ingredients to accelerate the crowd gathering during the sacrifices. In addition, he could only shave with a bronze razor, a material appropriate to the religious context.

However, it is not to be inferred from this all erroneous conclusion that this flamin’s body is something sanctified. The function and role were sacred – committing a ritual mistake resulted in the immediate deprivation of the flamin’s “power”. Moreover, the sanctified being is not the flamin but the marriage of the flamen; divorce meant the end of office. Therefore, since it is not the priest himself, but his function, that is important, he must constantly remind about it, for example by constantly wearing the apex (it was only very late allowed to remove this headdress at home). Citizens could touch the flamin, but the flamin should at the right moment use a “defensive gesture”, emphasize his otherness, and not merge and merge into one with the commoners.

Jupiter was the lord of oath and law, and so his priest must have benefited from it. Flamin of Jupiter was above the promises, he was under no obligation to make them. It was an expression of his necessary freedom as a servant of the lord of rights. To take an oath is nothing but a bond, and bonding is out of the question for the flamin, as it is out of the question for his divine patron. A symbol of this is also the lack of knots in Jupiter’s Flamin outfit – they are not on the apex, not on the waistband, and nowhere else. Flamin was not allowed to wear a ring unless it was interrupted and empty. He could not even touch and mention the blusch in his speech, because he “binds what he catches”; thus, he should also have avoided passing under the vine shoots.

Flamin was also limited by the ban on eating broad beans (due to the ominous connotation with death), he was forbidden to look, let alone touch the corpse; he could not even go to the burnt pyre or listen to the funeral music. It was because of the prohibition of burying a corpse in holy places, and yet the flamin sanctified every place with his presence.

Flamin of Jupiter constantly emphasized his separateness from other people. A different outfit, way of life, gestures, limitations, orders – all this created an aura of uniqueness around the flamin. An aura that belongs to god. Here we come to the function of the flamin in society (except, of course, the sacrificial and ritual functions). Being so different from society’s resta, the flamin was a duplicate (but not an incarnation, not a personification) of Jupiter, it was “evidence” of his presence. It can be called a statue displayed to a deity, a symbol of power, an illustration of the actions of the Sovereign of the Pantheon. This is what Plutarch says: “It is a natural consequence that the priest Jupiter, who is like an animated and sacred statue (!), Can also be approached as a refuge for prayers, from where nothing can deter or scare them away.” Flamin of Jupiter established the connection of the city with the world of the gods; he was the chosen one, not because of his individual character, but because of the functions he performed and the limitations that bound him.

Author: Juliusz Rakowski (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Beard M., North J. (red.), Pagan Priests, Wydawnictwo Duckworth Publishers, 1999
  • Andrea Giardina (red.), Człowiek Rzymu, Wydawnictwo Bellona, 1997

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