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Roman priests

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Temple of Vesta
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Priests (sacerdotes) kept the worship clean, kept prayer forms and lists of days (fasti). Being elected officials, they were organized into colleges (pontiffs, augures, haruspices) and fraternities (salii, luperci, fetiales). In private cults, the sacrifice was the father of the family, the presence of the priest was needed only for more important rituals (e.g. solemn weddings).

During the republic, the priestly college consisted of:

The head of the priests was pontifex maximus. During the republic, he was elected by tribunal commissions.
The emperor was the high priest in the empire. Only when faith in gods was displaced by the Messiah did things change. This title was first rejected by Emperor Gratian in 375 CE.
The place of meeting of the priests was Domus Regia at Forum Romanum.

The competencies of priests included:

  • setting holidays;
  • watching over the observance of specific rituals, rituals, formulas;
  • keeping a chronicle of the most important events (annales maximi);
  • directing the religious life;
  • preparing formulas of public prayers;
  • carrying out an act of cleansing a place touched by an extraordinary sign sent from heaven;
  • participation in the marriage ceremony;
  • making a will;
  • recording periods of office of individual consuls.

The priests were not some separate caste. They performed their functions for life. They enjoyed great respect in Roman society. Sometimes the respect they had was shown in an extremely prosaic way, for example in the best places in the theatre, amphitheatre or circus, as well as other places. During the rituals, they put on a toga praetexta and a pointed cap (apex).

Through Tarquinius the Proud, a college of priests quindecimviri sacris faciundis was established to oversee Sibilian Books and foreign cults.

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