Vesta, Roman Religion, Gender


The second-centrury B.C. historian Aulus Gellius recounts the ceremony by which a girl was inducted into the cult of the Roman goddess Vesta in his Attic Nights. A maiden between six and ten years of age and of aristocratic birth was selected from among her peers by the drawing of lots. The chief pontiff took her by the hand and declared, "I take thee, Amata, as one who has fulfilled all the legal requirements, to be priestess of Vesta, to perform the rites which it is lawful for a Vestal to perform for the Roman people, the Quirites." She was then considered to be "taken," emancipated from the control of her family and dedicated to service in the temple of Vesta for most of her life.