College of Pontiffs

College of Pontiffs

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The College of Pontiffs or Collegium Pontificum (see collegium
Collegium
A collegium may be:*collegium , a term applied to any association with a legal personality in ancient Rome....

) was a body of the ancient Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 state whose members were the highest-ranking priests of the polytheistic
Polytheism
Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals....

 state religion
Religion in ancient Rome
Religion in ancient Rome encompassed the religious beliefs and cult practices regarded by the Romans as indigenous and central to their identity as a people, as well as the various and many cults imported from other peoples brought under Roman rule. Romans thus offered cult to innumerable deities...

. The college consisted of the Pontifex Maximus
Pontifex Maximus
The Pontifex Maximus was the high priest of the College of Pontiffs in ancient Rome. This was the most important position in the ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC, when a plebeian first occupied this post...

, the Vestal Virgins, the Rex Sacrorum
Rex Sacrorum
In ancient Roman religion, the rex sacrorum was a senatorial priesthood reserved for patricians. Although in the historical era the pontifex maximus was the head of Roman state religion, Festus says that in the ranking of priests, the rex sacrorum was of highest prestige, followed by the flamines...

, and the flamines
Flamen
In ancient Roman religion, a flamen was a priest assigned to one of fifteen deities with official cults during the Roman Republic. The most important three were the flamines maiores , who served the three chief Roman gods of the Archaic Triad. The remaining twelve were the flamines minores...

. The College of Pontiff
Pontiff
A pontiff was, in Roman antiquity, a member of the principal college of priests . The term "pontiff" was later applied to any high or chief priest and, in ecclesiastical usage, to a bishop and more particularly to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope or "Roman Pontiff".-Etymology:The English term derives...

s was one of the four major priestly colleges, the others being of the augurs, the priesthood of the fifteen
Quindecemviri sacris faciundis
In ancient Rome, the quindecimviri sacris faciundis were the fifteen members of a college with priestly duties. Most notably they guarded the Sibylline Books, scriptures which they consulted and interpreted at the request of the Senate...

, and the seven feasters
Epulones
The epulones formed one of the four great religious corporations of ancient Roman priests. The two most important colleges were the College of Pontiffs and the augurs; the fourth was the quindecimviri sacris faciundis...

.

The title pontifex
Pontiff
A pontiff was, in Roman antiquity, a member of the principal college of priests . The term "pontiff" was later applied to any high or chief priest and, in ecclesiastical usage, to a bishop and more particularly to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope or "Roman Pontiff".-Etymology:The English term derives...

comes from the Latin for "bridge builder," a possible allusion to a very early role in placating the gods and spirits associated with the Tiber River, for instance. Also Varro cites this position as meaning "able to do".

The pontifex maximus was the most important member of the college. Until 104 BC, the pontifex maximus held the sole power in appointing members to the other priesthoods in the college.

The flamens were priests in charge of fifteen official cults of Roman religion, each assigned to a particular god. The three major flamens (flamines maiores) were the Flamen Dialis
Flamen Dialis
In ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Dialis was the high priest of Jupiter. There were 15 flamines, of which three were flamines maiores, serving the three gods of the Archaic Triad...

, the high priest of Jupiter
Jupiter (mythology)
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Jupiter or Jove is the king of the gods, and the god of the sky and thunder. He is the equivalent of Zeus in the Greek pantheon....

; the Flamen Martialis
Flamen Martialis
In ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Martialis was the high priest of the official state cult of Mars, the god of war. He was one of the flamines maiores, the three high priests who were the most important of the fifteen...

, who cultivated Mars
Mars (mythology)
Mars was the Roman god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter, and he was the most prominent of the military gods worshipped by the Roman legions...

; and the Flamen Quirinalis
Flamen Quirinalis
In ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Quirinalis was the flamen devoted to the cult of god Quirinus. He was one of the three flamines majores, third in order of importance after the Flamen Dialis and the Flamen Martialis....

, devoted to Quirinus
Quirinus
In Roman mythology, Quirinus was an early god of the Roman state. In Augustan Rome, Quirinus was also an epithet of Janus, as Janus Quirinus. His name is derived from Quiris meaning "spear."-History:...

. The deities cultivated by the twelve flamines minores were Carmenta
Carmenta
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Carmenta was a goddess of childbirth and prophecy, associated with technological innovation as well as the protection of mothers and children, and a patron of midwives...

, Ceres
Ceres (mythology)
In ancient Roman religion, Ceres was a goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships. She was originally the central deity in Rome's so-called plebeian or Aventine Triad, then was paired with her daughter Proserpina in what Romans described as "the Greek rites of Ceres"...

, Falacer
Falacer
Falacer, or more fully dīvus pater falacer, was an ancient Italian god, according to Varro. Hartung is inclined to consider him an epithet of Jupiter, since falandum, according to Festus, was the Etruscan name for "heaven."...

, Flora
Flora (mythology)
In Roman mythology, Flora was a goddess of flowers and the season of spring. While she was otherwise a relatively minor figure in Roman mythology, being one among several fertility goddesses, her association with the spring gave her particular importance at the coming of springtime...

, Furrina
Furrina
Furrina , was a Roman goddess. Her function in the Roman pantheon was mostly unknown at the time of Cicero.However, modern archaeological research has revealed some tenuous evidence that seems to indicate that Furrina was associated with water.Her antiquity is proven by the fact that she was one...

, Palatua
Palatua
Palatua was a Roman Goddess who was provided an official priest or flamen, the Flamen Palatualis, and was charged with guarding the Palatine Hill...

, Pomona
Pomona
Pomona was a goddess of fruitful abundance in ancient Roman religion and myth. Her name comes from the Latin word pomum, "fruit," specifically orchard fruit. She was said to be a wood nymph and a part of the Numia, guardian spirits who watch over people, places, or homes...

, Portunes
Portunes
In Roman mythology, Portunes was a god of keys, doors and livestock. He protected the warehouses where grain was stored...

, Volcanus
Vulcan (mythology)
Vulcan , aka Mulciber, is the god of beneficial and hindering fire, including the fire of volcanoes in ancient Roman religion and Roman Neopaganism. Vulcan is usually depicted with a thunderbolt. He is known as Sethlans in Etruscan mythology...

 (Vulcan), Volturnus
Volturnus
In Roman mythology, Volturnus was a god of the waters, probably derived from a local Samnite cult. His festival, Volturnalia, was held on August 27.The Volturno river in Campania is named in his honour....

, and two whose names are lost.

The Vestal Virgins were the only female members of the college. They were in charge of guarding Rome's sacred hearth, keeping the flame burning inside the Temple of Vesta. Around age 6 to 10, girls were chosen for this position and were obligated to perform the rites and obligations, including remaining chaste, for 30 years.

Membership


Membership in the various colleges of priests, including the College of Pontiffs, was usually an honor offered to members of politically powerful or wealthy families. Membership was for life, except for the Vestal Virgin
Vestal Virgin
In ancient Roman religion, the Vestals or Vestal Virgins , were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. The College of the Vestals and its well-being was regarded as fundamental to the continuance and security of Rome, as embodied by their cultivation of the sacred fire that could not be...

s whose term was 30 years. In the early Republic, only patricians could become priests. However, the “lex Ogulnia” in 300 BC opened up college to plebeians.

Until the 3rd century BC, the college elected the pontifex maximus from their own number. The right of the college to elect their own pontifex maximus was returned, but the circumstances surrounding this are unclear. This changed again after Sulla, when in response to his reforms, the election of the pontifex maximus was once again placed in the hands of an assembly of seventeen of the twenty-five tribes. However, the college still controlled which candidates the assembly voted on. During the Empire, the office was publicly elected from the candidates of existing pontiffs, until the Emperors began to automatically assume the title, following Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

’s example. The pontifex maximus was a powerful political position to hold and the candidates for office were often very active political members of the college. Many, such as Julius Caesar, went on to hold consul
Consul
Consul was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic and an appointive office under the Empire. The title was also used in other city states and also revived in modern states, notably in the First French Republic...

ships during their time as pontifex maximus.

Role in the Roman State


During the Regal Period
Roman Kingdom
The Roman Kingdom was the period of the ancient Roman civilization characterized by a monarchical form of government of the city of Rome and its territories....

 of Roman history, the pontiffs were primarily concilia (advisers) of the kings, but after the expulsion of the last Roman King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus
Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was the legendary seventh and final King of Rome, reigning from 535 BC until the popular uprising in 509 BC that led to the establishment of the Roman Republic. He is more commonly known by his cognomen Tarquinius Superbus and was a member of the so-called Etruscan...

 in 510 BC, the College of Pontiffs became religious advisers to the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

. As the most important of the four priestly colleges, the college of pontiffs’ duties involved advising the senate on issues pertaining to the gods, the supervision of the calendar and thus the supervision of ceremonies with their specific rituals, and the appeasement of the gods upon the appearance of prodigies.

One of their most important duties was their guardianship of the libri pontificales, or pontifical books. Among these were the acta, indigitamenta (lists of invocations or names of deities), ritualia, commentarii, fasti, and annales (yearly records of magistrates and important events). These items were under the sole possession of the college of pontiffs and only they were allowed to consult these items when necessary.

The lex Acilia bestowed power on the college to manage the calendar. Thus, they determined the days which religious and political meetings could be held, when sacrifices could be offered, votes cast, and senatorial decisions brought forth.

The College of Pontiffs came to occupy the Regia
Regia
The Regia was a structure in Ancient Rome, located in the Roman Forum. It was originally the residence of the kings of Rome or at least their main headquarters, and later the office of the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Roman religion. It occupied a triangular patch of terrain between the...

 (the old palace of the kings) during the early Republican Period
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

. They came to replace the religious authority that was once held by the king. A position, the Rex Sacrorum
Rex Sacrorum
In ancient Roman religion, the rex sacrorum was a senatorial priesthood reserved for patricians. Although in the historical era the pontifex maximus was the head of Roman state religion, Festus says that in the ranking of priests, the rex sacrorum was of highest prestige, followed by the flamines...

, was even created to replace the king for purposes of religious ceremonies.

When Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 became the official religion of the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, after the decree of Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 in 381, the Bishop
Bishop (Catholic Church)
In the Catholic Church, a bishop is an ordained minister who holds the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders and is responsible for teaching the Catholic faith and ruling the Church....

 of Rome
Diocese of Rome
The Diocese of Rome is a diocese of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy. The bishop of Rome is the Pope, who is the Supreme Pontiff and leader of the Catholic Church...

 (Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

) became the de facto governor of the city as the emperors had moved their administration to Constantinople
Constantinople
Constantinople was the capital of the Roman, Eastern Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and Ottoman Empires. Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Constantinople was Europe's largest and wealthiest city.-Names:...

. Around 440, Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I was pope from September 29, 440 to his death.He was an Italian aristocrat, and is the first pope of the Catholic Church to have been called "the Great". He is perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy...

 began using the title Pontifex Maximus to emphasize the civil authority of the Pope
Pope
The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, a position that makes him the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church . In the Catholic Church, the Pope is regarded as the successor of Saint Peter, the Apostle...

and the continuity of imperial power. The term "chief priests" in the New Testament (e.g. Mark 15:11) is translated as Pontifices in the Latin Vulgate and "high priest" as Pontifex in Hebrews 2:17, etc.

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