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p540 Flamen

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on pp540‑541 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

FLAMEN, the name for any Roman priest who was devoted to the service of one particular god (Divisque aliis alii sacerdotes, omnibus pontifices, singulis flamines sunto, Cic. De Leg. II.8), and who received a distinguishing epithet from the deity to whom he ministered (Horum, sc. flaminum, singuli cognomina habent ab eo deo quoi sacra faciunt, Varro, De Ling. Lat. V.84). The most dignified were those attached to Diiovis, Mars, and Quirinus, the Flamen Dialis, Flamen Martialis, and Flamen Quirinalis. The two first are said by Plutarch (Num. c7) to have been established by Romulus; but the greater number of authorities agree in referring the institution of the whole three, in common with all other matters connected with the state religion, to Numa (Liv. I.20; Dionys. II.64 &c.). The number was eventually increased to fifteen (Fest. s.v. Maximae dignationis): the three original flamens were always chosen from among the patricians, and styled Majores (Gaius, I.112); the rest from the plebeians, with the epithet Minores (Fest. Majores Flamines). Two rude lines of Ennius (Varro, de Ling. Lat. VII.44) preserve the names of six of these, appointed, says the poet, by Numa, —

Volturnalem, Palatualem, Furinalem,
Floralemque, Falacrem et Pomonalem fecit
Hic idem . . . . .

to which we may add the Flamen Volcanalis (Varro, De Ling. Lat. V.84), and the Flamen Carmentalis (Cic. Brut. 14). We find in books of antiquities mention made of the Virbialis, Laurentialis, Lavinialis, and Lucullaris, which would complete the list; but there is nothing to prove that these four were Roman and not merely provincial priests.

It is generally stated, upon the authority of Aulus Gellius (XV.27), that the flamens were elected at the Comitia Curiata, and this was doubtless the case in the earlier times; but upon examining the passage in question, it will be seen that the grammarian speaks of their induction into office only, and therefore we may conclude that subsequently to the passing of the Lex Domitia they were chosen in the Comitia Tributa, especially since so many of them were plebeians. After being nominated by the people, they were received (capti) and installed (inaugurabantur) by the Pontifex Maximus (Liv. XXVII.8, XXIX.38; Val. Max. I.1 §2), to whose authority they were at all times subject (Liv. Epit. XIX, XXXVII.51; Val. Max. I.1 §2).

The office was understood to last for life; but a flamen might be compelled to resign (flaminio abire) for a breach of duty, or even on account of the occurrence of an ill-omened accident while discharging his functions (Val. Max. I.1 §4).

Their characteristic dress was the apex [Apex], the laena [Laena], and a laurel wreath. The name, according to Varro and Festus, was derived from the band of white wool (filum, filamen, flaxmen) which was wrapped round the apex, and which they wore, without the apex, when the heat was oppressive (Serv. Virg. Aen. VIII.664). This etymology is more reasonable than the transformation of pileamines (from pileus) into flamines (Plutarch, Num. 7). The most distinguished of all the flamens was the Dialis; the lowest in rank the Pomonalis (Fest. s.v. Maximae dignationis).

The former enjoyed many peculiar honours. When a vacancy occurred, three persons of patrician descent, whose parents had been married according to the ceremonies of confarreatio [Marriage], were nominated by the Comitia, one of whom was selected (captus), and consecrated (inaugurabatur) by the Pontifex Maximus (Tacit. Ann. IV.16; Liv. XXVII.8). From that time forward he was emancipated from the control of his father, and became sui juris (Gaius, I.130; Ulpian, Frag. X.5; Tac. Ann. IV.16). He alone of all priests wore the albogalerus [Apex] (Varro, ap. Gell. X.15); he had a right to a lictor (Plut. Q. R. p119, ed. Reiske), to the toga praetexta, the sella curulis, and to a seat in the senate in virtue of his office. This last privilege, after having been suffered to fall into disuse for a long period, was asserted by C. Valerius Flaccus (B.C. 209), the claim allowed, more, however, says Livy, in deference to his high personal character than from a conviction of the justice of the demand (Liv. XXVII.8; cf.  I.20). The Rex Sacrificulus alone was entitled to recline above him at a banquet; if one in bonds took refuge in his house, the chains were immediately struck off and conveyed through the impluvium to the roof, and thence cast down into the street (Aul. Gell. X.15): if a criminal on his way to punishment met him, and fell suppliant at his feet, he was respited for that day (Aul. Gell. X.15; Plut. Q. R. p166); usages which remind us of the right of sanctuary attached to the persons and dwellings of the papal cardinals.

To counterbalance these high honours, the Dialis was subjected to a multitude of restrictions and p541privations, a long catalogueº of which has been compiled by Aulus Gellius (X.15) from the works of Fabius Pictor and Masurius Sabinus, while Plutarch, in his Roman Questions, endeavours to explain their import. Among these were the following:—

It was unlawful for him to be out of the city for a single night (Liv. V.52); a regulation which seems to have been modified by Augustus, in so far that an absence of two nights was permitted (Tacit. Ann. III.58, 71); and he was forbidden to sleep out of his own bed for three nights consecutively. Thus, it was impossible for him to undertake the government of a province. He might not mount upon horseback, nor even touch a horse, nor look upon an army marshalled without the pomoerium, and hence was selected elected to the consulship. Indeed, it would seem that originally he was altogether precluded from seeking or accepting any civil magistracy (Plut. Q. R. p169); but this last prohibition was certainly not enforced in later times. The object of the above rules was manifestly to make him literally Jovi adsiduum sacerdotem; to compel constant attention to the duties of the priesthood; to leave him in a great measure without any temptation to neglect them. The origin of the superstitions which we shall next enumerate is not so clear, but the curious will find abundance of speculation in Plutarch (Q. R. pp114, 118, 164‑170), Festus (s.v. Edera and Equo), and Pliny (H. N. XVIII.30, H. N. XXVIII.40). He was not allowed to swear an oath (Liv. XXXI.50), nor to wear a ring "nisi pervio et casso", that is, as they explain it, unless plain and without stones (Kirchmann, De Annulis, p14); nor to strip himself naked in the open air, nor to go out without his proper head-dress, nor to have a knot in any part of his attire, nor to walk along a path over-canopied by vines. He might not touch flour, nor leaven, nor leavened bread, nor a dead body: he might not enter a bustum [Funus], but was not prevented from attending a funeral. He was forbidden either to touch or to name a dog, a she-goat, ivy, beans, or raw flesh. None but a free man might cut his hair; the clippings of which, together with the parings of his nails, were buried beneath a felix arbor. No one might sleep in his bed, the legs of which were smeared with fine clay; and it was unlawful to place a box containing sacrificial cakes in contact with the bed-stead.

Flaminica was the name given to the wife of the dialis. He was required to wed a virgin according to the ceremonies of confarreatio, which regulation also applied to the two other flamines majores (Serv. ad Virg. Aen. IV.104, 374; Gaius, I.112); and he could not marry a second time. Hence, since her assistance was essential in the performance of certain ordinances, a divorce was not permitted, and if she died the dialis was obliged to resign. The restrictions imposed upon the flaminica were similar to those by which her husband was fettered (Aul. Gell. X.15). Her dress consisted of a dyed robe (venenato operitur); her hair was plaited up with a purple band in a conical form (tutulus); and she wore a small square cloak with a border (rica), to which was attached a slip cut from a felix arbor (Fest. s.v. Tutulum, Rica; Varro, De Ling. Lat. VII.44). It is difficult to determine what the rica really was; whether a short cloak, as appears most probable, or a napkin thrown over the head. She was prohibited from mounting a staircase consisting of more than three steps (the text of Aulus Gellius is uncertain, but the object must have been to prevent her ancles from being seen); and when she went to the argei [Argei] she neither combed nor arranged her hair. On each of the nundinae a ram was sacrificed to Jupiter in the regia by the flaminica (Macrob. I.16).

After the death of the flamen Merula, who was chosen consul suffectus on the expulsion of Cinna (Vell. Pat. II.20; Val. Max. IX.12 §5), and who, upon the restoration of the Marian faction, shed his own blood in the sanctuary (B.C. 87), calling down curses on his enemies with his dying breath (Vell. Pat. II.22), the priesthood remained vacant until the consecration of Servius Maluginensis (B.C. 11) by Augustus, then Pontifex Maximus. Julius Caesar had indeed been nominated in his 17th year, but was never installed; and during the whole of the above period the duties of the office were discharged by the Pontifex Maximus (Suet. Jul. c1, compared with Vell. Pat. II.43, and the Commentators. See also Suet. Octav. 31; Dion Cass. LIV.36; Tacit. Ann. III.58. The last quoted historian, if the text be correct, states the interruption lasted for 72 years only).

The municipal towns also had their flamens. Thus the celebrated affray between Milo and Clodius took place while the former was on his way to Lanuvium, of which he was then dictator, to declare the election of a flamen (ad flaminem prodendum). After the deification of the emperors, flamens were appointed to superintend their worship in Rome and in all the provinces; and we find constantly in inscriptions such titles as Flamen augustalis; Flamen Tiberii Caesaris; Flamen D. Julii, &c., and sometimes Flamen Divorum Omnium (sc. imperatorum).

Flaminia, according to Festus and Aulus Gellius (X.15), was the house of the Flamen Dialis, from which it was unlawful to carry out fire except for sacred purposes.

Flaminia, according to Festus, was also a name given to a little priestess (sacerdotula), who assisted the flaminica in her duties.


Thayer's Note:

a Q. R. pp114, 118, 164‑170: There are in fact 4 passages, not 3, dealing with the Flamen Dialis in the Roman Questions: #40, #44, #50, #109‑113.


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