A flamen was a priest of the ancient Roman religion who was assigned to one of fifteen deities with official cults during the Roman Republic. The most important three were the flamines maiores (or "major priests"), who served the three chief Roman gods of the Archaic Triad. The remaining twelve were the flamines minores ("lesser priests"). Two of the minores cultivated deities whose names are now unknown; among the others are deities about whom little is known other than the name. During the Imperial era, the cult of a deified emperor (divus) also had a flamen.

The fifteen Republican flamens were part of the Pontifical College which administered state-sponsored religion. When the office of flamen was vacant, a pontifex could serve as a temporary replacement, although only the Pontifex Maximus is known to have substituted for the Flamen Dialis, one of the flamines maiores.

History and etymology

By the time of the religious reformation of Augustus, the origins and functions of many of the long-neglected gods resident in Rome was confusing even to the Romans themselves. The obscurity of some of the deities assigned a flamen (for example Falacer, Palatua, Quirinus and Volturnus) suggests that the office dated back to Archaic Rome. Many scholars assume that the flamines existed at least from the time of the early Roman kings, before the establishment of the Republic. The Romans themselves credited the foundation of the priesthood to Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome. According to Livy, Numa created the offices of the three flamines maiores and assigned them each a fine robe of office and a curule chair.[1] The flamines were circumscribed by many taboos.

The origin of the word flamen is as obscure as are some of the assigned gods. Sophus Bugge suggested in 1879 that flamen is from an older *flădmen and related to the Germanic blót. Both would be derived from a Proto-Indo-European word *bhlād(s)men.[2] Indo-Europeanist Georges Dumézil attempted to link it to the Sanskrit word brahman.[3] This etymology is still controversial.


The official costume of a flamen, allegedly of great antiquity, was a hat called an apex and a heavy cloak called a laena. The laena was a double-thick wool cloak with a fringed edge, and was worn over the flamen's toga with a clasp to hold it around his throat.[4] The apex was a leather skull-cap with a chin-strap and a point of olive wood on its top, like a spindle, with a little fluff of wool at the base of the spindle.[5]

Flamines maiores

The three flamines maiores were required to be patricians:

  • The Flamen Dialis oversaw the cult of Jupiter, the sky deity and ruler of the gods.
  • The Flamen Martialis oversaw the cult of Mars, the god of war, leading public rites on the days sacred to Mars. The sacred spears of Mars were ritually shaken by the Flamen Martialis when the legions were preparing for war.
  • The Flamen Quirinalis oversaw the cult of Quirinus, who presided over organized Roman social life and was related to the peaceful aspect of Mars. The Flamen Quirinalis led public rites on the days sacred to Quirinus.

A fourth flamen maior was dedicated to Julius Caesar as a divinity (divus) of the Roman state.[6] Thereafter, any deceased emperor could be made divus by vote of the senate and consent of his successor, and as a divus he would be served by a flamen. The flamen's role in relation to living emperors is uncertain; no living emperor is known to have received official divine worship;[7] see Imperial cult.

A flamen could also be represented by a proflamen, or by a member without that title who could act as a substitute for the flamen (qui vice flaminis fungebatur).[8]

Flamines minores

Ara pacis fregio lato ovest 2 A
Flamines, distinguished by their pointed apices, as part of a procession on the Augustan Altar of Peace

The twelve flamines minores could be plebeians.[9] Some of the deities whose cult they tended were rather obscure, and only ten are known by name:

There were two other flamines minores during the Republican period, but the names of the deities they cultivated are unknown. The flamines minores seem mostly connected to agriculture or local cults. The change to an urban way of life may explain why these deities lost their importance or fell into oblivion.

The Floralis and Pomonalis are not recorded in calendars as their festivals were moveable. Some information exists for the ritual roles of the Portunalis in connection with the cult of the god Quirinus and Volcanalis in connexion with the cult of the goddess Maia on the Kalends of May.[10] Also preserved is the list of deities invoked by the flamen Cerialis when he officiated at sacrifices to the goddesses Ceres and Tellus.[11]

Scholars disagree about some differences among flamines maiores and minores. Some maintain the difference was not substantial.[12] Others, among them Dumézil,[13] believe that inherent differences lay in the right of the auspicia maiora and the ritual of inauguration that concerned only the maiores[14] by birth as farreati, that is, as children of parents married through the ritual of confarreatio, which was the form of marriage in turn required for maiores. The maiores also had the privilege of having calatores, assistants who carried out day-to-day business.[15] The difference would thus be akin to that between magistracies with imperium and those with potestas only.


  1. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:20
  2. ^ Hellquist, Elof. "blota". Svensk etymologisk ordbok, 1922.
  3. ^ 'The Sanskrit brahman... must derive, with reverse guna, from *bhelgh-men- or *bholgh-men-. The Latin flamen must derive from a neighboring form, *bhlagh-smen-, which, along with forms having the radical -el- or - ol-, presents the same shift'. Dumézil G.,(1940), Mitra-Varuna, trans. D. Coltman. New York: Zone Books, 1988, p.26;
  4. ^ Maurus Servius Honoratus, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil iv.262; Cicero Brutus 57.
  5. ^ Servius Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil ii.683, viii.664, x.270.
  6. ^ Caesar's first flamen was Mark Antony.
  7. ^ Caesar may have been granted an active flamen while living; the evidence is equivocal.
  8. ^ A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890) (eds. William Smith, LLD, William Wayte, G. E. Marindin).
  9. ^ Seindal, René. "flamines maiores". Retrieved 26 September 2016.
  10. ^ Fest. p.321 L1 s.v. "persillum"; Macrob. Sat. I,12, 18
  11. ^ The lost treatise De jure pontificio by Quintus Fabius Pictor had contained the list, which was in turn recorded by Varro and through Servius later preserved by Augustine in the De civitate Dei.
  12. ^ Kurt Latte, Roemische Religionsgeschichte 1960, pp. 36-37
  13. ^ G. Dumezil La religion romaine archaique Paris, 1974, Consideratons preliminaires, XI
  14. ^ Gaius 1, 112; Aulus Gellius 13, 15 quoting Messala De Auspicis; Festus p. 274-275 L2.
  15. ^ Fest. p. 354 L2; Jörg Rüpke, Religion of the Romans (Polity Press, 2007, originally published in German 2001), p. 227 online.

External links

Albert Flamen

Albert Flamen (c. 1620 – after 1669) was a Flemish engraver, painter, and tapestry designer. He was active in Paris, where he worked mainly as an illustrator on numerous publications.

Apex (headdress)

The apex (plural: apices) was a cap worn by certain priests, the flamines and Salii, in ancient Rome.

The essential part of the apex, to which alone the name properly belonged, was a pointed piece of olive-wood, the base of which was surrounded with a lock of wool. This was worn on the top of the head, and was held there either by fillets only, or, as was more commonly the case, was also fastened by means of two strings or bands, which were called apicula, or offendices, though the latter word is also interpreted to mean a kind of button, by which the strings were fastened under the chin.The flamines were forbidden by law to go into public, or even into the open air without the apex, and hence we find the expression of alicui apicem dialem imponere used as equivalent to the appointment of a Flamen Dialis. Sulpicius was deprived of the priesthood, only because the apex fell from his head whilst he was sacrificing.Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes the cap as being of a conical form. On ancient monuments we see it round as well as conical.

The Albogalerus, or albus galerus was a white cap worn by the flamen dialis, made of the skin of a white victim sacrificed to Jupiter, and had the apex fastened to it by means of an olive-twig.From apex was formed the epithet apicatus, applied to the flamen dialis by Ovid.

Arval Brethren

In ancient Roman religion, the Arval Brethren (Latin: Fratres Arvales, "Brothers of the Fields") or Arval Brothers were a body of priests who offered annual sacrifices to the Lares and gods to guarantee good harvests. Inscriptions provide evidence of their oaths, rituals and sacrifices.

College of Pontiffs

The College of Pontiffs (Latin: Collegium Pontificum; see collegium) was a body of the ancient Roman state whose members were the highest-ranking priests of the state religion. The college consisted of the Pontifex Maximus and the other pontifices, the Rex Sacrorum, the fifteen flamens, and the Vestals. The College of Pontiffs was one of the four major priestly colleges; originally their responsibility was limited to supervising both public and private sacrifices, but as time passed their responsibilities increased. The other colleges were the augurs (who read omens), the quindecimviri sacris faciundis ("fifteen men who carry out the rites"), and the Epulones (who set up feasts at festivals).

The title pontifex 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, the high priest of Jupiter; the Flamen Martialis, who cultivated Mars; and the Flamen Quirinalis, devoted to Quirinus. The deities cultivated by the twelve flamines minores were Carmenta, Ceres, Falacer, Flora, Furrina, Palatua, Pomona, Portunus, Volcanus (Vulcan), Volturnus, 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 required to perform the rites and obligations, including remaining chaste, for 30 years.


In ancient Rome, confarreatio was a traditional patrician form of marriage. The ceremony involved the bride and bridegroom sharing a cake of spelt, in Latin far or panis farreus, hence the rite's name. The Flamen Dialis and Pontifex Maximus presided over the wedding, and ten witnesses had to be present. The woman passed directly from the hand (manus) of her father or head of household (the paterfamilias) to that of her new husband.Having parents who were married by confarreatio was a prerequisite for becoming a Vestal or the Flamen Dialis. Confarreatio seems to have been limited to those whose parents were also married by confarreatio, but later, perhaps with the rise of plebeian nobiles, this requirement must have been relaxed. Scipio Africanus presumably married his wife Aemilia Tertia by confarreatio, because their elder son was Flamen Dialis; yet Scipio's mother Pomponia was a plebeian.

Divorce for confarreatio marriages, diffarreatio, was a difficult process and therefore rare. Not much is known about how diffarreatio was carried out except that there was a special type of sacrifice that caused the dissolution of the relationship between the man and woman. She would then pass back into the manus of her paterfamilias.

Originally, the confarreatio was indissoluble, and this remained true of the marriage of the Flamen Dialis. The other two major flamines, the Flamen Martialis and the Flamen Quirinalis, were also required to marry by confarreatio. The three major flamines were also required to marry virgins; further, if the wife of the Flamen Dialis died, he was immediately required to resign. It is not clear if this was true of the other priests.


The epulones (Latin epulōnēs, sing. epulō; "feasters") arranged feasts and public banquets at festivals and games (ludi) They constituted one of the four great religious corporations (quattuor amplissima collegia) of ancient Roman priests.

Flamen Dialis

In ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Dialis was the high priest of Jupiter. The term Dialis derives from Diespiter, the Italic equivalent to Jupiter. There were 15 flamines, of which three were flamines maiores, serving the three gods of the Archaic Triad. According to tradition the flamines were forbidden to touch metal, ride a horse, or see a corpse.

The office of Flamen Dialis, and the offices of the other flamines maiores, were traditionally said to have been created by Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome, although Numa himself performed many of the rites of the Flamen Dialis.

Flamen Divi Julii

In Roman Imperial cult, the flamen Divi Julii or flamen Divi Iulii, was the priest of the divinised Julius Caesar, and the fourth of the so-called flamines maiores (the archpriests of the Roman flaminates) to be created. The new flaminate was established in by the Roman senate in 42 BC, as part of Caesar's consecration as a divus (divinity of the Roman State) two years after his assassination. Caesar had, in his lifetime, been the recipient of unofficial, divine cult from his supporters, and had designated Mark Antony to serve as his priest. Caesar's cult continued after his death, and in 40 BC, the senate confirmed Antony as the first flamen Divi Iulii.

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 flamens. The Flamen Martialis would have led public rites on the days sacred to Mars. Among his duties was the ritual brandishing of the sacred spears of Mars when the Roman army was preparing for war.

Like other flamines maiores, the high priest of Mars was a patrician and required to marry through the ceremony of confarreatio. It is not clear whether the death of his wife required him to resign his duties, as was the case for the Flamen Dialis.

Flamen Quirinalis

In ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Quirinalis was the flamen or high priest of the god Quirinus. He was one of the three flamines maiores, third in order of importance after the Flamen Dialis and the Flamen Martialis. Like the other two high priests, he was subject to numerous ritual taboos, such as not being allowed to touch metal, ride a horse, or spend the night outside Rome.

The theology of Quirinus is complex and difficult to interpret. From early times, he was identified with the deified Romulus, who originally seems to have shared some common theological and mythological elements with Quirinus.

List of Roman deities

The Roman deities most familiar today are those the Romans identified with Greek counterparts (see interpretatio graeca), integrating Greek myths, iconography, and sometimes religious practices into Roman culture, including Latin literature, Roman art, and religious life as it was experienced throughout the Empire. Many of the Romans' own gods remain obscure, known only by name and sometimes function, through inscriptions and texts that are often fragmentary. This is particularly true of those gods belonging to the archaic religion of the Romans dating back to the era of kings, the so-called "religion of Numa", which was perpetuated or revived over the centuries. Some archaic deities have Italic or Etruscan counterparts, as identified both by ancient sources and by modern scholars. Throughout the Empire, the deities of peoples in the provinces were given new theological interpretations in light of functions or attributes they shared with Roman deities.

An extensive alphabetical list follows a survey of theological groups as constructed by the Romans themselves. For the cult pertaining to deified Roman emperors (divi), see Imperial cult.

Marcus Popillius Laenas

Marcus Popillius Laenas was a four-time consul of the Roman Republic. In the year (according to Varro) 359 BC, he defeated a Gallic army.

Near the end of his consulship with Gnaeus Manlius Capitolinus Imperiosus, the Tarquinians invaded the Roman territories on the Etruscan border, if this Gallic war took place 30 years after the occupation of Rome by the Gauls (in 386/5 BC). Dio Cassius apparently identifies this war with the one in Camillus's fifth dictatorship when the election of the consuls was resumed. Those events took place in 364 BC, about a decade earlier, according to Livy.He is named by Cicero as Flamen Carmentalis, the flamen of Carmenta, in 359 BC.

Pontifex maximus

The Pontifex Maximus or pontifex maximus (Latin, "greatest priest") was the chief high priest of the College of Pontiffs (Collegium Pontificum) 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. A distinctly religious office under the early Roman Republic, it gradually became politicized until, beginning with Augustus, it was subsumed into the Imperial office. Its last use with reference to the emperors is in inscriptions of Gratian (reigned 375–383) who, however, then decided to omit the words "pontifex maximus" from his title. Although in fact the most powerful office of Roman priesthood, the pontifex maximus was officially ranked fifth in the ranking of the highest Roman priests (ordo sacerdotum), behind the rex sacrorum and the flamines maiores (Flamen Dialis, Flamen Martialis, Flamen Quirinalis).The word "pontifex" and its derivative "pontiff" later became terms used for Catholic bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, and the title of "Pontifex Maximus" was applied within the Catholic Church to the Pope as its chief bishop and appears on buildings, monuments and coins of popes of Renaissance and modern times. The official list of titles of the Pope given in the Annuario Pontificio includes "Supreme Pontiff" (in Latin, Summus Pontifex) as the fourth title, the first being "Bishop of Rome"..

Portunus (mythology)

Portunus was the ancient Roman god of keys, doors, livestock and ports. He may have originally protected the warehouses where grain was stored, but later became associated with ports, perhaps because of folk associations between porta "gate, door" and portus "harbor", the "gateway" to the sea, or because of an expansion in the meaning of portus. Portunus later became conflated with the Greek Palaemon.

Portunus' festival, celebrated on August 17, the sixteenth day before the Kalends of September, was the Portunalia, a minor occasion in the Roman year. On this day, keys were thrown into a fire for good luck in a very solemn and lugubrious manner. His attribute was a key and his main temple in the city of Rome, the Temple of Portunus, was to be found in the Forum Boarium.

Portunus appears to be closely related to the god Janus, with whom he shares many characters, functions and the symbol of the key. He too was represented as a two headed being, with each head facing opposite directions, on coins and as figurehead of ships. He was considered to be "deus portuum portarumque praeses" (lit. God presiding over ports and gates.) The relationship between the two gods is underlined by the fact that the date chosen for the dedication of the rebuilt temple of Janus in the Forum Holitorium by emperor Tiberius is the day of the Portunalia, August 17.Linguist Giuliano Bonfante has speculated, on the grounds of his cult and of the meaning of his name, that Portunus should be a very archaic deity and might date back to an era when Latins lived in dwellings built on pilings. He argues that in Latin the words porta (door, gate) and portus (harbour, port) share their etymology from the same IE root meaning ford, wading point.

Portunus' flamen, the flamen Portunalis, was one of the flamines minores and performed the ritual of oiling the spear (hasta) on the statue of god Quirinus, with an ointment especially prepared for this purpose and stored in a small vase (persillum).

Quindecimviri sacris faciundis

In ancient Rome, the quindecimviri sacris faciundis were the fifteen (quindecim) members of a college (collegium) with priestly duties. Most notably they guarded the Sibylline Books, scriptures which they consulted and interpreted at the request of the Senate. This collegium also oversaw the worship of any foreign gods which were introduced to Rome.

Originally these duties had been performed by duumviri (or duoviri), two men of patrician status. Their number was increased to ten by a Licinio-Sextian law in 367 BC, which also required for half of the priests to be plebs. During the Middle Republic, members of the college were admitted through co-option.

At some point in the third century BC, several priesthoods, probably including the quindecimviri, began to be elected through the voting tribes.

Rex Sacrorum

In ancient Roman religion, the rex sacrorum ("king of the sacred", also sometimes rex sacrificulus) 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 the highest Roman priests (ordo sacerdotum), the rex sacrorum was of highest prestige, followed by the flamines maiores (Flamen Dialis, Flamen Martialis, Flamen Quirinalis) and the pontifex maximus. The rex was based in the Regia.During the Roman Republic, the rex sacrorum was chosen by the pontifex maximus from a list of patricians submitted by the College of Pontiffs. A further requirement was that he be born from parents married through the ritual of confarreatio, which was also the form of marriage he himself had to enter. His wife, the regina sacrorum, also performed religious duties specific to her role. Marriage was thus such a fundamental part of the priesthood that if the regina died, the rex had to resign. The Rex was above the Pontifex Maximus although he was more or less a powerless figurehead.

The rex sacrorum wore a toga, the undecorated soft "shoeboot" (calceus), and carried a ceremonial axe; as a priest of archaic Roman religion, he sacrificed capite velato, with head covered. The rex held a sacrifice on the Kalends of each month. On the Nones, he announced the dates of festivals for the month. On March 24 and May 24, he held a sacrifice in the Comitium.The rex sacrorum was a feature of Italic religion and possibly also Etruscan. The title is found in Latin cities such as Lanuvium, Tusculum, and Velitrae. At Rome the priesthood was deliberately depoliticized; the rex sacrorum was not elected, and his inauguration was merely witnessed by a comitia calata, an assembly called for the purpose. Like the flamen Dialis but in contrast to the pontiffs and augurs, the rex was barred from a political and military career. He was thus not a "decayed king"; rather, after the overthrow of the kings of Rome, the office of rex sacrorum fulfilled at least some of the sacral duties of kingship, with the consuls assuming political power and military command, as well as some sacral functions. It is a matter of scholarly debate as to whether the rex sacrorum was created during the formation of the Republic, as Arnaldo Momigliano argued, or had existed in the Regal period. Another Roman priest given the title "king" was the rex Nemorensis.

Sextus Julius Caesar

Sextus Julius Caesar was the name of several Roman men of the Julii Caesares. Sextus was one of three praenomina used by the Julii Caesares, the others being Lucius and Gaius, the latter being the praenomen of the most famous Julius Caesar.

Sodales Augustales

The Sodales or Sacerdotes Augustales (singular Sodalis or Sacerdos Augustalis), or simply Augustales, were an order (sodalitas) of Roman priests instituted by Tiberius to attend to the maintenance of the cult of Augustus and the Julii. Their establishment in 14 A.D. was described by Tacitus in his first book of the Annales.

The sodales were chosen by lot among the principal persons of Rome, and were twenty one in number, to which were added Tiberius, Drusus, Claudius and Germanicus, as members of the imperial family. Women might be appointed priestesses of Augustus, a practice probably originating in the appointment of Livia by a decree of the Senate as priestess to her deceased husband. A flamen could also be a member of the Augustales.These senatorial sodales Augustales and the widely known municipal seviri Augustales were, as Linderski put it, “two vastly dissimilar organizations sharing a similar name”.


In Roman mythology, Volturnus was a god of the Tiber, and may have been the god of all rivers. He had his own minor flamen, and a high priest, the Flamen Volturnalis. His festival, Volturnalia, was held on August 27.

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