Glacia is seven years old and knows what she wants to do with her life—she wants to be a Vestal Virgin. She’s growing up in Republican Rome and hopes like hell that the Pontifex Maximus chooses her to join Team V.V. She tells us what it takes to be a Vestal Virgin and how important they are to Rome and Roman society.
“I want to be a virgin when I grow up!”
The humorous end to the tale her mother loved to tell. Those had been Glacia’s first words, according to Mom.
“So what if they were?” Glacia thought each time her mother told the story. It was true. She’d wanted to be a Vestal Virgin for as long as she could remember, and she was a whole seven years old—that was a long time.
There was an opening at the house of the Vestals—Vestal Headquarters, as Glacia like to call it—and soon the Pontifex Maximus would be calling twenty girls from which to choose the next flame-watcher.
A new Vestal was needed because one of the previous six had retired. If one had died, they could put almost anyone in. She didn’t even have to be a virgin. She could be a divorcee or a widow. And someone like that would be old anyway.
Glacia was lucky. She met the qualifications to be a Vestal and had parents who supported the choice. She wasn’t deformed like her friend Sinista—her left arm was all kinds of twisted, and a deformity was a reason for not being accepted. She wasn’t the daughter of former slaves like Serva down the road, and there wasn’t a scandal surrounding her mother’s profession like Forna had to deal with—the rumors about the oldest profession in the book swirled constantly around that family.
So, she was free, perfect in physical form, and from a good family. Check, check, check.
Plus, her father was supportive of the choice. A lot of fathers weren’t okay with their daughter taking up a thirty-year job that removed them from the marriage and child-bearing game. If she gave it too much thought, Glacia would wonder why her father wasn’t more upset about it, but she didn’t dwell on that. She wanted to be a Vestal Virgin. She hoped her father would be the first one to offer his daughter at the ceremony so she could get the VVV [Vestal Virgin Vacancy]. Nip the competition in the bud.
Glacia had a playdate with Forna and Serva that afternoon. She took her white robe and purple scarf so she could dress like a Vestal Virgin. Forna and Serva always wanted to dress the part, but Glacia reminded them they weren’t able to dress up like a Vestal since they couldn’t even be one.
Glacia couldn’t help but get excited at the prospect of finally achieving her dream. Once she was a Vestal, she’d be out from under the protection of her father and in the goddess’s service. Along with the five other VVs, she’d be a daughter of Rome. They conducted all the observances and duties the men couldn’t. Yep, men couldn’t do everything.
Vestal Virgins got all of the perks in society. Yes, they had to make sure the flame on the altar of Vesta never went out, but that was only part of what the role included. They made offerings to Vesta, goddess of hearth and home, by sprinkling water and purifying the shrine. They helped with tons of holy rites and ceremonies, were invited to all kinds of banquets, and got the best seats at public games and celebrations too.
The Vestal Virgins were literally untouchable, which Glacia liked as well. The Vestals were protected by guards, got carried around in a cart, and always had the right of way. Anyone who hurt them was put to death. She was going to be a deadly force! How cool was that?
She could own property and make a will. And she had the authority to pardon criminals, give evidence without an oath, keep both public and private documents safe because she’d be so trustworthy, pure, and esteemed…the perks just kept on coming….
But the rules were strict. There had been a Vestal not long ago that violated her vow of chastity and had been buried alive – sorta.
Romans couldn’t spill a Vestal’s blood or kill someone within the city so they put her in an underground room with some food and provisions to get around those technicalities. “She went willingly but a real Vestal Virgin would just kill herself if she committed such a horrible violation,” Glacia thought.
Glacia knew that if she was chosen to be a Vestal, it would be ten years of training, ten years of doing, and ten years of teaching the next generation. “Did it really take ten years to teach someone how to watch a flame?” she wondered.
It was THE flame, yes, but ten years? She wasn’t even ten years old yet!
Of course it would take that long. It was essential. Vesta needed the Vestals to keep the flame alive.
And Rome blamed the Vestals for everything that went wrong if and when a flame went out. Famine, weather, political strife – you name it, they bore the brunt. Even when the flame didn’t go out, the Vestals were blamed for not protecting the City. It was such an important job.
Thirty years was totally doable. She’d make her way through the novitiate, maybe even get to be the chief Vestal during her middle decade, and then teach the next group of girls. And she’d see her family again. Out and about in Rome. Each year during the festivals of Vesta, her mother could visit Vestal Headquarters too – like all of the other mothers in Rome. As long as she brought an offering.
Glacia knew that some Vestals even got married after they left the College of Vestal Virgins. I mean, they were in their thirties but the Pontifex Maximus had arranged the marriage before they took leave so it wasn’t like they had to get husbands of their own. Some of the retired Vestals didn’t marry and chose to be alone, living off their pensions. Glacia felt kind of sorry for them but it was forever until she’d have to worry about any of that.
Besides, who wouldn’t want to marry a former Vestal? Even if she was an old virgin?