Flamen - Encyclopedia

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FLAMEN (from flare, " to blow up" the altar fire), a Roman sacrificial priest. The flamens were subject to the pontifex maximus, and were consecrated to the service of some particular deity. The highest in rank were the flamen Dialis, flamen Martialis and flamen Quirinalis, who were always selected from among the patricians. Their institution is generally ascribed to Numa. When the number of flamens was raised from three to fifteen, those already mentioned were entitled majores, in contradistinction to the other twelve, who were called minores, as connected with less important deities, and were chosen from the plebs. Towards the end of the republic the number of the lesser flamens seems to have diminished. The flamens were held to be elected for life, but they might be compelled to resign office for neglect of duty, or on the occurrence of some ill-omened event (such as the cap falling off the head) during the performance of their rites. The characteristic dress of the flamens in general was the apex, a white conical cap, the laena or mantle, and a laurel wreath. The official insignia of the flamen Dialis (of Jupiter), the highest of these priests, were the white cap (pileus, albogalerus), at the top of which was an olive branch and a woollen thread; the laena, a thick woollen toga praetexta woven by his wife; the sacrificial knife; and a rod to keep the people from him when on his way to offer sacrifice. He was never allowed to appear without these emblems of office, every day being considered a holy day for him. By virtue of his office he was entitled to a seat in the senate and a curule chair. The sight of fetters being forbidden him, his toga was not allowed to be tied in a knot but was fastened by means of clasps, and the only kind of ring permitted to be worn on his finger was a broken one. If a person in fetters took refuge in his house he was immediately loosed from his bonds; and if a criminal on his way to the scene of his punishment met him and threw himself at his feet he was respited for that day. The flamen Dialis was not allowed to leave the city for a single night, to ride or even touch a horse (a restriction which incapacitated him for the consulship), to swear an oath, to look at an army, to touch anything unclean, or to look upon people working. His marriage, which was obliged to be performed with the ceremonies of confarreatio, was dissoluble only by death, and on the death of his wife (called flaminica Dialis) he was obliged to resign his office. The flaminica Dialis assisted her husband at the sacrifices and other religious duties which he performed. She wore long woollen robes; a veil and a kerchief for the head, her hair being plaited up with a purple band in a conical form (tutulus); and shoes made of the leather of sacrificed animals; like her husband, she carried the sacrificial knife. The main duty of the flamens was the offering of daily sacrifices; on the 1st of October the three major flamens drove to the Capitol and sacrificed to Fides Publica (the Honour of the People). Some of the municipal towns in Italy had flamens as well as Rome.

We may mention, as distinct from the above, the flamen curialis, who assisted the curio, the priest who attended to the religious affairs of each curia; the flamens of various sacerdotal corporations, such as the Arval Brothers; the flamen Augustalis, who superintended the worship of the emperor in the provinces.

See Marquardt, Romische Staatsverwaltung, iii. (1885), pp. 32633 6, 473; H. Dessau, in Ephemeris epigraphica, iii. (1877); and the exhaustive article by C.Jullian in Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des antiquites.

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