Vestal Virgins were six priestesses of the Roman goddess of the hearth, Vesta, in the state religion of ancient Rome. They tended the sacred fire in the shrine of Vesta in the Roman Forum and performed other rites associated with the goddess such as caring for the sacred objects in the shrine and inner sanctuary, preparing ritual food and officiating at public events during the yearly Vestalia, Vesta’s feast days (June 7-15).
The virgins were chosen between the ages of six and ten years old by the chief priest and had to serve for 30 years (during which time they, of course, had to remain chaste). Once their 30 years of service was completed they were free to marry but very few did as it was considered unlucky (since they had, essentially, been the brides of Vesta for most of their lives). If a Vestal Virgin failed in her duties she was severely beaten and the punishment for loss of virginity was being buried alive (though other, worse, punishments were sometimes given). Even so, the Vestal Virgins were honored by the community, had most of their needs provided for by temple tithes and were free of many of the restrictions Roman women had to endure.
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