THE ROLE OF THE VESTAL VIRGINS IN ROMAN CIVIC RELIGION A Structuralist Study of the crimen incesti

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This study introduces a question, somewhat disregarded or discounted in recent years, regarding the link between the Vestals and early Christian consecrated virgins. In a political interpretation of the ancient Roman virginity cult, this work demonstrates that female virginity was understood by both Christian and non-Christian Romans as a symbolic analogue of the securely intact body politic.


“Lindsay Thompson’s contribution in this pathbreaking study is to frame the issues and facts of [vestal virgins’] lives in such a way as to allow us to know what we can know in a way that does more justice to them, their families, and their culture.” – James J. O’Donnell Provost, Georgetown University

“The author explores the impact of Christian religious history on contemporary attitudes toward human bodies, attitudes internalized over the full duration of human history. . . . The text is rich with references to primary sources and familiar names from the early Patristic period, including Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine.” – Prof. Sharon Kanis, College of Notre Dame of Maryland

Table of Contents

Foreword by James J. O’Donnell
1. Interpreting Culture
Historical Consciousness and Historiography
Human Experience and Cultural Structures of Meaning
The Body as a Political Site and Symbol
Embodiment and Cultural Structures of Meaning
Embodiment and Cultural Identity
The Body as a Political Paradigm
Gender and Culture
Sex as Category of Social Differentiation
2. Roman Civic Religion
Roman Marriage, Family, and Gender Relations
The Roman Family
Roman Gender Relations
Roman Civic Identity: Romanitas
Roman Religion
3. Roman Myth and Ritual
Structural Elements of Roman Myth and Ritual Cult Symbols and Themes
Roman Religious Sensibility
4. Roman Virginity and the Vestal Cult
Ancient Texts
Archaeological Record
General Features of the Vestal Cult
Language of the Vestal Cult
5. Vestal Mythology
Mythic Narratives
Vestal Themes and Images
Vestal Characters and Relationships
Vestal Sexuality and Gender
6. The Vestal Ritual Tradition
Rituals of the Vestal Cult
The Vestal Role in Roman Civic Cult Observance
Ritual Patterns of the Crimen Incesti
The crimen incestiRitual as Sacrificial Purification
The crimen incesti Ritual as Heroic Ordeal
7. Interpreting Vestal Virginity
Virginity in the Late Antique Political Imagination
What Happened to the Vestals?
Concluding Thoughts
Bibliography of Primary Sources
Bibliography of Secondary Sources

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