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Flamen Dialis

In ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Dialis was the high priest of 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.[1]

Privileges and honors

The Flamen Dialis enjoyed many peculiar honours. When a vacancy occurred, three persons of patrician descent, whose parents had been married according to the ceremonies of confarreatio (the strictest form of Roman marriage), were nominated by the Comitia, one of whom was selected (captus), and consecrated (inaugurabatur) by the Pontifex Maximus.[2] From that time forward he was emancipated from the control of his father, and became sui juris.[3] He alone of all priests wore the apex,[4] he had a right to a lictor,[5] to the toga praetexta, the Sella Curulis, and to a seat in the Roman senate in virtue of his office. This last privilege, after having been suffered to fall into disuse for a long period, was asserted by C. Valerius Flaccus (209 BC), the claim allowed however, says Livy, more in deference to his high personal character than from a conviction of the justice of the demand.[6] The Rex Sacrificulus or Rex Sacrorum alone was entitled to recline above him at a banquet; if one in bonds took refuge in his house, the chains were immediately struck off and conveyed through the impluvium to the roof, and thence cast down into the street:[7] if a criminal on his way to punishment met him, and fell suppliant at his feet, he was respited for that day,[8] similar right of sanctuary attached to the persons and dwellings of the papal cardinals.


To counterbalance these high honours, the Dialis was subjected to many restrictions and privations, a long catalogue of which was compiled by Aulus Gellius[9] from the works of Fabius Pictor and Masurius Sabinus, while Plutarch, in his Roman Questions, endeavours to explain their import. Among these were the following:

It was unlawful for him to be out of the city for a single night;[10] a regulation which seems to have been modified by Augustus, insofar that an absence of two nights was permitted;[11] and he was forbidden to sleep out of his own bed for three nights consecutively. Thus, it was impossible for him to undertake the government of a province. He might not mount or even touch a horse, touch iron, or look at an army marshalled outside the pomerium, or be elected to the consulship. Indeed, it would seem that originally he was altogether precluded from seeking or accepting any civil magistracy;[12] but this last prohibition was certainly not enforced in later times. The Flamen Dialis was required to wear certain unusual garments, such as the apex, a point-tipped hat, and a laena, a heavy wool cloak.

The object of these rules was clearly to make him literally Jovi adsiduum sacerdotem (the constant priest of Jove(Jupiter)), to compel constant attention to the duties of the priesthood, and to leave him effectively without any temptation to neglect them. The origins of the following superstitions are not so clear, but there is speculation in Plutarch,[13] Festus,[14] and Pliny the Elder.[15]

He was not allowed to swear an oath,[16] nor to wear a ring nisi pervio et cass[clarification needed], that is, as they explain it, unless plain and without stones;[17] nor to strip himself naked in the open air, nor to go out without his proper head-dress, nor to have a knot in any part of his attire, nor to walk along a path over-canopied by vines. He might not touch flour, nor leaven, nor leavened bread, nor a dead body: he might not enter a burial place, but was not prevented from attending a funeral. He was forbidden either to touch or to name a dog, a she-goat, ivy, beans, or raw flesh. None but a free man might cut his hair; the clippings of which, together with the parings of his nails, were buried beneath a felix arbor. No one might sleep in his bed, the legs of which were smeared with fine clay; and it was unlawful to place a box containing sacrificial cakes in contact with the bedstead.

In the view of Dumézil, these prohibitions mark the Flamen Dialis as serving a heavenly god, with his attributes of absolute purity and freedom, but also wielder of lightning and kingship. Within in his scope of action there are the domains of political power and right, but not battle, which belongs to Mars. His solidarity with the king is reflected in that of his earthly counterpart, the rex, with the Flamen Dialis. Such a partnership has parallels in other Indo-European cultures, such as that of the Vedic rajan and his purohita and the ancient Irish rig and the chief druid.[18]

Flaminica Dialis

The Flaminica Dialis was the wife of the Flamen Dialis. She was required to be a virgin at the time of their wedding, which had to be conducted according to the ceremonies of confarreatio, the traditional form of marriage for patricians. (This regulation also applied to the marriages of the two other flamines maiores.)[19] The couple were not permitted to divorce, and if the flaminica died the Dialis was obliged to resign.

The assistance of the flaminica was essential in the performance of certain rituals. On each of the nundinae, she sacrificed a ram to Jupiter in the Regia.[20]

The flaminica was assigned a special ritual attire. Her hair was plaited up with a purple band in a conical form (tutulus), but when she went to participate in the ritual of the Argei, she neither combed nor arranged her hair.[20] The flaminica and the regina sacrorum were the only ones who might wear the hairdressing named (in)arculata.[clarification needed][21]

The flaminica wore a dyed robe (venenato operitur) and a small square cloth with a border (rica), to which was attached a slip cut from a felix arbor, a tree under the protection of the heavenly gods.[22] The rica may have been a short cloak, or less likely a sort of scarf or veil thrown over the head.

The restrictions imposed upon the flaminica were similar to those placed on her husband. She was prohibited from mounting a staircase consisting of more than three steps,[23] perhaps to prevent her ankles from being seen.[citation needed]

Holders of the office

The flamen Lucius Cornelius Merula was chosen consul suffectus on the expulsion of Lucius Cornelius Cinna,[24] and, upon the restoration of the Marian faction, shed his own blood in the sanctuary (87 BC), calling down curses on his enemies with his dying breath.[25] After his death the priesthood remained vacant until the consecration of Servius Maluginensis under Augustus, then Pontifex Maximus.

The exact date when Servius Cornelius Lentulus Maluginensis became Flamen Dialis is disputed. Dio 54.36 says it was about 11 BC, a date accepted by many modern scholars. But Tacitus Ann. 3.58 indicates that the date was 72 years after the suicide of Cornelius Merula (87 BC). Some modern translators (including Penguin's Rex Warner, but not Wood) change Tacitus to match Dio instead of vice versa, even though Tacitus is the more reliable historian. Gaius Stern asserts that Tacitus is probably correct, meaning that Maluginensis became Flamen Dialis while Lepidus was Pontifex Maximus (16/15 BC), so that Lepidus had to supervise his inauguration at Augustus' direction, possibly unwillingly.

Julius Caesar was nominated to be Flamen Dialis in 84 BC. Many scholars think he was not installed, although it seems unlikely that the Romans would allow a nominee to wait years without inauguration. When Sulla returned to Italy in 82, he proscribed Caesar and stripped him of his priesthood (which implies that he had indeed been inaugurated). No successor was selected. During the vacancy that followed (c. 82 to c. 16 or later), the duties of the office were discharged by others.[26]

This article is based on a portion of the article "Flamen" in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, in the public domain.


  1. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:20
  2. ^ Tacitus Ann. iv.16; Liv. xxvii.8
  3. ^ Gaius, i.130; Ulpian, Frag. x.5; Tac. Ann. iv.16
  4. ^ Varro, ap. Gell. x.15
  5. ^ Plutarch Q. R. p119, ed. Reiske
  6. ^ Liv. xxvii.8; cf. i.20
  7. ^ Aul. Gell. x.15
  8. ^ Aul. Gell. x.15; Plut. Q. R. p166
  9. ^ x.15
  10. ^ Liv. v.52
  11. ^ Tacit. Ann. iii.58, 71
  12. ^ Plut. Q. R. p169
  13. ^ Q. R. pp114, 118, 164‑170
  14. ^ s.v. Edera and Equo
  15. ^ H.N. xviii.30, H.N. xxviii.40
  16. ^ Liv. xxxi.50
  17. ^ Kirchmann, De Annulis, p14
  18. ^ G. Dumézil above It tr. Milan 1977 p. 146-8 and 31-2.
  19. ^ Servius, note to Aeneid iv.104, 374; Gaius, i.112
  20. ^ a b Macrobius i.16
  21. ^ Servius Ad Aeneidem IV 137; Paulus p. 237 L 2nd.
  22. ^ Festus, s.v. tutulum and rica; Varro, De lingua latina vii.44.
  23. ^ Aulus Gellius x.15.
  24. ^ Velleius Paterculus ii.20; Valerius Maximus ix.12 §5
  25. ^ (Vell. Pat. ii.22)
  26. ^ Suet. Jul. c1, compared with Vell. Pat. ii.43, and the Commentators. See also Suet. Octav. 31; Dion Cass. liv.36; Tacit. Ann. iii.58. The last quoted historian, if the text is correct, states the interruption lasted for 72 years only.