which glowed in the heart of great and cruel Rome.
It will not have escaped the attention of the thoughtful reader of Roman history
that the powers and prerogatives and distinctions of that great citizenship were
all derived. They came from the state. The Roman, according to his own theory,
was not great in himself, but great as a part of Rome. His rank came from Rome.
If a patrician, the senate gave him his prerogatives; if a public officer, he was
so because of election. That massive abstraction-the Roman government-which by
the constitution of the state was able to build the Eternal City, hurl armies
with restless force against the surrounding nations, dominate both sea and land,
and conquer the world, gave to each and all their relative distinctions in the
great fabric of Rome. How unlike the condition of the world since feudalism gave
to man his personal right and individual importance! It thus happened that Rome
gave liberty to the world, and feudalism freedom- liberty being the aggregate
name for the rights of man under a state, and freedom the name of those rights
which are derived from himself.
This general view of the constitution of Roman political society will serve to
explain the non-existence of a religious hierarchy in the state. Priests there
were in abundance, but they were officers of the government. Their right to be
priests was conferred by the state. Their sacred office gave them no power over
society beyond a certain general respect in which all the priests of the world
have had the good fortune to be held by secular society.
The deities of Rome had each a body of priests who served at the altars and
maintained the honor of their respective gods. There was a college of chief
hierarchs called the Pontifices, to whom was committed the general oversight of
the religious ceremonials of the city. Each deity had his own chief priest, known
as the Flamen, whose duty was, as indicated by the name, to kindle and attend the
altar-fires and manage the sacrifices and burnt offering. The great Flamen of
the city was the high-priest of Jupiter. He was called the Dialis, and was held
in the highest honor He and his house were exempt from all public duties, to the
end that his whole life might be devoted to the service of the altars of Jove. He
might not touch any thing unclean, or look upon the dead, or enter a cemetery.
When he passed, the workmen ceased from their toil until he was out of sight. So
great was his sanctity that the culprit who entered his house was free, and the
criminal on his way to execution was pardoned.
After the college of priests, the next body of celebrants was the Vestals. As the
name implies, they were the priestesses of Vesta, the house-goddess of the
Romans. It was their duty to keep burning, forever, the sacred fires on her
altars. They were required to live a life of blameless purity. Their term of
service was thirty years. In case of any lapse from virtue on the part of a
vestal she was walled up alive in a tomb. Like male hierarchs, the priestesses of
Vesta went abroad among the people, and by them were treated with the greatest
respect. In public they were attended by a lictor, and the populace stood in
respectful silence while they passed. To insult a vestal was an offense
punishable with death. At great festivals and celebrations in Rome the vestals
were honored like persons of the highest rank.
The general supervision of the priestesses belonged to the Pontifex Maximus, who
stood at the head of the religious affairs of the state. To him was referred the
decision of all questions relating to the orthodoxy of the national faith. This
high officer was originally the engineer of the city, having charge of the public
works, especially the bridges over the Tiber, and hence his title of pontifex.
The Roman calendar was in his charge, as was also the regulation of the annual
festivals. The public documents of the state were in the keeping of the
pontifices, and they thus became the first annalists or recorders in Rome. It was
their duty to decide in what manner the gods should be consulted and prayed to;
but of this branch of the ceremonial-namely, the consultation of the deities-
another body of the priests, called Augurs, had exclusive jurisdiction; that is,
the actual conduct of the service of augury or divination.
The belief in the possibility of knowing the