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Who were the Vestal Virgins, and what was their job? - Peta Greenfield

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In ancient Rome, Vestal Virgins were tasked with keeping vigil over the flame of Vesta, the virgin goddess of the hearth. The flame represented two things: the continuation of Rome as a power in the world and the continuing virginity of Vesta’s priestesses. But what was life really like for these Vestal Virgins? Peta Greenfield goes back in time to find out.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Peta Greenfield
  • Director Tolga Yildiz, Serin Inan
  • Art Director Tolga Yildiz
  • Producer Serin Inan
  • Illustrator Pelin Maravent
  • Character Designer Pelin Maravent
  • Animator Tuncay Cetin
  • Sound Designer Stephen Eugene Larosa
  • Composer Stephen Eugene Larosa
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
Was Licinia a real Vestal Virgin? The character of Licinia in this video is an imagined figure rather than a specific historical priestess. Her life and career, however, are based upon historical sources. This video is based upon evidence from the late republican and early imperial periods (c 150 BCE – 100 CE).

Vestals were selected between the ages of six and ten: Aulus Gellius Noctes AtticaeVestals served for a minimum of thirty years: Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman AntiquitiesVestals were considered ‘in training’ for the first ten years of their service: Plutarch Life of Numa
There were a few Vestal Virgins we know of who were called Licinia.

In 123 BCE, a Vestal named Licinia dedicated a shrine to the goddess Bona Dea. The shrine was the source of some controversy according to Cicero de Domo sua 136-137
Perhaps the most infamous Vestal Licinia is the one who went on trial for incestum in 114/113 BCE. She was initially acquitted, but in an unusual case of a re-trial, she was subsequently found guilty. Some ancient sources that refer to this case are: Macrobius 1.10.5-6, Livy Periochae 63; Cicero Brutus 160.
We know of another Vestal Virgin Licinia c. 73 BCE who is also accused of incestum, but after investigation, this Licinia is fortunately found not guilty! For more on this Licinia, see Plutarch Lifeplutarch life of of Crassus 1.2
Would you like to learn more about the Vestal Virgins? This source retells part of the history related to Vestal Virgins from the perspective of imagined characters. It cites lots of ancient sources to support its claims. For an archaeological overview of the history of the site of the temple of Vesta, look here

You can delve a little deeper by listening to the following episodes from The Partial Historians podcast, which Peta Greenfield co-hosts with Fiona Radford.

Finally, the following scholarly publications add to our understanding of the Vestal Virgins and the role of other women in priestly activity in ancient Rome. These sources are academic texts written by experts in the field of Ancient History and Classics. 

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About TED-Ed Originals

TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed original? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Peta Greenfield
  • Director Tolga Yildiz, Serin Inan
  • Art Director Tolga Yildiz
  • Producer Serin Inan
  • Illustrator Pelin Maravent
  • Character Designer Pelin Maravent
  • Animator Tuncay Cetin
  • Sound Designer Stephen Eugene Larosa
  • Composer Stephen Eugene Larosa
  • Associate Producer Jessica Ruby
  • Content Producer Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Narrator Susan Zimmerman

Share

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