How Were Vestal Virgins Chosen?

During the late 8th century, Numa Pompilius ruled Rome (via Britannica). The second in a lineage of seven kings, King Numa ruled the Roman empire circa 715 to 673 B.C. During his reign, Numa is credited with creating a whole host of long-lasting ideas and institutions like a new calendar based on a 12-month year with each month including 30 days (via Roma Optima) and many new religious institutions and dogmas. Among those religious institutions Numa created, were the Vestal Virgins (Vestals).

A group of female priestesses who worshipped Vesta, the goddess of the hearth (via Women's History), the Vestal Virgins' main priority was keeping the sacred fire, which represented the hearths of Vesta, alight (via Vatican City Tours). For that incredible responsibility, the Vestal Virgins were considered to be high in the religious rankings of Ancient Rome, making them the only full-time female clergy (via World History). Allowed many luxuries not afforded to most women of the age, the Vestals also swore a vow of chastity lasting 30 years (via Women's History). According to World History, Vestals were permitted to marry after completing their 30 years of service, but most continued to remain faithful to the goddess Vesta.

Dying to be good

Not just any average Roman girl could qualify to be a Vestal virgin. According to Vatican City Tours, Vestals were hand-picked from what were considered the high-born, ruling class families of Rome, meaning that the potential Vestal had to be of freeborn parents (via Britannica). Vestal candidates were generally aged between 6 and 10 and had to be good physical and mental specimens; any kind of perceived defect disqualified a potential girl. Once selected by the high priest, the Vestal committed the next 30 years of her life to the goddess. Since only six vestals were keeping the flame alive at any given time (via Women's History) to be a Vestal was to be part of a truly exclusive club.

Interestingly enough, there were strict penalties for Vestals that broke any of their vows. According to Women's History, the sentence for breaking the vow of celibacy was being buried alive in a tomb. Roman writer Plutarch who lived from 45-120 A.D. described what happened to wayward Vestals this way: "she that has broken her vow is buried alive near the gate called Collina, where a little mound of earth stands (via World History)."  Other travesties used for punishments were being beaten, whipped, or even having molten lead poured down the throat. If a Vestal could avoid all these temptations, then a divine, inspired lifetime was available to her.