FLAMEN . The city of Rome presented itself as a community of people and gods, and the institution of the priesthood was necessary to mediate between those two spaces, to interpret the will of the gods and to ensure accuracy in the performance of rites. The flamines —etymologically, the "dispensers of the sacred" (Isidorus, Etymologiae 7.12.17)—were the sacerdotes of a particular deity (Cicero, De legibus 2.20). They stood in contrast to the pontiffs, who were learned men and men of law, and to other colleges of priests that acted in the name of the community.
The etymology of the word flamen is not clear. Based on the common etymology of the words flamen and brahman established by Georges Dumézil, Henri Le Bourdellès (1970) pointed out that the term—also recorded in the Messapic and Persian languages—designated the priest as invocator or minister of the word. But the functional duties of the Latin flamen and those of the Sanskrit brahman are far from similar, and the explanation that the Romans themselves offered for the term, relating it to the band of wool (filum ) that wrapped around the flamen's cap (Varro, De lingua Latina 5.84), has been defended by Jens H. Vanggaard (1988).
The literature speaks of fifteen flamines: three major ones (maiores ) and twelve minor ones (minores ). Several authors, such as Vanggaard (1988, pp. 105ff) and Domenico Fasciano and Pierre Séguin (1993, pp. 22–23), have challenged the traditional thesis that the flamines were the specific priests of a certain deity. Fasciano and Séguin point out that the term flamen was applied to the flamen of the Arvals (flamen Arvalium ) and to the priests of the thirty curiae into which archaic Rome was divided (flamines curiales ), suggesting that the twelve flamines minores represented, in some way, certain sectors of the population, while the three flamines maiores represented the people as a whole, as the common sacrifices to the goddess Fides (a symbol of Rome's "faith"), mentioned by Livy (1.21.4), would illustrate. Such a thesis would also be supported by the common invocation in the conclusion of a treaty by the college of the fetiales (Pol. 3.25.6) and in the formula of the devotio, the oath taken by a Roman general vowing his life to the gods of the underworld (Livy 8.9).
The differences between the flamines maiores (instituted by King Numa) and the flamines minores would be due, according to the traditional interpretation (after Georg Wissowa), to the various levels of importance of the gods each flamen served. Thus, the flamines maiores were in the service of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus, the archaic triad that, according to Dumézil, represented the trifunctional Indo-European ideology of sovereignty, war, and production (with parallels to a similar triad among the Umbrian peoples: Jovius, Mars, and Vofionus). But such an explanation was challenged by Vanggaard (1988, pp. 46ff), for whom this distinction should be understood in terms of social differences along patrician-plebeian lines. He also rejects the possibility that the flamines minores could be patricians. Vanggaard has pointed at the relationship between the flamines and certain family groups (gentes ), showing the predominance of the gens Cornelia and, in a secondary way, of the Postumius Albinus and the Valerius Flaccus families (Vanggaard, 1988, pp. 70ff).
Of the three flamines maiores, we know especially well the duties of the flamen Dialis thanks to the taboos (caerimoniae, castus ) to which he was subject. These were cataloged in the pontifical books at the end of the third century or the first half of the second century bce, and collected by the poet Aulus Gellius in the second century ce (Noctes Atticae, 10.15). One text from the Augustan antiquarian Verrius Flaccus, transmitted by Festus (198–200 L) in the second century ce places the priest of Jupiter at the head of the Roman priestly hierarchy, below the rex sacrorum and above the priests of Mars and Quirinus, who also outranked the pontifex maximus. The positions of rex (who is potentissimus ) and flamen Dialis (said to be the priest of the entire world: "universi mundi sacerdos ") represent the two types of sovereignty—warring and priestly—characteristic of Rome's "magical-religious" horizon. In the republican era, the more "political" figures of the magistrate and the pontiff replaced that pair (Marco Simón, 1996).
The cultic functions of the priest of Jupiter are well known: participating in the confarreatio marriage ceremonies (offering the couple the spelt bread that it would share), sacrificing a lamb to Jupiter on the day of the full moon (Idus ), introducing the yearly wine harvest (Vinalia ), and participating in the feast of Lupercalia on February 15. Together with the other two flamines maiores (the flamen Martialis and the flamen Quirinalis ), he partook in the sacrifice to the goddess Fides. The flamen Martialis supposedly partook of the holiday of the October Horse, and the flamen Quirinalis in several rituals—Quirinalia, Robigalia, Consualia, and Larentalia.
The restrictions imposed on the flamen (caerimoniae, castus ) defined his position. For the flamen Dialis —as for the virgins consecrated to Vesta—every day was holy (cotidie feriatus ) because he symbolized the "stability" of the city itself. Four types of prescriptions insured that stability (Marco Simón, 1996): (1) restrictions that ensured his basic freedoms, including the prohibition to swear oaths or to wear symbolic constrictions such as rings or knots on his clothes; (2) restrictions aimed at ensuring his constant presence in Rome (adsiduitas ), such as the prohibition from leaving his bed, which had to be in contact with the soil of the city, for more than three consecutive nights; (3) rules that established the symbolic role of the flamen Dialis in his double relationship with Jupiter (of whom he was a living image) and with society as a whole; and (4) restrictions that, because of the third category of rules, aimed at preventing contamination (pollutio ) of the flamen Dialis by animals or any elements associated with the underworld or the world of the dead.
The wife of the flamen Dialis (flaminica Dialis ) formed with him a sacred union that was an example to all Romans; it was unbreakable except by death, and she was under the same restrictions as her husband, according to Aulus Gellius (10.15.26), since she was the symbol for the fertility of Rome. She could not wash or comb her hair on certain dates that were associated with the Salian and Argean rites and with the cleaning of the Vestal temple.
One consequence of the taboos applied to the Jupiter priesthood (which prevented the priest from leaving Rome) was that the flaminate had little political appeal in comparison to other priesthoods, such as the augurate or the pontificate, which later served as stepping stones for political gain achieved through war. This led to a relaxation of the rules for the other two flamines, to whom, originally, the same restrictions had applied. This explains why the flaminate of Jupiter was vacant for seventy-five years after the suicide of Cornelius Merula in 87 bce (Appian, Bellum civile 1.74; Velleius Paterculus, Historiae Romanae 2.22.2). Young G. Julius Caesar apparently was nominated for the post in 86 bce, but he was never installed to it.
Only ten of the names of the twelve flamines minores are known. The first four were named after the most prominent gods: the flamen Carmentalis (Carmenta is a goddess associated with water and the human birthing process, destiny, and prophecy); the flamen Volcanalis (Volcanus is the god of celestial fire); the flamen Portunalis (Portunus is god of harbors and entrance ways), and the flamen Cerialis (Ceres is the goddess of growth and agriculture). The names of the last six flamines are known thanks to Ennius (in Varro, De lingua Latina 5.84); they served less eminent deities, associated especially with agriculture. They included the flamen Volturnalis (Volturnus is a deity associated with rivers and the wind); the flamen Palatualis (Palatua is probably the goddess of the Palatine and is identified with Pales); the flamen Furrinalis (Furrina is a goddess of wells and underground water), and the flamen Floralis (Flora is the goddess of the blossoming of wheat and orchards). The flamen Falacer was the only one bearing the same name as his god, not the adjective epithet. Finally, there was the flamen Pomonalis (Pomona is a goddess that protects orchards). Fasciano and Séguin (1993, pp. 141–146) suggest that the names of the two missing flamines minores were the flamen Neptunalis (Neptunus is the god of fresh water and humidity) and the flamen Fontinalis (Fons, or Fontanus, was the god of springs), whose deities were assimilated into Poseidon and the nymphs during the Hellenization of Roman religion.
In imperial times, the flamines were in charge of maintaining the cult of the emperor. The law that defined provincial priesthood in the Narbonensis province suggests that the statutes and prerogatives of the flamines were drafted following the model of the flamen Dialis (CIL XII 6038). These Augustal, municipal, and provincial flamines played an important role, since the imperial cult was a first-rate symbolic element in maintaining the political unity and cohesion of the vast and heterogeneous Roman Empire. The priests of the imperial cult received the title of flamines in the Hispanic provinces (Hispania Citerior, Lusitania, and Betica), in Gallia Narbonensis, the Maritime and Cottian Alps, Numidia, and the two Mauritanias (Caesarean and Tingitana), while the title sacerdotes (which is characteristic of the Flavian era,) prevails in the inscriptions of the altar of the Temple of the Three Gauls in Lugdunum (Lyons), and in the African provinces, Sardinia, and the Danubian region (Fishwick, 1987–2002).
Dumézil, Georges. Archaic Roman Religión. 2 vols. Translated by Philip Krapp. Chicago, 1970.
Fasciano, Domenico, and Pierre Séguin. Les flamines et leurs dieux. Montreal, 1993.
Fishwick, Duncan. The Imperial Cult in the Latin West: Studies in the Ruler Cult of the Western Provinces of the Roman Empire. 3 vols. Leiden, 1987–2002.
Le Bourdellès, Henri. "Le flamine et le brahmane: Nature de la fonction; étymologie." Révue des Études Latines 57 (1970): 69–84.
Liou-Gille, Bernadette. "César: 'Flamen Dialis destinatus.'" Révue des Études Anciennes 101, nos. 3–4 (1999): 433–499.
Marco Simón, Francisco. Flamen Dialis: El sacerdote de Júpiter en la religión romana. Madrid, 1996.
Porte, Danielle. Les donneurs de sacré: Le prêtre à Rome. Paris, 1989.
Vanggaard, Jens H. The Flamen: A Study in the History and Sociology of Roman Religion. Copenhagen, 1988.
Wissowa, Georg. Religion und Kultus der Römer. 2d ed. Munich, 1912. See especially pages 504–507.
Francisco Marco SimÓn (2005)
Translated from Spanish by Fernando Feliu-Moggi
flamen (flā´mĕn), in Roman religion, one of 15 priests, each concerned with the cult of a particular deity. The most honored were those dedicated to Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus.