Pontifex Optimus Maximus: The Office of Pontifex Maximus from the Middle Republic to Caesar

Timothy Hamlyn (2010). Pontifex Optimus Maximus: The Office of Pontifex Maximus from the Middle Republic to Caesar MPhil Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Timothy Hamlyn
Thesis Title Pontifex Optimus Maximus: The Office of Pontifex Maximus from the Middle Republic to Caesar
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-08
Thesis type MPhil Thesis
Total pages 123
Total black and white pages 123
Subjects 21 History and Archaeology
Abstract/Summary This thesis examines the role played by the pontifex maximus within the Roman state from the middle to late Republic. This priest was not the head of the public cult and there were many limitations to his authority. His priesthood was, however, the most prestigious in this period and the chief pontiffs were invariably leading members of the aristocracy. There were some common attributes among those who attained the chief pontificate, such as legal expertise and personal popularity. Indeed, the latter was sometimes a decisive factor at the elections for the priesthood. The pontifex maximus’ main characteristic was a concern for the upholding of tradition and religious propriety. On many occasions, a chief pontiff used his disciplinary powers in matters related to his college, which generally involved the rex sacrorum, a flamen maior or Vestal Virgin. Often his actions had the effect of regulating the behaviour of members of the elite, and in such cases the chief pontificate can be interpreted as one of the safeguards against discord and instability within the state. For those incidents that centred on the Vestals, the pontifex maximus can be seen as protecting the welfare and very existence of Rome itself. The role of the priesthood underwent a radical change during the time Caesar held it. Caesar was not dissimilar to his predecessors as pontifex maximus in many ways and he showed a great interest in and respect for religion. Nevertheless, he did not allow himself to be bound by tradition when it did not serve his interests. After he was victorious in the Civil War and became master of Rome, he set about establishing an autocratic government, the two foundation stones of which were to be the chief pontificate and the dictatorship. The inspiration and justification for this stemmed from Caesar’s mythical heritage and the numerous links it provided to key institutions at Rome, including the Vestal Virgins, who were considered of crucial importance. Caesar forged closer ties to these priestesses as part of his efforts to portray himself as being integral to the safety and welfare of the state. Since Caesar’s measures were copied, modified and, in a few instances, avoided by Augustus, Caesar played a critical part in the formation of the Principate.
Keyword pontifex maximus
Vestal Virgins
rex sacrorum

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Created: Thu, 28 Oct 2010, 16:34:29 EST by Mr Timothy Hamlyn on behalf of Library - Information Access Service