By Dr Nigel Pollard
Last updated 2011-02-17
Early Roman religion
Many of the oldest Roman religious cults were associated with places, natural forces and aspects of everyday life. These included deities like the Lares and Penates - spirits of the household - and Ceres, who was connected with the grain harvest.
One of the most important of these old cults was that of Vesta, the goddess of the household hearth. From quite an early date her cult became a state one, and her circular temple in the Roman Forum contained a fire that represented the collective hearth of the Roman state.
This was tended by Vestal Virgins, six women chosen in childhood and bound to the cult for 30 years each. They lived in a communal house next to the temple. The courtyard of this house contained statues of some of the chief Vestal Virgins.
The image shown here depicts one such statue of a chief Vestal Virgin. It dates to the third century AD, late in the history of the cult.
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