Translation copyright 2000 Neil W. Bernstein; all rights reserved.

Concerning the rituals of the priest and priestess of Jupiter, including the words from the praetor’s edict in which he says he will not force either the Vestals or the priest of Jupiter to take oaths (1)

  1. Many ritual obligations are imposed on the priest of Jupiter, as well as many ceremonial states of abstinence. I read about them in the books entitled On Public Priests, as well as in Fabius Pictor’s first book (2).
  2. This is roughly what I remember from these sources:
  3. The priest of Jupiter is prohibited on religious grounds from riding a horse.
  4. He is also forbidden to see a body of citizens summoned for military service and ready for battle (that is, an armed military company) outside the pomerium (3). For this reason the priest of Jupiter was rarely made consul, as wars were decreed by consuls.
  5. It is also never permitted for the priest of Jupiter to swear an oath.
  6. He may not wear a ring unless it is perforated and plain.
  7. Fire cannot be be carried out from the flaminia (that is, the house of the priest of Jupiter) unless it is for a sacred ritual.
  8. A man in chains must be released if he enters the priest’s house. His chains must be carried through the impluvium (4), up to the rooftiles, and then sent down to the street outdoors.
  9. The priest has no knots in his woollen headdress, nor in the belt for his toga, nor in any other part of his clothes.
  10. If anyone being carried off to be beaten should fall at his feet as a suppliant, then it is an act that demands expiation for the person to be beaten on that day.
  11. Only a free man may cut the priest’s hair.
  12. It is not the priest’s custom to touch, nor to mention by name, a nanny-goat or uncooked meat or ivy or beans.
  13. He does not walk under vine shoots that have been stretched upwards.
  14. The feet of the couch in which he sleeps should be spread with a thin coating of clay. He does not sleep in any other bed for three nights in a row, nor may anyone else sleep on his couch. There should be a small box with a row of sacrificial cakes on the headboard of his couch.
  15. Cuttings from the priest’s fingernails and hair are buried in the earth under a fruitful tree.
  16. The priest observes a religious holiday every day.
  17. He may not be in the open air without his headdress. Masurius Sabinus wrote that the pontifices decided not long ago that the priest should be permitted to remove his headdress indoors. (5)
  18. Some other ritual obligations were said to be relaxed, and a dispensation was made for still others.
  19. He may not touch flour mixed with yeast.
  20. He does not take off his tunic except in covered buildings, in case he should be naked under the sky (as if under the eyes of Jupiter).
  21. No one else reclines above the priest of Jupiter at a banquet, except for the sacrificial priest. (6)
  22. If he has lost his wife, he resigns the office of priest.
  23. The priest’s marriage cannot be dissolved except by death.
  24. He never enters a place where a tomb is located, and he never touches a corpse.
  25. Nevertheless he is not prohibited on religious grounds from participating in a funeral procession.
  26. The priestess of Jupiter has roughly the same ritual obligations.
  27. They say that she observes others separate from the priest’s; for instance, she covers herself with a dyed robe.
  28. She has a sprig from a fruitful tree in her head scarf.
  29. She is prohibited on religious grounds from climbing more than three rungs on a ladder, except for those ladders which are called “Greek” (7).
  30. Also, she does not adorn her head or comb her hair when she goes to the Argei (8).
  31. I have written below the words of the Praetor from the Perpetual Edict (9) concerning the priest of Jupiter and the priestess of Vesta: “I will not force the priestess of Vesta and the priest of Jupiter to swear an oath in all my jurisdiction.”
  32. These are the words of Marcus Varro from the second book of his Divine Antiquities (10) concerning the priest of Jupiter: “Only he wears a white ceremonial cap, either because he is the chief priest, or because it is proper for white animals to be sacrificed to Jupiter.”


  1. See Gellius’ entry on the Vestals on this site (Gell. 1.12, tr. Lefkowitz and Fant). For the praetor’s edict, see note 9. 
  2. Quintus Fabius Pictor (3rd century BC) was the first Roman historian, used by Polybius and Livy.
  3. Pomerium: the religious boundary of the city of Rome; Gellius includes an essay on the meaning of the word pomerium and its history at Gell. 13.14.
  4. Impluvium: the opening in the roof of the atrium of a Roman house through which rain fell.
  5. Active in the first half of the first century AD, Masurius Sabinus was a prolific legal scholar; his book on civil law (Ius Civile) became the basis for legal commentaries by jurists of the later Empire. The college of pontifices interpreted sacred law and oversaw sacrifices, games, and festivals.
  6. The sacrificial priest (rex sacrificulus, rex sacrorum) took charge of the religious duties formerly discharged by the kings of Rome, such as sacrificing on the Kalends and announcing the days of festivals. He also celebrated the regifugium, a festival on February 24th recalling the expulsion of the kings from Rome.
  7. Greek ladders: Servius, Commentary on Vergil’s Aeneid, 4.646 repeats the prohibition against climbing non-Greek ladders, and adds that Greek ladders “are made so that they are closed on every side by the fastening of the planks, so that they do not permit any part of the body to be seen.” 
  8. Argei: A two-stage festival celebrated in Rome in May. On the 14th, the Argei (puppets made of straw) were thrown into the Tiber from the Pons Sublicius; on the 16th and 17th, there was a procession to the 27 shrines of the Argei throughout the city.
  9. The Perpetual Edict: Roman praetors had formerly issued edicts during their year in office which became part of civil law. Around AD 130, however, the emperor Hadrian commissioned a revised version of the edict, which acquired perpetual legal force once it was confirmed by the Roman senate.
  10. The Antiquities of Marcus Varro (116-27 BC) are no longer extant; the later books on religion discussed priesthoods, sacred places, times, rituals, and gods.

Permission is hereby granted to distribute for classroom use, provided that both Neil W. Bernstein and Diotíma are identified in any such use. Other uses not authorized in writing by the translator or in accord with fair use policy are expressly prohibited.