The duties of the Flamen Dialis

Readers of Lindsay Davis’ “Falco” detective novels, set in Vespasian’s Rome, will remember One Virgin too many.  This novel was the last good one in the series, after which they deteriorated.  It featured murders in the family of the Flamen Dialis, the priest of Jupiter in the state cults.  Much is made of the restrictions on the holder of the office.

While reading Aulus Gellius Attic Nights today — an easy book to dip in and out of, for an invalid of classical tastes — , in book 10, chapter 15, I stumbled across what is probably the source for all that information.  Here it is, from the Loeb translation.  Note that the chapter heading is ancient and authorial.  All of the sources referenced are lost today.

15. Of the ceremonies of the priest and priestess of Jupiter; and words quoted from the praetor’s edict, in which he declares that he will not compel either the Vestal virgins or the priest of Jupiter to take oath.

Ceremonies in great number are imposed upon the priest of Jupiter and also many abstentions, of which we read in the books written On the Public Priests; and they are also recorded in the first book of Fabius Pictor. Of these the following are in general what I remember: It is unlawful for the priest of Jupiter to ride upon a horse; it is also unlawful for him to see the “classes arrayed” outside the pomerium, that is, the army in battle array; hence the priest of Jupiter is rarely made consul, since wars were entrusted to the consuls; also it is always unlawful for the priest to take an oath; likewise to wear a ring, unless it be perforated and without a gem. It is against the law for fire to be taken from the flaminia, that is, from the home of the flamen Dialis, except for a sacred rite; if a person in fetters enter his house, he must be loosed, the bonds must be drawn up through the impluvium to the roof and from there let down into the street. He has no knot in his head-dress, girdle, or any other part of his dress; if anyone is being taken to be flogged and falls at his feet as a suppliant, it is unlawful for the man to be flogged on that day. Only a free man may cut the hair of the Dialis. It is not customary for the Dialis to touch, or even name, a she-goat, raw flesh, ivy, and beans.

The priest of Jupiter must not pass under an arbour of vines. The feet of the couch on which he sleeps must be smeared with a thin coating of clay, and he must not sleep away from this bed for three nights in succession, and no other person must sleep in that bed. At the foot of his bed there should be a box with sacrificial cakes. The cuttings of the nails and hair of the Dialis must be buried in the earth under a fruitful tree. Every day is a holy day for the Dialis. He must not be in the open air without his cap; that he might go without it in the house has only recently been decided by the pontiffs, so Masurius Sabinus wrote, and it is said that some other ceremonies have been remitted and he has been excused from observing them.

“The priest of Jupiter” must not touch any bread fermented with yeast. He does not lay off his inner tunic except under cover, in order that he may not be naked in the open air, as it were under the eye of Jupiter. No other has a place at table above the flamen Dialis, except the rex sacrificulus. If the Dialis has lost his wife he abdicates his office. The marriage of the priest cannot be dissolved except by death. He never enters a place of burial, he never touches a dead body; but he is not forbidden to attend a funeral.

The ceremonies of the priestess of Jupiter are about the same; they say that she observes other separate ones: for example, that she wears a dyed robe, that she has a twig from a fruitful tree in her head-dress, that it is forbidden for her to go up more than three rounds of a ladder, except the so called Greek ladders; also, when she goes to the Argei, that she neither combs her head nor dresses her hair.

I have added the words of the praetor in his standing edict concerning the flamen Dialis and the priestess of Vesta: “In the whole of my jurisdiction I will not compel the flamen of Jupiter or a priestess of Vesta to take an oath.” The words of Marcus Varro about the flamen Dialis, in the second book of his Divine Antiquities, are as follows: “He alone has a white cap, either because he is the greatest of priests, or because a white victim should be sacrificed to Jupiter.”

I find that the Loeb translation is at Perseus, here, in the uncomfortable form that make searching so difficult and reading so hard, but is probably most useful for other purposes.


6 thoughts on “The duties of the Flamen Dialis

  1. This is all very interesting,
    between this information and the John the Lydian translation,
    it seems the Romans had a real ‘thing’ about the dangers of beans.
    Thankfully the bean has made a comeback. Mmm delicious.
    (Despite their warnings I’ve never found beans to ‘inflame the passions’)

  2. (Since I’m suddenly poking around on your site this morning!)

    90% but not all. In the Smith’s Dictionary article ( other sources are given. Daremberg & Saglio, as always, is fuller:

    Gellius in Latin by the way can be found on David Camden’s site, and as much of the Loeb English as I could firmly establish to be public domain, on mine ( That does include Book 10, if somewhat en déshabillé.

  3. Thank you very much for this note. It’s useful to see the other sources.

    I was quite aware of Aulus Gellius on your own site — where else would I look first for such a thing. I was sorry to find that the English only went to book 10. The remainder, tho, in chapter-long chunks, is on Perseus.

  4. Thank for the link to LacusCurtius & Livius, heretofore unknown to me. Quite a bit to digest there. But I do appreciate this “new site” as much as yours.

    As he himself says on his site “…I’m still committed to providing crumbs of Antiquity to the numberless eager masses starving to feed on them.”

    as one among those masses I appreciate you both.

    ps; I have a copy of Gellius (Loeb) but am waiting till I finish Lucian (half way through) to begin it. I’m trying to turn a blind eye to your posts this week.

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