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Definition: flamen from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(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.

Summary Article: Flamines
from The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

Roman priests associated with the worship of individual deities – unlike other Roman priesthoods. Ancient grammarians derived their name from a white wool band that they wore around their characteristic apex, a hat topped with an olive-twig sticking up in the middle (see Cult Clothing, Roman). The special clothing of the flamines further included a woolen cloak, the laena, worn above the toga. The three major flamines were always patricians and not elected but chosen by the pontifices. The three gods they served were Jupiter (flamen Dialis), Mars (flamen Martialis), and Quirinus (flamen Quirinalis), a triad of gods Georges Dumézil once paralleled to the traditional Indo-European spheres of law, war, and agricultural production (Dumézil 1935). The Roman tradition also preserved twelve as the number of the other, minor flamines, but we only have the names of ten divinities to which they were linked: Carmenta, Ceres, Falacer, Flora, Furrina, Palatua, Pomona, Portunus, Vulcan, and Volturnus.

All these priesthoods, traditionally founded by Rome's second king, Numa Pompilius, were for life, and the priests belonged to the pontifical college. The flamines also had access to a lictor and the sella curulis, the attendant and special seat granted to higher Roman magistrates. Many peculiar restrictions have been recorded that supposedly applied to the flamen Dialis and to his wife, the flaminica: his parents' as well as his own marriage had to be made through confarreatio and could not be dissolved; he also had multiple ritual obligations, including sheep sacrifice on the Ides of each month (see Calendar, Roman) and participation in the Lupercalia with his wife. Further purity requirements ranged from avoiding touching the dead or entering a tomb to any connection with dogs, goats, raw meat, yeast, beans, or ivy. His wife, the flaminica, had special clothing for ritual occasions as well, and had to sacrifice a ram at the nundinae of each month. In historical times, the most problematic restrictions were those that interfered with the flamen Dialis taking on any significant political or military duty, namely that he was not supposed to mount a horse, see an army, or leave the city for more than two nights. It was probably due to these restrictions that the priesthood went unfilled after the suicide of L. Cornelius Merula in 87/86 BCE, until Augustus chose Ser. Cornelius Lentulus Maluginensis as flamen Dialis in 12 BCE. The traditional rituals associated with the other flamines included a horse sacrifice by the Martialis on the Ides of October (see Equus October), and sacrifices by the Quirinalis to Robigus, Consus, and Acca Larentia.

The priesthood of the flamines, dedicated to individual gods, served as the example for the developing cult of divinized emperors in Rome: although in 44 BCE Marcus Antonius was evidently supposed to become a flamen of Julius Caesar (Julialis) during the latter's lifetime, later flamines were actually created for individual divinized emperors or of imperial families (such as flamen Augustalis, Claudialis, etc., cf. sodales). Flamen was also a title for priests in the provincial imperial cult.


Confarreatio; Flaminica; Jupiter; Lupercalia; Mars; Patricians; Pontifex, pontifices; Priests and priestesses, Roman; Quirinus; Ruler cult, Roman.

References and Suggested Readings
  • Dumézil, G. (1935) Flamen-Brahman. Paris.
  • Vanggaard, J. H. (1988) The Flamen: A study in the history and sociology of Roman religion. Copenhagen.
  • Wissowa, G. (1912) Religion und Kultus der Römer. 2nd ed. Munich.
  • Zsuzsanna Várhelyi
    Wiley ©2012