There was no cast of Roman priests
There was no cast of Roman priests. It was a job performed by
magistrates, who were elected for life. Originally a magistrate could
only hold one priesthood, but this changed with Julius Caesar.
only patricians could become priest. After ca. 300bc also plebeians
There was a great variety of Roman priests, all with their own specific task:
The pontifices formed most important group. They made the religious laws, acted as judges in religious matters. The Pontifex Maximus was the chief of the pontifices. He also disciplined the Vestal virgins, who belonged to college of the pontifices. The rex sacrorum, who performed the religious duties of the old kings was also a member of that college. Initially there were 4. After 300bc 8 pontifices and 4 of them had to be plebeians. Sulla would raise the number to 15.
The title Pontifex Maximus still exists today: it's the title of the pope in Rome. The early christians adopted a lot more habits from the Romans.
Flamines were more specialized Roman priests. Each was dedicated to one god. There were three major flamines:
- He was not allowed to ride on horseback
- He was not allowed to see an army outside the city
- He was not allowed to take an oath
- He was not allowed to wear a ring, unless it was perforated
- He was not allowed to carry fire out of his home (flaminia), unless for a religious task
- He was not allowed to have a knot in his cap or belt or any of his clothes.
- He was not allowed to have his hair cut, unless by a free man
And so on.
Imagine that Julius
Caesar who in his
young days had been appointed Flamen Dialis and Sulla
when he came to power not had cancelled all appointments, how the world
would have looked like. Later Julius Caesar would buy his priesthood.
He bribed himself an appointment to Pontifex Maximus.
There were also 12 minor flamines. For only ten of them the god's names are still known: Carmenta, Ceres, Falacer,Flora, Palatua, Pomona, Portunus,Volturnus,Vulcanus and Furrina.
The college of the Salii, another group of 12 priests, was formed by 12 young nobles who were dressed in broided tunics and special shields. They were to sing and dance in honour of Mars.
Fetiales were Roman priests responsible for the rituals associated to declaration of war and peace-treaties. When something happened between two (or more) states, first the fetials were sent to demand compensation. If that state refused, which often was the case the senate and the people would decide wether to go to war or not. When it was decided to go to war, the fetiales would ride to the border of the enemy territory to perform a ritual that ended with throwing a blood tipped spear across the border.
See Livius (1.32) and here
This worked fine as long as the borders were nearby Rome. Later when the borders were too far off, the ceremony took place in Rome itself. The Romans would take a lot of trouble to make (believe that) every war was a just war (bellum iustum) even when that was (often) not the case.
To learn the will of the gods, they were consulted before an important decision was taken. This consultation for approval was carried out by the college of augurs. One might call them birdwatchers. The augurs would observe a part of the sky and report everything the birds did up there. It is obvious that they could easily cheat with these Roman omens.
There were 4 augurs. Until 300 bc all of them being patrician, from then on also plebeians and the number of augurs was increased to 9. Sulla would increase the number to 15.
Haruspices were Etruscan priests specialized in reading entrails of sacrificed animals. They were also specialized in explaining the will of the gods from lightning.