12: The Temple of Vesta
The Temple of Vesta was integrated into the adjacent House and Sanctuary of the Vestal Virgins. The only remains of the temple itself are a modest mound of concrete however there is a reconstruction of part of the circular temple wall with adjacent columns that give some sense of the shape and scale of the temple building. The area served as both accommodation and a religious site for only six vestal virgins and provided a place where they could keep the sacred fire alight – a key part of their service to Vesta. Much of the underlying Sanctuary structure dates back to at least 150 BCE but it is likely that there were earlier temples and housing here as the tradition goes back to at least 400 years earlier. The area has been rebuilt and expanded multiple times over the course of the empire. At one time the large complex housed over 60 rooms, had its own well, courtyard and altar that presumably catered to the Vestal Virgins, their religious ceremonies and their large retinue of slaves and assistants. Vestals entered service between the ages of 6 and 10 and remained in position for a minimum of 30 years. They had special privileges such as enjoying special seating at major events, they were able to own property, any injury to them was punishable by death, they could free condemned prisoners simply by touching them and they had complete right of way while moving around Rome and were aided in this by having a lictor walk ahead of them clearing the way.