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The (
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an appa ...

Latin
for "greatest priest") was the chief
high priest The term “high priest” usually refers either to an individual who holds the office of monarch, ruler-priest, or to one who is the head of a religious caste. Ancient Egypt In ancient Egypt, a high priest was the chief priest of any of the many ...
of the
College of Pontiffs The College of Pontiffs ( la, Collegium Pontificum; see ''collegium A (plural ), or college, was any association in ancient Rome with a legal personality. Such associations could be civil or religious. The word literally means "society", f ...
(''
Collegium A (plural ), or college, was any association in ancient Rome with a legal personality. Such associations could be civil or religious. The word literally means "society", from (‘colleague’). They functioned as social clubs or religious ...
Pontificum'') in
ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian is a person who stud ...
. This was the most important position in the
ancient Roman religion Religion in ancient Rome includes the ethnic religion of Ancient Rome that the ancient Romans, Romans used to define themselves as a people, as well as the religious practices of peoples brought under Roman rule, in so far as they became widel ...
, open only to
patricians The patricians (from la, patriciusPatricius may refer to: People * Patricius (consul 500), prominent East Roman general and consul *Patricius (jurist), 5th-century Roman jurist * Patricius (usurper) (died 352), leader of the Jewish revolt aga ...
until 254 BC, when a
plebeian In ancient Rome, the plebeians (also called plebs) were the general body of free Roman citizenship, Roman citizens who were not Patrician (ancient Rome), patricians, as determined by the capite censi, census, or in other words "commoners". Both ...
first occupied this post. Although in fact the most powerful office in the Roman priesthood, the ''pontifex maximus'' was officially ranked fifth in the ranking of the highest Roman priests (''ordo sacerdotum''), behind the ''
rex sacrorum In ancient Roman religion, the ''rex sacrorum'' ("king of the sacred", also sometimes ''rex sacrificulus'') was a senatorial priesthood reserved for patricians. Although in the historical era, the ''pontifex maximus The (Latin Latin (, ...
'' and the ''
flamines maiores A was a priest A priest is a religious leader authorized to perform the Sacred rite, sacred rituals of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities. They also have the authority or power to administer ...
'' (''
Flamen Dialis In ancient Roman religion Religion in ancient Rome includes the ethnic religion of Ancient Rome that the ancient Romans, Romans used to define themselves as a people, as well as the religious practices of peoples brought under Roman rule, in ...
'', ''
Flamen Martialis In ancient Roman religion Religion in ancient Rome includes the ancestral ethnic religion In religious studies, an ethnic religion is a religion or Belief#Religion, belief associated with a particular ethnic group. Ethnic religions are ofte ...
'', ''
Flamen Quirinalis In Religion in ancient Rome, ancient Roman religion, the Flamen Quirinalis was the flamen or high priest of the god Quirinus. He was one of the three ''flamines maiores'', third in order of importance after the Flamen Dialis and the Flamen Martiali ...
''). A distinctly religious office under the early
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the classical Roman civilization, run through public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an indiv ...
, it gradually became politicized until, beginning with
Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles through ...

Augustus
, it was subsumed into the position of
emperor An emperor (from la, imperator The Latin word "imperator" derives from the stem of the verb la, imperare, label=none, meaning 'to order, to command'. It was originally employed as a title roughly equivalent to ''commander'' under the Roma ...
in the Roman imperial period. Subsequent emperors were styled ''pontifex maximus'' well into
Late Antiquity Late antiquity is a periodization Periodization is the process or study of categorizing the past into discrete, quantified named blocks of time.Adam Rabinowitz. It’s about time: historical periodization and Linked Ancient World Data'. Inst ...
, including
Gratian Gratian (; la, Flavius Gratianus; 18 April 359 – 25 August 383) was Roman emperor, emperor of the Western Roman Empire, western part of the Roman Empire from 367 to 383. The eldest son of Valentinian I, Gratian accompanied his father on severa ...

Gratian
(), but during Gratian's reign the phrase was replaced in imperial titulature with the , an example followed by Gratian's junior co-emperor
Theodosius the Great Theodosius I ( grc-gre, Θεοδόσιος; 11 January 347 – 17 January 395), also called Theodosius the Great, was Roman emperor The Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial ...
and which was used by emperors thereafter including the ''co''-''
augusti 300px, Coin of the emperor Diocletian, marked ''Augustus'' (plural ''augusti''; , ; "majestic", "great" or "venerable") was an ancient Roman In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 ...
''
Valentinian III Valentinian III ( la, Placidus Valentinianus; 2 July 41916 March 455) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a var ...
() and
Marcian Marcian (; la, Marcianus, link=no; grc-gre, Μαρκιανός, link=no ; 392 – 27 January 457) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βα ...

Marcian
() and the ''augustus'' Anastasius Dicorus (). The first to adopt the ''inclytus'' alternative to ''maximus'' may have been the rebel ''augustus''
Magnus Maximus Magnus Maximus (; cy, Macsen Wledig ; 28 August 388) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía t ...
(). The word ''pontifex'' and its derivative "pontiff" became terms used for Christian
bishops A bishop is an ordained Ordination is the process by which individuals are Consecration, consecrated, that is, set apart and elevated from the laity class to the clergy, who are thus then authorization, authorized (usually by the religious denom ...

bishops
, including the Bishop of
Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map = Map of comune of Rome (metropolitan city of Capital Rome, region Lazio, Italy).svg , map_caption = The te ...

Rome
, and the title of ''pontifex maximus'' was applied to the
Catholic Church The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian ...

Catholic Church
for
the pope The pope ( la, papa, from el, πάππας, translit=pappas, "father"), also known as the supreme pontiff () or the Roman pontiff (), is the bishop of Diocese of Rome, Rome, chief pastor of the worldwide Catholic Church, and head of state o ...
as its chief bishop and appears on buildings, monuments and coins of popes of
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media * Period (music), a concept in ...

Renaissance
and modern times. The official list of titles of the pope given in the ''
Annuario Pontificio The ''Annuario Pontificio'' (Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** Re ...
'' includes "supreme pontiff" () as the fourth title, the first being "bishop of Rome".


Etymology

The etymology of "pontifex" is uncertain, but the word has been used since Roman times. The word appears to consist of the Latin word for "bridge" and the suffix for "maker". However, there is a possibility that this definition is a
folk etymology Folk etymology (also known as popular etymology, analogical reformation, reanalysis, morphological reanalysis or etymological reinterpretation) is a change in a word or phrase resulting from the replacement of an unfamiliar form by a more famili ...
for an
Etruscan__NOTOC__ Etruscan may refer to: Ancient civilisation *The Etruscan language, an extinct language in ancient Italy *Something derived from or related to the Etruscan civilization **Etruscan architecture **Etruscan art **Etruscan cities **Etruscan ...
term, since Roman religion was heavily influenced by Etruscan religion, and very little is known about the
Etruscan language Etruscan () was the language of the Etruscan civilization The Etruscan civilization () of covered a , at its greatest extent, of roughly what is now , western , and northern , as well as what are now the , , south-eastern , southern , and west ...
, which is not
Indo-European The Indo-European languages are a language family A language family is a group of language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation ...
and thus has different origins from Latin. According to the common interpretation, the term ''pontifex'' means "bridge-builder" (''pons'' + ''facere''); "maximus" means "greatest". This was perhaps originally meant in a literal sense: the position of bridge-builder was indeed an important one in Rome, where the major bridges were over the
Tiber The Tiber (; la, Tiberis; it, Tevere ) is the third-longest river in Italy and the longest in Central Italy, rising in the Apennine Mountains The Apennines or Apennine Mountains (; grc-gre, links=no, Ἀπέννινα ὄρη or Ἀπ ...

Tiber
, the sacred river (and a deity): only prestigious authorities with sacral functions could be allowed to "disturb" it with mechanical additions. However, it was always understood in its symbolic sense as well: the pontifices were the ones who smoothed the "bridge" between gods and men. The interpretation of the word ''pontifex'' as "bridge-builder" was that of
Dionysius of Halicarnassus Dionysius of Halicarnassus ( grc, Διονύσιος Ἀλεξάνδρου Ἁλικαρνασσεύς, ; – after 7 BC) was a Greek historian Hellenic historiography (or Greek historiography) involves efforts made by Greeks to track and r ...
and
Marcus Terentius Varro Marcus Terentius Varro (; 116–27 BC) was one of ancient Rome's greatest scholars and a prolific author. He is sometimes called Varro Reatinus to distinguish him from his younger contemporary Varro Atacinus. Biography Varro was born in or near ...
.
Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; AD 46 – after AD 119) was a Greek Middle Platonist Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Platonic philosophy, lasting from about 90 BC&nbs ...

Plutarch
pointed out that the term existed before there were any bridges in Rome and derived the word from
Old Latin Old Latin, also known as Early Latin or Archaic Latin ( la, prīsca Latīnitās, lit=the Latinity of the ancients) was the Latin language Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a ...
''pontis'' meaning a powerful or absolute master, while others derived it from ''potis facere'' in the sense of "able to sacrifice". The last derivation is mentioned also by Varro, who rejected it, but it was the view of ''pontifex maximus'' Quintus Scaevola. Others have held that the word was originally ''pompifex'' (leader of public processions). The word ''pons'' originally meant "way" and ''pontifex'' would thus mean "maker of roads and bridges". Another opinion is that the word is a corruption of a similar-sounding but etymologically unrelated
Etruscan__NOTOC__ Etruscan may refer to: Ancient civilisation *The Etruscan language, an extinct language in ancient Italy *Something derived from or related to the Etruscan civilization **Etruscan architecture **Etruscan art **Etruscan cities **Etruscan ...
word. Yet another hypothesis considers the word as a loan from the
Sabine language The Sabines (; lat, Sabini; it, Sabini, all exonyms) were an Italic peoples, Italic people that lived in the central Apennine Mountains of the ancient Italian Peninsula, also inhabiting Latium north of the Aniene, Anio before the founding of R ...
, in which it would mean a member of a college of five, from
Osco-Umbrian The Osco-Umbrian, Sabellic or Sabellian languages are a group of Italic languages, the Indo-European languages that were spoken in Central and Southern Italy by the Osco-Umbrians before being replaced by Latin, as the power of Ancient Rome expanded. ...
''ponte'', five. This explanation takes into account the fact that the college was established by
Sabine The Sabines (; lat, Sabini; it, Sabini, all exonym An endonym (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Sou ...
king
Numa Pompilius Numa Pompilius (; 753–673 BC; reigned 715–673 BC) was the legendary second king of Rome The king of Rome ( la, rex Romae) was the chief magistrate Chief magistrate is a public official, executive or judicial, whose office is the highest ...

Numa Pompilius
and the institution is Italic: the expressions ''pontis'' and ''pomperias'' found in the
Iguvine Tablets The Iguvine Tablets, also known as the Eugubian Tablets or Eugubine Tables, are a series of seven bronze tablets from ancient Iguvium (modern Gubbio), Italy. The earliest tablets, written in the native Umbrian language, Umbrian alphabet, were prob ...
may denote a group or division of five or by five. The pontifex would thence be a member of a sacrificial college known as ''pomperia'' (Latin ''quinio''). The Roman title ''pontifex maximus'' was rendered in Greek inscriptions and literature of the time as or by a more literal translation and order of words as . The term is used in the Greek
Septuagint The Greek Old Testament, or Septuagint (, ; from the la, septuaginta, lit=seventy; often abbreviated ''70''; in Roman numerals Roman numerals are a that originated in and remained the usual way of writing numbers throughout Europe wel ...
text of the
Old Testament The Old Testament (often abbreviated OT) is the first division of the Christian biblical canon A biblical canon or canon of scripture is a set of texts (or "books") which a particular Jewish or Christian religious community regards as aut ...
and in the
New Testament The New Testament grc, Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη, Transliteration, transl. ; la, Novum Testamentum. (NT) is the second division of the Christian biblical canon. It discusses the teachings and person of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus, as ...

New Testament
to refer to the
High Priest of Israel High Priest ( he, כהן גדול ''Kohen Kohen ( he, כֹּהֵן' Cohen, "priest", pl. Cohanim, ' "priests") is the Hebrew word for "priest A priest is a religious leader authorized to perform the Sacred rite, sacred rituals of a ...
, including in
2 Maccabees The Second Book of Maccabees, also called 2 Maccabees, is a deuterocanonical The deuterocanonical books (from the Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), of ...
(). The word ''pontifex'', Latin for "
pontiff A pontiff (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman R ...
", was used in ancient Rome to designate a member of the
College of Pontiffs The College of Pontiffs ( la, Collegium Pontificum; see ''collegium A (plural ), or college, was any association in ancient Rome with a legal personality. Such associations could be civil or religious. The word literally means "society", f ...
. In the Latin
Vulgate The Vulgate (; also called , ) is a late-4th-century Latin translation of the Bible The Bible (from Koine Greek Koine Greek (, , Greek approximately ;. , , , lit. "Common Greek"), also known as Alexandrian dialect, common Attic, ...
translation of the
New Testament The New Testament grc, Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη, Transliteration, transl. ; la, Novum Testamentum. (NT) is the second division of the Christian biblical canon. It discusses the teachings and person of Jesus in Christianity, Jesus, as ...

New Testament
, it is sometimes used to designate the Jewish high priest, as in the ''
Gospel of John The Gospel according to John ( el, Εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Ἰωάννην, translit=Euangélion katà Iōánnēn, also known as the Gospel of John, or simply John) is the fourth of the four canonical gospels. It contains a highly sc ...
'' and ''
Epistle to the Hebrews The Epistle to the Hebrews, or Letter to the Hebrews, or in the Greek manuscripts, simply To the Hebrews (Πρὸς Ἑβραίους, ''Pros Hebraious'') is one of the books of the New Testament. The text does not mention the name of its author ...

Epistle to the Hebrews
'' (; ). From perhaps as early as the 3rd century, it has been used to denote a Christian bishop. In the Vulgate, the term was originally applied to the
High Priest of Israel High Priest ( he, כהן גדול ''Kohen Kohen ( he, כֹּהֵן' Cohen, "priest", pl. Cohanim, ' "priests") is the Hebrew word for "priest A priest is a religious leader authorized to perform the Sacred rite, sacred rituals of a ...
, as in the ''
Book of Judith The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book, included in the Septuagint and the Catholic Church, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Christian Old Testament of the Bible, but Development of the Hebrew Bible canon, excluded from the ...
'' (), whose place, each in his own
diocese In Ecclesiastical polity, church governance, a diocese or bishopric is the ecclesiastical district under the jurisdiction of a bishop. History In the later organization of the Roman Empire, the increasingly subdivided Roman province, prov ...
, the Christian bishops were regarded as holding, based on an interpretation of the ''
First Epistle of Clement The First Epistle of Clement ( grc, Κλήμεντος πρὸς Κορινθίους, Klēmentos pros Korinthious, Clement to Corinthians) is a letter addressed to the Christians in the city of Corinth Corinth ( ; el, Κόρινθος, Kór ...
'' (I Clement 40).


Origins in the Regal period

The ''Collegium Pontificum'' (College of Pontiffs) was the most important priesthood of ancient Rome. The foundation of this sacred college and the office of ''pontifex maximus'' is attributed to the second
king of Rome The king of Rome ( la, rex Romae) was the chief magistrate Chief magistrate is a public official, executive or judicial, whose office is the highest in its class. Historically, the two different meanings of magistrate The term magistrate is ...
,
Numa Pompilius Numa Pompilius (; 753–673 BC; reigned 715–673 BC) was the legendary second king of Rome The king of Rome ( la, rex Romae) was the chief magistrate Chief magistrate is a public official, executive or judicial, whose office is the highest ...

Numa Pompilius
.
Livy Titus Livius (; 59 BC – AD 17), known in English as Livy ( ), was a Ancient Rome, Roman historian. He wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people, titled , covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditiona ...
, ''
Ab urbe condita 300px, Antoninianus of Pacatianus, Roman usurper, usurper of Roman emperor Philip the Arab, Philip in 248. It reads ''ROMAE AETERANMIL ESIMOET PRIMO'', 'To eternal Rome, in its one thousand and first year.' ''Ab urbe condita'' ( ...
'', 1:20
Much of what is known about the Regal period in Roman history is semi-legendary or mythical. The ''
Collegium A (plural ), or college, was any association in ancient Rome with a legal personality. Such associations could be civil or religious. The word literally means "society", from (‘colleague’). They functioned as social clubs or religious ...
'' presumably acted as advisers to the '''' (king) in religious matters. The ''collegium'' was headed by the ''pontifex maximus'', and all the ''pontifices'' held their office for life. But the pontifical records of early Rome were most likely destroyed when the city was sacked by the Gauls in 387 BC, and the earliest accounts of Archaic Rome come from the literature of the
Republic A republic () is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a month ...
, most of it from the 1st century BC and later. According to the -era
historian A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the stu ...
Livy Titus Livius (; 59 BC – AD 17), known in English as Livy ( ), was a Ancient Rome, Roman historian. He wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people, titled , covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditiona ...
, Numa Pompilius, a
Sabine The Sabines (; lat, Sabini; it, Sabini, all exonym An endonym (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Sou ...

Sabine
, devised Rome's system of religious rites, including the manner and timing of sacrifices, the supervision of religious funds, authority over all public and private religious institutions, instruction of the populace in the celestial and funerary rites including appeasing the dead, and expiation of prodigies. Numa is said to have founded Roman religion after dedicating an altar on the
Aventine Hill The Aventine Hill (; la, Collis Aventinus; it, Aventino ) is one of the Seven Hills on which ancient Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus Romulus was the legend ...
to Jupiter Elicius and consulting the gods by means of
augur An augur was a priest and official in the classical Roman world. His main role was the practice of augury Augury is the practice from ancient Roman religion Religion in ancient Rome includes the ancestral ethnic religion In religiou ...

augur
y. Numa wrote down and sealed these religious instructions, and gave them to the first ''pontifex maximus'',
Numa Marcius Numa Marcius, son of Marcus, was the first Pontifex Maximus of Ancient Rome. He was appointed by the King Numa Pompilius who assigned to him the entire system of religious rites, which system was written out for him and sealed and included the ma ...
.


Roman Republic

In the
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the classical Roman civilization, run through public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an indiv ...
, the ''pontifex maximus'' was the highest office in the state religion of ancient Rome and directed the
College of Pontiffs The College of Pontiffs ( la, Collegium Pontificum; see ''collegium A (plural ), or college, was any association in ancient Rome with a legal personality. Such associations could be civil or religious. The word literally means "society", f ...
. According to Livy, after the overthrow of the monarchy, the Romans created the priesthood of the ''
rex sacrorum In ancient Roman religion, the ''rex sacrorum'' ("king of the sacred", also sometimes ''rex sacrificulus'') was a senatorial priesthood reserved for patricians. Although in the historical era, the ''pontifex maximus The (Latin Latin (, ...
'', or "king of sacred rites," to carry out certain religious duties and rituals previously performed by the king. The ''rex sacrorum'' was explicitly deprived of military and political power, but the ''pontifices'' were permitted to hold both magistracies and military commands. The official residence of the ''pontifex maximus'' was the ''
Domus Publica This list of monuments of the Roman Forum The Roman Forum, also known by its Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in th ...
'' ("State House") which stood between the House of the
Vestal Virgin In ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian ...
s and the
Via Sacra The Via Sacra (, "''Sacred Street''") was the main street Main Street is a metonym Metonymy () is a figure of speech in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely associated with that thing or concept. Etymology ...

Via Sacra
, close to the
Regia The Regia ("Royal house") was a two-part structure in Ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the ear ...

Regia
, in the
Roman Forum The Roman Forum, also known by its Latin name Forum Romanum ( it, Foro Romano), is a rectangular Forum (Roman), forum (plaza) surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citize ...

Roman Forum
. His religious duties were carried out from the Regia. Unless the ''pontifex maximus'' was also a magistrate, he was not allowed to wear the ''
toga praetexta The toga (, ), a distinctive garment of ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest histori ...
'', i.e. toga with the purple border. In artistic representations, he can be recognized by his holding an iron knife ''( secespita)'' or the ''
patera In the of , a ''phiale'' ( ) or ''patera'' () is a shallow ceramic or metal bowl. It often has a bulbous indentation (', "bellybutton") in the center underside to facilitate holding it, in which case it is sometimes called a ''mesomphalic phi ...

patera
'', and the distinctive robes or toga with part of the mantle covering the head ''(
capite velato The vocabulary of ancient Roman religion Religion in ancient Rome includes the ancestral ethnic religion In religious studies, an ethnic religion is a religion or Belief#Religion, belief associated with a particular ethnic group. Ethnic re ...
)'', in keeping with Roman practice. The Pontifex was not simply a priest. He had both political and religious authority. It is not clear which of the two came first or had the most importance. In practice, particularly during the late Republic, the office of ''pontifex maximus'' was generally held by a member of a politically prominent family. It was a coveted position mainly for the great prestige it conferred on the holder;
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened ...

Julius Caesar
became pontifex in 73 BC and ''pontifex maximus'' in 63 BC. The major Republican source on the pontiffs would have been the theological writings of
Varro Marcus Terentius Varro (; 116–27 BC) was a Roman polymath A polymath ( el, πολυμαθής, , "having learned much"; la, homo universalis, "universal human") is an individual whose knowledge spans a substantial number of subjects, known ...
, which survive only in fragments preserved by later authors such as
Aulus Gellius Aulus Gellius (c. 125after 180 AD) was a Roman author and grammarian, who was probably born and certainly brought up in Rome , established_title = Founded , established_date = 753 BC , founder = King Romulus , image_map ...
and
Nonius MarcellusNonius Marcellus was a Roman grammarian of the 4th or 5th century AD. His only surviving work is the ''De compendiosa doctrina'', a dictionary or encyclopedia in 20 books that shows his interests in antiquarian 's cabinet of curiosities, from ''M ...
. Other sources are
Cicero Marcus Tullius Cicero ( ; ; 3 January 106 BC – 7 December 43 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman statesman, lawyer, scholar, philosopher and Academic skepticism, Academic Skeptic, who tried to uphold optimate principles during crisis of ...

Cicero
,
Livy Titus Livius (; 59 BC – AD 17), known in English as Livy ( ), was a Ancient Rome, Roman historian. He wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people, titled , covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome before the traditiona ...
,
Dionysius of Halicarnassus Dionysius of Halicarnassus ( grc, Διονύσιος Ἀλεξάνδρου Ἁλικαρνασσεύς, ; – after 7 BC) was a Greek historian Hellenic historiography (or Greek historiography) involves efforts made by Greeks to track and r ...
,
Valerius Maximus Valerius Maximus () was a 1st-century Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language A classical language is a language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to s ...

Valerius Maximus
,
Plutarch Plutarch (; grc-gre, Πλούταρχος, ''Ploútarchos''; ; AD 46 – after AD 119) was a Greek Middle Platonist Middle Platonism is the modern name given to a stage in the development of Platonic philosophy, lasting from about 90 BC&nbs ...

Plutarch
's ''Life of Numa Pompilius'', Festus's summaries of
Verrius Flaccus Marcus Verrius Flaccus (c. 55 BCAD 20) was a Roman grammar In linguistics, the grammar (from Ancient Greek ''grammatikḗ'') of a natural language is its set of structure, structural constraints on speakers' or writers' composition of clause ...
, and in later writers, including several of the
Church Fathers The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, Christian Fathers, or Fathers of the Church were ancient and influential Christian theologians Christian theology is the theology Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the Divinity, di ...
. Some of these sources present an extensive list of everyday prohibitions for the ''pontifex maximus''; it seems difficult to reconcile these lists with evidence that many ''pontifices maximi'' were prominent members of society who lived normal, non-restricted lives.


Election and number

The number of Pontifices, elected by ''co-optatio'' (i.e. the remaining members nominate their new colleague) for life, was originally five, including the ''pontifex maximus''. The ''pontifices'', moreover, could only come from the old nobility, the patricians. However, in 300–299 BC the ''
lex Ogulnia The ''lex Ogulnia'' was a Roman law passed in 300 BC. It was a milestone A milestone is a numbered marker placed on a route such as a road, railway, railway line, canal or border, boundary. They can indicate the distance to towns, cities, ...
'' opened the office of ''pontifex maximus'' to public election and permitted the ''
plebs In ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian ...
'' (plebeians) to be co-opted as priests, so that part of the exclusivity of the title was lost. But it was only in 254 BC that Tiberius Coruncanius became the first plebeian ''pontifex maximus''. The ''lex Ogulnia'' also increased the number of pontiffs to nine (the ''pontifex maximus'' included). In 104 BC the ''lex Domitia'' prescribed that the election of all pontiffs would henceforward be voted by the ''comitia tributa'' (an assembly of the people divided into voting districts); by the same law only 17 tribes, chosen by lot from the 35 tribes of the city, could vote. The law's promulgator, L
cius Cius (; grc-gre, Kίος or Κῖος ''Kios''), later renamed Prusias on the Sea (; la, Prusias ad Mare) after king Prusias I of Bithynia Prusias I Cholus (Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to ...
Domitius Ahenobarbus, was shortly afterwards elected pontifex maximus after the death of the incumbent Metellus Dalmaticus: Something of a personal revenge because, the previous year, he had expected to be co-opted as a pontiff to replace his late father, but the pontifical college had appointed another candidate in his place. The office's next holder, Q
intus ''Intus'' was a traditional pre-colonial Colonialism is a practice or policy of control by one people or power over other people or areas, often by establishing colony, colonies and generally with the aim of economic dominance. In the process of ...
Mucius Scaevola, was also elected under the same law, though without controversy or opposition since he was a former consul and long-serving pontiff. This law was abolished in 81 BC by
Sulla Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix (; 138–78 BC), commonly known as Sulla, was a Roman general A general officer is an officer of high rank in the armies, and in some nations' air forces, space forces, or marines Marines or naval infan ...
in his dictatorship, in the ''lex Cornelia de Sacerdotiis'', which restored to the great priestly colleges their full right of ''co-optatio''. Also under Sulla, the number of pontifices was increased to fifteen, the ''pontifex maximus'' included, and Sulla nominated
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius (c. 128 – 63 BC) was a Roman politician and general. Like the other members of the influential Caecilia gens, Caecilii Metelli family, he was a leader of the Optimates, the conservative faction opposed to the Popu ...

Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius
as the next holder of the office – the only truly unelected ''pontifex maximus'' in history, since even the other pontiffs did not get a vote in the matter. In 63 BC, the law of Sulla was abolished by the tribune
Titus Labienus Titus Labienus (c. 10017 March 45 BC) was a professional Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened to ...
, and a modified form of the ''lex Domitia'' was reinstated providing for election by ''comitia tributa'' once again:
Gaius Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman people, Roman general and statesman who played a critical role in Crisis of the Roman Republic, the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Rom ...

Gaius Julius Caesar
followed Ahenobarbus's precedent by being elected by public vote, although Caesar at least had previously been a pontiff. Marcus Antonius later restored the right of ''co-optatio'' to the college, in time for the election of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Also under
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened ...

Julius Caesar
, the number of pontifices were increased to sixteen, the ''pontifex maximus'' included. (Possibly because Caesar's own long absences from Rome necessitated the appointment of a deputy pontiff for those occasions when fifteen needed to be present.) The number of pontifices varied during the Empire but is believed to have been regular at fifteen.


Extraordinary appointment of dictators

The office came into its own with the abolition of the monarchy, when most sacral powers previously vested in the King were transferred either to the ''pontifex maximus'' or to the
Rex Sacrorum In ancient Roman religion, the ''rex sacrorum'' ("king of the sacred", also sometimes ''rex sacrificulus'') was a senatorial priesthood reserved for patricians. Although in the historical era, the ''pontifex maximus The (Latin Latin (, ...
, though traditionally a (non-political)
dictator A dictator is a political leader who possesses absolute power. A dictatorship A dictatorship is a form of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organized community, generally a state. In the ...
was formally mandated by the Senate for one day, to perform a specific rite. According to Livy in his "History of Rome", an ancient instruction written in archaic letters commands: "Let him who is the Praetor Maximus fasten a nail on the Ides of September." This notice was fastened up on the right side of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, next to the chapel of Minerva. This nail is said to have marked the number of the year. It was in accordance with this direction that the consul Horatius dedicated the Temple of
Jupiter Optimus Maximus , the supreme Roman god of the sky. The Capitoline Triad was a group of three deities who were worshipped in Religion in ancient Rome, ancient Roman religion in an elaborate temple on Rome , established_title = Founded , established_dat ...
in the year following the expulsion of the kings; from the Consuls the ceremony of fastening the nails passed to the Dictators, because they possessed greater authority. As the custom had been subsequently dropped, it was felt to be of sufficient importance to require the appointment of a Dictator. L
cius Cius (; grc-gre, Kίος or Κῖος ''Kios''), later renamed Prusias on the Sea (; la, Prusias ad Mare) after king Prusias I of Bithynia Prusias I Cholus (Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to ...
Manlius was accordingly nominated but his appointment was due to political rather than religious reasons. He was eager to command in the war with the Hernici. He caused a very angry feeling among the men liable to serve by the inconsiderate way in which he conducted the enrolment. At last, in consequence of the unanimous resistance offered by the tribunes of the plebs, he gave way, either voluntarily or through compulsion, and laid down his Dictatorship. Since then, this rite has been performed by the Rex Sacrorum.


Duties

The main duty of the Pontifices was to maintain the ''
pax deorum Pax Deorum may refer to: *"Pax Deorum", a song from ''The Memory of Trees ''The Memory of Trees'' is the fourth studio album by the Irish singer, songwriter, and musician Enya, released on 20 November 1995 by Warner Music Group, WEA. After trave ...
'' or "peace of the gods." The immense authority of the sacred college of
pontiff A pontiff (from Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman R ...
s was centered on the ''pontifex maximus'', the other pontifices forming his ''consilium'' or advising body. His functions were partly sacrificial or ritualistic, but these were the least important. His real power lay in the administration of ''ius divinum'' or divine law; the information collected by the pontifices related to the Roman religious tradition was bound in a ''corpus'' which summarized
dogma Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted. It may be in the form of an official system of principles A principle is a proposition or value that is a guide for behavior ...

dogma
and other concepts. The chief departments of ''jus divinum'' may be described as follows: # The regulation of all expiatory ceremonials needed as a result of pestilence, lightning, etc. # The consecration of all temples and other sacred places and objects dedicated to the gods. # The regulation of the calendar; both astronomically and in detailed application to the public life of the state. # The administration of the law relating to burials and burying-places, and the worship of the ''
manes In ancient Roman religion Religion in ancient Rome includes the ethnic religion of Ancient Rome that the ancient Romans, Romans used to define themselves as a people, as well as the religious practices of peoples brought under Roman rule, i ...

manes
'' or dead ancestors. # The superintendence of all marriages by ''conferratio'', i.e. originally of all legal patrician marriages. # The administration of the law of adoption and of testamentary succession. # The regulation of the public morals, and fining and punishing offending parties. # The selection of
Vestal Virgin In ancient Rome In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 BC) was a Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC and one of the earliest historians whose work survives. A historian ...
s The pontifices had many relevant and prestigious functions such as being in charge of caring for the state archives, the keeping the official minutes of elected magistrates and list of magistrates, and they kept the records of their own decisions (''commentarii'') and of the chief events of each year, the so-called "public diaries", the ''
Annales maximi The ''Annales maximi'' were annals Annals ( la, annāles, from , "year") are a concise historical History (from Ancient Greek, Greek , ''historia'', meaning "inquiry; knowledge acquired by investigation") is the study and the documentation of ...
''. The ''pontifex maximus'' was also subject to several
taboos A taboo is an implicit prohibition on something (usually against an utterance or behavior) based on a cultural sense that it is excessively repulsive or, perhaps, too sacred for ordinary people.''Encyclopædia Britannica Online''.Taboo. Encyclop ...
. Among them was the prohibition to leave Italy. Plutarch described
Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio (182/181–132 BC) was a politician A politician is a person active in party politics Politics (from , ) is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms ...
(141–132 BC) as the first to leave Italy, after being forced by the Senate to do so, and thus break the sacred taboo.
Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus (c. 180 BC – 130 BC) was the natural son of Publius Mucius Scaevola and Licinia, and brother of Publius Mucius Scaevola. He was adopted at an unknown date by Publius Licinius Crassus (consul 171 BC), hi ...
(132–130 BC) was the first to leave Italy voluntarily. Afterwards it became common and no longer against the law for the ''pontifex maximus'' to leave Italy. Among the most notable of those who did was
Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans most often refers to: *, the capital city of Italy *, Roman civilization from 8th century BC to 5th century AD *, the people of ancient Rome *', shortened ...

Julius Caesar
(63–44 BC). The Pontifices were in charge of the
Roman calendar The Roman calendar was the calendar A calendar is a system of organizing days. This is done by giving names to periods of time, typically days, weeks, months and years. A calendar date, date is the designation of a single, specific ...
and determined when intercalary months needed to be added to synchronize the calendar to the seasons. Since the Pontifices were often politicians, and because a Roman magistrate's term of office corresponded with a calendar year, this power was prone to abuse: a Pontifex could lengthen a year in which he or one of his political allies was in office, or refuse to lengthen one in which his opponents were in power. A Pontifex with other political responsibilities, especially away from Rome, might also have been simply distracted from his calendrical duties as chief priest. This caused the calendar to become out of step with the seasons; for example, Caesar's crossing of the
Rubicon The Rubicon ( la, Rubico; it, Rubicone ; rgn, Rubicôn ) is a shallow river in northeastern Italy, just north of Rimini. It was known as Fiumicino until 1933, when it was identified with the ancient river Rubicon, Crossing the Rubicon, famou ...

Rubicon
in January 49 BC actually took place in mid-autumn. Under his authority as ''pontifex maximus'', Julius Caesar introduced the calendar reform that created the
Julian calendar The Julian calendar, proposed by Julius Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar (; 12 July 100 BC – 15 March 44 BC) was a Roman Roman or Romans usually refers to: *Rome, the capital city of Italy *Ancient Rome, Roman civilization from 8th century B ...
, with a fault of less than a day per century, and which remained the standard till the Gregorian reform in the 16th century.


Roman Empire

After Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 BC, his ally Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was selected as ''pontifex maximus''. Though Lepidus eventually fell out of political favor and was sent into exile as
Augustus Caesar Augustus (23 September 63 BC19 August AD 14) was the first Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles through ...

Augustus
consolidated power, he retained the priestly office until his death in 13/12 BC, at which point Augustus was selected to succeed him and given the right to appoint other pontifices. Thus, from the time of Augustus, the election of pontifices ended and membership in the sacred college was deemed a sign of imperial favour. Augustus took the title of ''pontifex maximus'' for political gain, in an attempt to restore traditional Roman values. With this attribution, the new office of Emperor was given a religious dignity and the responsibility for the entire Roman state cult. Most authors contend that the power of naming the Pontifices was not really used as an ''instrumentum regni'', an enforcing power. From this point on, ''pontifex maximus'' was one of the many titles of the Emperor, slowly losing its specific and historical powers and becoming simply a referent for the sacral aspect of imperial duties and powers. During the Imperial period, a ''promagister'' (vice-master) performed the duties of the ''pontifex maximus'' in lieu of the emperors whenever they were absent. In post-Severan times (after 235 AD), the small number of pagan senators interested in becoming pontiffs led to a change in the pattern of office holding. In Republican and Imperial times no more than one family member of a gens was member of the
College of Pontiffs The College of Pontiffs ( la, Collegium Pontificum; see ''collegium A (plural ), or college, was any association in ancient Rome with a legal personality. Such associations could be civil or religious. The word literally means "society", f ...
, nor did one person hold more than one priesthood in this collegium. However, these rules were obviously loosened in the later part of the 3rd century A.D. In periods of joint rule, at first only one of the emperors bore this title, as it occurred for the first time during the reign of Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, when only Marcus Aurelius was ''pontifex maximus'', but later two ''pontifices maximi'' could serve together, as Pupienus and Balbinus did in 238 AD—a situation unthinkable in Republican times.


Late Antiquity

When Tertullian, a Montanism, Montanist, furiously applied the term to some bishop with whom he was at odds (either Pope Callixtus I or Agrippinus of Carthage), ''c'' 220, over a relaxation of the Church's penitential discipline allowing repentant adulterers and fornicators back into the Church, it was in bitter irony: In the Crisis of the Third Century, emperors continued to assume the title ''pontifex maximus''. The early Christian emperors, including Constantine the Great () and the rest of the Constantinian dynasty, continued to use it; it was only relinquished by
Gratian Gratian (; la, Flavius Gratianus; 18 April 359 – 25 August 383) was Roman emperor, emperor of the Western Roman Empire, western part of the Roman Empire from 367 to 383. The eldest son of Valentinian I, Gratian accompanied his father on severa ...

Gratian
, possibly in 376 at the time of his visit to Rome, or more probably in 383 when a delegation of pagan senators implored him to restore the Altar of Victory in Roman Senate's ''Curia Julia''. Its last use with reference to the emperors is in inscriptions of Gratian. The Edict of Thessalonica of 27 February 380 was enacted in Thessalonica (Thessaloniki) and published in Constantinople (Istanbul) for the whole empire. By it, Theodosius I established Nicene Christianity as the state church of the Roman Empire. The Latin text refers to the bishop of Rome, Pope Damasus I, Damasus, as a ''pontifex'', and the bishop of Alexandria, Pope Peter II of Alexandria, Peter, as an ''episcopus'':
... the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it has been preserved by faithful tradition and which is now professed by the ''Pontiff'' Damasus and by Peter, ''Bishop'' of Alexandria ... We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title Catholic Christians ...
Various forms of ('highest pontiff' or bishop) were for centuries used not only of the Bishop of Rome but of other bishops also. Hilary of Arles (d. 449) is styled by Eucherius of Lyon (''Patrologia Latina, P. L.'', vol. L, col. 773)


''Pontifex inclytus''

During Gratian's reign or immediately afterwards the phrase ''pontifex maximus'' – which had unwelcome associations with traditional Roman religion during the Christianization of the Roman Empire – was replaced in imperial titulature with the . The first to adopt the ''inclytus'' alternative to ''maximus'' may have been the rebel ''augustus'' and devout Christian close to bishop Martin of Tours,
Magnus Maximus Magnus Maximus (; cy, Macsen Wledig ; 28 August 388) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía t ...
(), who killed Gratian in August 383. This practice was followed by Gratian's junior co-emperor
Theodosius the Great Theodosius I ( grc-gre, Θεοδόσιος; 11 January 347 – 17 January 395), also called Theodosius the Great, was Roman emperor The Roman Emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial ...
and was used by emperors thereafter, including the ''co''-''
augusti 300px, Coin of the emperor Diocletian, marked ''Augustus'' (plural ''augusti''; , ; "majestic", "great" or "venerable") was an ancient Roman In historiography Historiography is the study of the methods of historian ( 484– 425 ...
''
Valentinian III Valentinian III ( la, Placidus Valentinianus; 2 July 41916 March 455) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the History of the Roman Empire, imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a var ...
() and
Marcian Marcian (; la, Marcianus, link=no; grc-gre, Μαρκιανός, link=no ; 392 – 27 January 457) was Roman emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βα ...

Marcian
() and the ''augustus'' Anastasius Dicorus (), for whom examples of official usage survive. Another inscription dedicated to Justin II () and naming him ''pontifex'' has long been recognized as a forgery, though there is no evidence to suggest the title could not have been used by Justinian the Great () or even by Constantine IV ().


Middle Ages

Lanfranc is termed by his biographer, Milo Crispin (Patrologia Latina, P. L., vol. CL, 10). but from the 11th century it appears to be applied only to the Pope.


Catholic Church use of the title

In the 15th century, when the
Renaissance The Renaissance ( , ) , from , with the same meanings. is a period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media * Period (music), a concept in ...

Renaissance
stirred up new interest in ancient Rome, ''pontifex maximus'' became a regular title of honour for Popes.''Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church'' (Oxford University Press 2005 ), article ''Pontifex Maximus'' After the Fall of the Eastern Roman Empire with the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire and the death of the final Roman emperor Constantine XI in 1453, ''pontifex maximus'' became part of the papacy's official titulature of the Bishop of Rome. The name given to the book containing the liturgical rites to be performed by any bishop, the ''Roman Pontifical'', and to the form of liturgy known as Pontifical High Mass witness to the continued use of ''pontifex'' to refer to bishops in general. While the title ''pontifex maximus'' has for some centuries been used in inscriptions referring to the Popes, it has never been included in the official list of papal titles published in the ''
Annuario Pontificio The ''Annuario Pontificio'' (Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ** Italian language, a Romance language *** Re ...
''. The official list of titles of the Pope given in the includes "Supreme Pontiff of the whole Church" (in Latin, ) as the fourth title, the first being "Bishop of Rome". The title ''pontifex maximus'' appears in inscriptions on buildings and on coins and medallions. In December 2012 Pope Benedict XVI adopted ''@pontifex'' as his Twitter Pseudonym, handle, prompting users to pose questions with the ''#askpontifex'' hashtag. This has been maintained by his successor Pope Francis, who now uses it as his Twitter handle.The official Twitter page of Pope Francis
/ref>


See also

* List of pontifices maximi, List of ''pontifices maximi'' * *


References


Bibliography

* *


External links


article ''Pontifex'' in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman AntiquitiesAnnotated pontifex maximus list
at http://www.tyndale.cam.ac.uk/Egypt/ptolemies/chron/chronology.htm – in the list of consuls the column on the right (pontifex maximus) lists those that are known in this period. * {{Authority control Pontifices maximi of the Roman Republic, Ancient Roman religious titles Latin religious words and phrases Papal titles Christian terminology Superlatives in religion