Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In the Roman Republic, the Pontifex Maximus — in English, Supreme Pontiff — was the head of the polytheistic Roman religion. He was the most important of the Pontifices (plural of Pontifex), which were positions in the main sacred college (Collegium Pontificum), which was directed by the Pontifex Maximus. Other members of this priesthood included the Rex Sacrorum (king of the sacred rites), the Flaminii, and the Vestales. The number of Pontifices, elected by cooptatio, was originally six, but this number increased to fifteen in the 1st century BC. The Pontifices served for life. The office came into its own with the abolition of the monarchy, when the sacral powers previously vested in the king were transferred either to the Pontifex Maximus or to the Rex Sacrorum.
Today the head of the Roman religion, now the Catholic Church at the Holy See, is still called the Supreme Pontiff, and still uses Latin as an official language, and is thus still called Pontifex Maximus. See Pope and Primacy of the Roman Pontiff.
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. Being Pontifex Maximus was not a full-time job and did not preclude the office-holder from holding a magistracy or serving in the military.
The Pontifices had many relevant and prestigious functions, such as keeping the official minutes of elected magistrates (see Fasti), and the so-called "public diaries", the Annales maximi . They also collected information related to the Roman religious tradition into a sort of corpus which summarised dogma and other concepts, similar to later compilations of law in Jurisprudence.
The Pontifices were in charge of the Roman calendar and determined when leap days needed to be added to match the calendar to the seasons. Since the Pontifices would often be politicians, and because a Roman magistrate's term of office corresponded with a calender 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. It was under his authority as Pontifex Maximus that Julius Caesar introduced the calendar reform that created the Julian calendar.
Some authors believe that eventually Roman magistrates would have gained some of the Pontifices' political prerogatives and powers. Earlier Pontifices were elected only from the noble class, but in 300 BC the lex Ogulnia admitted people from plebs too to run for the charge, so that part of the prestige of the title was lost.
In 104 BC the lex Domitia prescribed that the election would henceforward be voted by the comitia tributa; by the same law, only 17 of the 35 tribes of the town could vote. This law was abolished by Sulla and restored when Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus.
After 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 consolidated power, he retained the priestly office until his death in 13 BC, at which point Augustus was selected to succeed him and given the right to appoint other pontifces. With this attribution, the new office of Emperor was given a religious dignity. 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. Even the early Christian emperors continued to use it; it was only relinquished in 382 by Gratian.
In Christian circles, the term had already been used to refer to the pope as early as the third century AD, when Tertullian applied the term to Pope Callixtus I. Pontifex was apparently a word in common currency in early Christianity to denote a bishop. This is unusual in that most of the technical terms of Roman paganism were avoided in the vocabulary of Christian Latin in favour of neologisms or Greek words. Pope Gregory I was the first to employ it in a formal sense, and it has remained one of the titles of the popes to this day.
In Latin, Pontifex comes from pontem faciens, which means "bridge-maker". This was indeed an important position in Rome, where the major bridges were over the Tiber, the holy river (and a deity, at the same time); only prestigious authorities, with sacral function could be allowed to "disturb" it with mechanical additions. Other experts believe that the position, in its religious interpretation, would have provided men with a symbolic "bridge" to let them contact the gods; it has besides been noted that in ancient India similar concepts were in use in similar ages, here too ideally regarding rivers and bridges. The word has also been thought by some to be a corruption of a similar-sounding but etymologically unrelated Etruscan word for priest, but this theory is a minority opinion.
Incomplete list of Pontifices maximi
- 753 BC to 712 BC - Duties and power of office held by the Kings of Rome
- 712 BC - Numa Marcius
- 509 BC - Papirius
- 449 BC - Furius
- 431 BC - Cornelius Cossus
- 420 BC - Minucius
- 390 BC - Follius Flaccinator
- 332 BC - Cornelius Callissa
- 304 BC - Cornelius Scipio Barbatus
- 254 BC - Tiberius Coruncanius
- 243 BC - Lucius Caecilius Metellus
- 237 BC - Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus
- 212 BC - Publius Licinius Crassus Dives
- 183 BC - Gaius Servilius Geminus
- 180 BC - Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
- 152 BC - Vacant
- 150 BC - Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica
- 141 BC - Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio
- 132 BC - Publius Licinius Crassus Mucianus
- 130 BC - Publius Mucius Scaevola
- 115 BC - Lucius Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus
- 103 BC - Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus
- 89 BC - Quintus Mucius Scaevola
- 81 BC - Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius
- 63 BC - Gaius Julius Caesar
- 44 BC - Marcus Aemilius Lepidus
- 12 BC - Caesar Augustus
- 12 BC to AD 382 - Held by the Emperors
- AD 382 to the present - Held by the Popes.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details