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The Rex Sacrorum (Latin: "king of sacred things") was the office of the highest-ranking priest under the Roman Kingdom. This changed upon the founding of the Roman Republic when the newly-created office of pontifex maximus was reserved for the top priest.

Rex Sacrorum is analogous to the office of sacred king in other cultures.

Contents

Establishment

When the Roman people overthrew the last Roman king in 510 BC, the notion persisted that a person had to perform the rituals that the king of Rome traditionally presided over. The Romans therefore appointed a Rex Sacrorum, literally king of the sacred rites, who discharged the religious duties of the deposed king. The Rex Sacrorum was a patrician, appointed to the priesthood for life by the Pontifex Maximus. In theory and in social precedence, the Rex Sacrorum was the highest ranking priest in the Roman religion, but in practice his influence was far less than that of the Pontifex Maximus. He was exempt from all civilian or military duties. Unlike the Pontifex Maximus or the Augurs he was forbidden to hold any other office, thus he wielded no civil or military influence. Because of these restrictions, the office was never coveted by the plebeians, and remained a patrician monopoly until it was abolished during the reign of Theodosius I in 390 AD. The Rex Sacrorum's wife was also a priest, called the Regina Sacrorum, "queen of the sacred rites."

Duties

The Rex Sacrorum and Regina Sacrorum presided over a sacrifice that was offered several times a month, on the Ides, Nones, and Kalends of the Roman calendar; he to Jupiter, she to Juno. He also played an important role in the yearly religious ritual of the Regifugium, which commemorated the expulsion of the last king from Rome. The Rex Sacrorum was also charged with the duty of placating the gods on behalf of the Roman state when evil omens were discerned.

Another Roman priest given the title of "king" was the rex Nemorensis.

In popular culture

  • "The king of sacrifices" by John Maddox Roberts, appearing in The mammoth book of historical detectives, edited by Michael Ashley. (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1995) ISBN 0786702141

References

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