A still more wonderful illustration of the strength and durability of Roman architecture is furnished by the Cloaca Maxima, or principal sewer of the ancient city. Pliny, who wrote in the first century of the Christian era, spoke with unqualified admiration of this monstrous conduit, and marveled that such a "monument of antiquity," as he called it, should be in existence after the earthquakes, accidents, and use of nearly seven hundred years. But what would his astonishment have been could he have known that one thousand eight hundred years after his time the huge stone sewer would still be in use, and that its massive, uncemented arch would be, apparently, as strong in the nineteenth century after Christ as in the sixth century before Him! I know of nothing which so reveals the magnitude of the ideas and plans that governed the establishment of Rome as the provisions for the drainage of the city, which were on such a colossal scale as to satisfy completely the needs of Rome, both in the time of the Empire with its enormous water supply and in these modern times. Will any government contractor of the present century leave such a memorial as this? Turning a few steps from the river we approached a little circular structure, whose ugly, modern roof appeared entirely out of keeping with its twenty beautiful Corinthian columns.
Arch Of Drusus.
The Cloaca Maxima.
The Cloaca Maxima, In The Forum.
"Surely," I said (anxious to show my knowledge of the city), "surely I recognize this from pictures I have seen of it, it is the Temple of Vesta." My comrade smiled. "Be not too sure of that," he answered, "some scholars it is true still call it so, but the majority claim that it is a Temple of Hercules".
"Whichever it may be," I said, "what most surprises me is, that so frail a structure still survives when many larger buildings have gone down in ruin".
"The secret of its preservation," said my friend, "is this, that over it the Church for ages spread its mantle of protection, since it was early used as a place of Christian worship".
The Vestals are among the most interesting personages of the old Roman world. They were only six in number, and of a great variety in age, a child under ten years being always chosen to fill a vacancy caused by death or by the retirement of a priestess, which was obligatory at the age of forty. These virgin priestesses, like the nuns of the Roman Catholic Church, took a vow of chastity, but of poverty and obedience they knew comparatively nothing. That they lived in almost regal splendor, is proved by the magnificent House of the Vestals discovered, in 1883, upon the Palatine; for it evidently was sumptuously furnished, and had spacious courts, fine columns, beautiful mosaic pavements, apartments lined with precious marble, and a large number of statues (chiefly portraits of distinguished Vestals), together with all the appliances for comfort known to wealthy Romans, including luxurious bath-rooms and flues in the walls for heating with hot air. Far from being rigidly bound to obedience, no women in Rome enjoyed such independence as the Vestal Virgins. They were not held amenable to the common law, being subject only to the Pontifex Maximus, who exercised over them an authority more nominal than real. Their privileges, too, exceeded those of the Roman matrons, since they alone had the right of holding property and making wills, while others of their sex were obliged to consider in such matters their fathers or their husbands. Moreover, they were allowed to drive in the streets of Rome, while other ladies were conveyed in sedan-chairs, and when they thus appeared in public, a lictor made the crowd fall back to let them pass. In all important ceremonies, too, these white-robed virgins took precedence even of the Consuls, and in the public places of amusement not only were the choicest seats reserved for them, but by a decree of the Senate the Empress, when in public, was obliged to sit with them. Such was the reverence felt for them, that if a condemned criminal, on his way to execution, met a Vestal he was immediately set at liberty. All these advantages were theirs on two conditions: that of maintaining constantly the sacred fire in the temple of Vesta, and of adhering faithfully to their vow of chastity. A Vestal whose neglect allowed the sacred fire to be extinguished was liable to be scourged by the Pontifex Maximus; and any priestess guilty of unchastity received the awful punishment of being buried alive. A frightful dungeon was reserved for her, and into this the unhappy woman was lowered with her infant child, to be encased in walls that never opened until slow starvation had fulfilled its task. Nor was this punishment then deemed too severe; for, in the early days of Rome, when morals were austere and justice prompt of execution, the fire kept forever burning by the Vestals was emblematic of social purity. To break their vow of chastity was, there-fore, sacrilege; since in the minds of all the virtue of a Vestal stood as a model for the nation.