Photo by Giovanni Lattanzi

Dedicated to the Roman goddess of the hearth, the Temple of Vesta has stood at the center of the Roman forum for 2,500 years. Here the Vestal virgins—six priestesses—tended Rome’s sacred flame and embodied the city’s moral purity. Often depicted as modest, retreating young maidens, the Vestals were actually some of the most influential power-brokers in ancient Rome. In “Vestal Virgins—Chaste Keepers of the Flame,” Melissa Barden Dowling chronicles the surprisingly eventful history of this ancient order of priestesses.