Individual Decision and Social Order
Exercise of individual choice and detraditionalized behavior are among the basic phenomena of individualization. We find examples of these that merit a detailed analysis already in the Roman Republic of the third century BC. Among the attested variety of apparently normal official and priestly careers from the third until the first century BC, there are some examples of individual interpretations of traditional priestly roles that seem surprising and are often unique. These cases have been interpreted as evidence for the fluid character and adaptability of so-called sacral law, but I would like to analyze them anew. They merit our interest and attention as they point to a somewhat neglected aspect of late republican religion: the influence of patrician origin. With regard to what the Romans called “public priests” (sacerdotes publici), the cases I will discuss illustrate the basic mechanism of individual agency within structures defined by social order and tradition. As a consequence, these instances not only offer examples of individual appropriation of religion but also highlight a structural trait, that is, the complexity of processes of institutionalization, by casting new light onto another sacerdotal group, the priestesses of Vesta.