The Ancient Roman Vestal Virgins. Photo taken from the House of the Vestal Virgins in the Roman Forum, Rome.
The Vestal Virgins were the priestesses of Vesta in charge of maintaining the sacred fire within the Temple of Vesta on the Forum Romanum. They were the only female priests within the roman religious system.
The vestal virgins were selected at an age from three to ten, and served thirty years. Only after these 30 years could they marry. The average life expectancy of a high class Roman of the era was about 40 years.
The vestals vowed to live in chastity for the thirty years their term lasted. The punishment for breaking the vow of chastity was death by burial alive—the only way to kill a vestal without shedding her blood. Their lover would be flogged to death on the Comitium. The execution of one or more vestal virgins were carried out several times, but very infrequently.
The vestal virgins lived in the House of the Vestal Virgins on the Forum Romanum, near the Temple of Vesta. The order of the vestals was disbanded in 394 AD, when non-Christian cults were banned.
Photo credit: myworldmybook