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PONTIFEX. Pontif or Priest of the gods among the people of heathen Rome. Many were the persons dedicated to the service of those false deities and in their corporate capacity they formed a college. It is, however, to be observed that the individuals thus employed (and whose principal function was to offer sacrifices, not to any particular divinity but to all the gods of their mythology) did not constitute any seperate order set apart like that of the Christian clergy from civil employments, but were eligible with other citizens to exercise, at the same time, the office of magistrate and also to act in a military capacity.
The number of Pontifs instituted by Numa was four and they were taken from the body of the Patricians. In the year 454, under the consulate of Apuleius Pansa and Valerius Corvus, four more were added from the Plebians. In Sylla's time the number was augmented to fifteen, and from that time commenced the distinction of the greater and the inferior priests. The eight ancient ones were called Pontifices majores and the other Pontifices minores.
The pontifs were regarded as sacred personages and for distinction's sake took precedence before all the magistrates. They presided at all such games of the circus, of the amphitheater and of the theater, as were celebrated in honor of any deity. The insignia of the sacerdotal dignity were a headress formed by plaiting the hair and called a tutulus, the apex (a pointed cap) and the suffibulum (veil). The pontifs also wore the pretexta and had all the equipage of great magistrates as well as the same kind of retinue.
On coins with the inscription of PIETAS AVGVSTA we see among the symbols of the priesthood the instruments of sacrifice such as the secespita, the lituus, the simpulum, the aspergillum, etc. (See those words). Morell's work furnishes representations of pontifical insignia without the augural, on coins of Julius Caesar and with the augural signs united to the legend AVGVR PONT MAX.
PONTIFEX. On a middle brass of Tiberius struck in the year of Rome 763, during the lifetime of Augustus (who had twelve years before granted his adopted son the Tribunitian power), the former prince is called simply Pontiff and the son of the emperor without being honored, himself, with the name of Augustus. But after his accession to the throne, Tiberius took the DIVI AVG F AVGVST (August son of the divine Augustus), and also that of P M (Pontifex Maximus) as many of his coins testify.