of ancient Rome
Pontifices · Augures · Septemviri epulonum
Quindecimviri sacris faciundis
|Other colleges or sodalities|
|Fetiales · Fratres Arvales · Salii Titii · Luperci · Sodales Augustales|
Pontifex Maximus · Rex Sacrorum
Flamen Dialis · Flamen Martialis
Flamen Quirinalis · Rex Nemorensis Curio maximus
|Virgo Vestalis Maxima Flaminica Dialis · Regina sacrorum|
|Religion in ancient Rome · Imperial cult Glossary of ancient Roman religion Gallo-Roman religion|
According to legend, the first Pontifex Maximus was Numa Marcius, who was appointed by his friend, Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome. No other Pontifices Maximi are mentioned in surviving sources until the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally occurring in 509 BC. Once appointed, the Pontifex Maximus held his position for life; a new Pontifex Maximus was normally appointed following his death.
This list includes all of the Pontifices Maximi mentioned by historians and other ancient writers, down to the end of the Roman Republic. The list prior to the time of the First Punic War is presumably incomplete, as fewer than a dozen holders of the office are known from the first two-and-a-half centuries of the Republic. The last Pontifex Maximus of the Republican era was Lepidus, the triumvir. Upon his death, Augustus assumed the office, further consolidating his authority over the Roman state.
In the imperial era, it was customary for the emperor to serve as Pontifex Maximus. Although Constantine the Great reportedly converted to Christianity, and most of his successors were Christians, they continued to hold the office until the time of Gratian (375–383), who declined it, instead assuming the title of Pontifex Inclytus, which was not associated with the former pagan state religion. The title of Pontifex Maximus thereafter fell into abeyance. After the sack of Constantinople and the end of the Eastern Roman Empire in the fifteenth century, the title was revived by the Popes, notwithstanding its pagan origins, and is now a part of the papacy's official titulature.
The Pontifex Maximus held his office for life, but the date of death is not known for every man who held the office, and the name of the Pontifex is not recorded for every period. Unless otherwise noted, dates and citations of primary sources are from T.R.S. Broughton's three-volume The Magistrates of the Roman Republic (American Philological Association, 1951, 1986).