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Member of a council of priests in ancient Rome. The pontifices were responsible for administration of the jus divinum (laws concerning religious practices). There were 3 pontifices under the monarchy, but by the time of Julius Caesar the number had grown to 16, of which 1 was designated chief priest, or pontifex maximus. Also included in the collegium (college) of pontifices were the Vestal Virgins. Among the duties of the pontifices were regulation of the calendar and of expiatory rituals, consecration of temples and sacred objects, superintendence of marriage and the family, and administration of the laws of adoption and succession.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on pontifex, visit Britannica.com.