Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Pontifex, in ancient Rome, was the name given to priests of the nation attached to no particular cult, but exercising a general supervision over them all. The office is said to have been instituted by Numa, and the college consisted of five, presided over by the High Priest or Pontifex Maximus. In 300 B.C. the number was increased to nine, including the Pontifex Maximus, and four of them had to be elected from the plebs; under Sulla they numbered fifteen, and in the time of Julius Caisar sixteen. They formed a kind of State Episcopate; and among their chief functions were the inauguration of priests, securing the due observation of Vesta's rites, taking care of the public annals, administering ecclesiastical law, regulating the calendar and public worship. Their distinctive dress was the toga prretexta and a conical hat made from the skins of sacrificial animals. The post of Pontifex Maximus was occupied till the time of Theodosius by the Emperor, and from that time by the Pope.