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Augustus as Pontifex Maximus
(Via Labicana Augustus)

The Pontifex Maximus (Latin, literally: "greatest pontiff" or "greatest bridge-builder") was the high priest of the College of Pontiffs (Collegium Pontificum) in ancient Rome. This was the most important position in the ancient Roman religion, open only to patricians until 254 BC, when a plebeian first occupied this post. A distinctly religious office under the early Roman Republic, it gradually became politicized until, beginning with Augustus, it was subsumed into the Imperial office. Its last use with reference to the emperors is in inscriptions of Gratian<ref name=lacus>Pontifex Maximus LacusCurtius retrieved August 15, 2006</ref> (reigned 375–383) who, however, then decided to omit the words "pontifex maximus" from his title.<ref>"Gratian." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Feb 3, 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9037772>.</ref><ref name=livius>Pontifex Maximus Livius.org article by Jona Lendering retrieved August 21, 2011</ref>

The word "pontifex" later became a term used for Christian bishops,<ref>"In the matter of hierarchical nomenclature, one of the most striking instances is the adoption of the term pontifex for a bishop" (Paul Pascal: Medieval Uses of Antiquity in The Classical Journal, Vol. 61, No. 5 [Feb. 1966], pp. 193–197).</ref> including the Bishop of Rome,<ref>Edictum Gratiani, Valentiani et Theodosii de fide catholica, 27 February 380; cf. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000: "Pontiff: 1a. The pope. b. A bishop. 2. A pontifex."</ref> and the title of "Pontifex Maximus" was applied within the Roman Catholic Church to the Pope as its chief bishop. It is not included in the Pope's official titles,<ref>Annuario Pontificio (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2012 ISBN 978-88-209-8722-0), p. 23*</ref> but appears on buildings, monuments and coins of popes of Renaissance and modern times.


Pontifex Maximus sections
Intro  Etymology  Origins in the Regal period  Roman Republic  Roman Empire  Tradition of sovereign as high priest  Roman Catholic use of the title  In popular culture  See also  References   External links   

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