(‘the Priesthood of Fifteen’), one of the four major colleges (see collegium) of the Roman priesthood (see priests). The size of the college increased gradually, starting at two, reaching ten, fifteen, and finally sixteen (though the name remained quindecimviri) in the late republic. Like the other colleges, they lost the right to select their own members, but continued to be recruited by popular election from the noblest families. Their main functions throughout their history were to guard the Sibylline books (Greek oracles, consisting mostly of ritual texts, not prophetic utterances; see sibyl); to consult the books when asked to do so by the senate, esp. in response to prodigies (see portents) or other disasters; and to provide the appropriate religious remedies derived from them. Their recommendations led to the importation, from the 5th cent. bc onwards and esp. in the 3rd, of Greek cults and rituals, over which they maintained some oversight. They reached particular prominence in the early empire as the authorities responsible for the Secular Games, radically reconstructed from the republican series to suit the new regime's ideas.
Subjects: Classical Studies.