The Pontifex Maximus (Latin, "greatest priest") was the chief 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 (reigned 375–383) who, however, then decided to omit the words "pontifex maximus" from his title. Although in fact the most powerful office of Roman priesthood, the pontifex maximus was officially ranked fifth in the ranking of the highest Roman priests (ordo sacerdotum), behind the rex sacrorum and the flamines maiores (Flamen Dialis, Flamen Martialis, Flamen Quirinalis). The word "pontifex" and its derivative "pontiff" later became terms used for Catholic bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, and the title of "Pontifex Maximus" was applied within the Catholic Church to the Pope as its chief bishop and appears on buildings, monuments and coins of popes of Renaissance and modern times. The official list of titles of the Pope given in the Annuario Pontificio includes "Supreme Pontiff" (in Latin, Summus Pontifex) as the fourth title, the first being "Bishop of Rome"..
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