In essence, is the amount of respect and deference that a Ventrue see fit to bestow upon other of their kin. It is affected by how other Ventrue see the vampire, combined with their own concept of importance and self-worth. Acquiring dignitas is the only way to advance in Ventrue society.
For some Ventrue scholars, the clan only fully realized their role in the leadership of the race of Cainites during the early nights of the Roman Republic. It is no wonder, then, that they take many of their ideas and ideals from their venerable Latin forbears. At the Republic's height, great men accomplished great deeds and built an empire that spanned farther than any empire in mortal or Cainite history had. They fought wars, engaged in fierce political battles, and sacked cities for more than just the money or the power. They did it because their dignitas demanded it.
Dignitas is a hard word to define. It encompasses not only simple dignity, but also many of the Japanese ideals summarized in the word "face" (as in saving face). Dignitas is a person's standing in society, his social stature, and his honor. For Rome's patrician class, dignitas was nothing less than the true measure of a man's self, of his worth. It requires the person with such status to fulfill social responsibilities, particularly in leadership roles.
The Ventrue adopted – and in turn, helped promote – the concept of dignitas with a vengeance. In one simple word, it encapsulated everything that they had held sacred and important for millennia. The Ventrue see themselves as (and, in fact, they are) the patrician class of Kindred society - the nobles of good birth, breeding and behaviour who must act with honor and be treated with dignity. For many Ventrue, as with the early Romans, dignitas is all.
As a clan member rises in prominence, his dignitas grows with him. It is the sum of his accomplishments to date. The battles won, offices held, and alliances made all come together to increase a Ventrue's dignitas. At the same time, conflicts lost, insults taken, and failures recognized all serve to detract from his status. A Ventrue's dignitas can fall just as it can rise. For many Ventrue, the fear and anger associated with losing face outstrip the fear of fire or Final Death. In such a history-minded clan, the loss of one's life pales in comparison to the loss of one's legacy.
Increasing one's dignitas is the true goal that most Ventrue spend their nights pursuing relentlessly. Talk of "noble obligations" and preserving the Camarilla sound good, and they are important in theory, but many Ventrue seek to aggrandize themselves on a personal level first and foremost. The Ventrue do not denigrate the concept with any sure way of calculating dignitas; they observe no "dignitas points" or awards system. It is intangible, like reputation or fame. Dignitas grows not only with success but with achieving that success in the right and proper way. A Kindred who reaches new heights of political influence through the standard course accrues more dignitas than one who does so at the expense of other Ventrue, the reputation of the clan, or simple decorum. Image, tradition, and values play as much of a role in determining dignitas as do money, influence, and temporal power.
Aside from breaches of the Traditions, the clan knows few crimes greater than impugning another member's dignitas groundlessly. Ventrue take assaults on their stature very seriously. Spreading rumors, taking credit for another's work, and insulting a Ventrue without just cause (publicly or privately) are just a few of the ways one can diminish dignitas. Doing so is a sure way to make an enemy for all of unlife, and it can indeed be cause for severe punishment or discipline. Centuries-long feuds continue tonight between elders who feel that some idle comment at a social gathering in the 16th century threatened their dignitas. Although this example is extreme, it is indicative of a greater trend. In some cases, Ventrue have actually petitioned elders or princes for permission to destroy young Kindred who insulted them foolishly in some way.