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Presentation on theme: "DEATH AND BURIAL IN ANCIENT ROME THE POLLUTION OF DEATH."— Presentation transcript:


2 The Roman attitude towards the dead in the period spanning the end of the Republic and the high point of the Empire was determined mainly by religious views on the(im)mortality of the soul and the concept of the pollution of death. Contamination through contact with the dead was thought to affect interpersonal relationships, interfere with official duties and prevent contact with the gods. However, considerations of hygiene relating to possible physical contamination also played a role.

3 It was the custom at Rome, prior to the enactment of the Laws of the Twelve Tables, for the deceased relatives of the family to be buried in their own homes, which gave rise to the worship of the Lares, above referred to. The inconvenience and unsanitary results growing out of this practice no doubt contributed largely to its abrogation.

4 THE TWELVE TABLES-450BC Table 10 Law III. No burial or cremation of a corpse shall take place in a city. Law IV. No greater expenses or mourning than is proper shall be permitted in funeral ceremonies. Law V. No one shall, hereafter, exceed the limit established by these laws for the celebration of funeral rites. When a corpse is prepared for burial at home, not more than three women with their heads covered with mourning veils shall be permitted to perform this service. The body may be enveloped in purple robes, and when borne outside, ten flute players, at the most, shall accompany the funeral procession. Law VIII. Women shall not during a funeral lacerate their faces, or tear their cheeks with their nails; nor shall they utter loud cries bewailing the dead. Law IX. No bones shall be taken from the body of a person who is dead, or from his ashes after cremation, in order that funeral ceremonies may again be held elsewhere. When, however, anyone dies in a foreign country, or is killed in war, a part of his remains may be transferred to the burial place of his ancestors Law X. The body of no dead slave shall be anointed; nor shall any drinking take place at his funeral, nor a banquet of any kind be instituted in his honor. Law XI. No wine flavored with myrrh, or any other precious beverage, shall be poured upon a corpse while it is burning; nor shall the funeral pile be sprinkled with wine. Law XII. Large wreaths [1] shall not be borne at a funeral; nor shall perfumes be burned on the altars.

5 Think not disdainfully of death, but look on it with favor; for even death is one of the things that Nature wills. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Meditations ROMAN VIEWS OF DEATH

6 as a consequence of the notion of the manes (ancestral spirits) which had to be honoured, the vast majority of Roman citizens believed firmly in some form of life after death and therefore also in the need to ensure that the soul was satisfactorily freed from the dead body by means of the appropriate rituals. There was a widespread belief that an incomplete cremation or burial could condemn the soul to roam restlessly for eternity (Lindsay 2000:168). For example, the spirit of Emperor Caligula was said to have continued to torment the community for a lengthy period after his hasty, incomplete cremation (Suetonius, Caligula c.59). It was also said that Nero avoided the area of Misenum because the sound of trumpets and lamentation had been heard at the grave of his murdered mother Agrippina after her over-hasty interment(Tacitus, Annals XIV.10).

7 Burial customs and the pollution of death in ancient Rome even to imperil civic functions. Those who were polluted could not make sacrificial offerings or legally perform certain public offices (such as the opening of buildings) (Livy ii.8.7). It was therefore very important for priests (particularly the priest of Jupiter) and other spiritual leaders, as well as those in public office, not to be contaminated by contact with the dead. The contamination could be incurred by touch, and in the case of priests even by indirect contact, such as the sight of a dead person. Since beans were by some philosophical groups believed to house the souls of the dead, priests were not allowed to eat or even touch them; indeed, they were not even supposed to mention them (Pliny, Historia Naturalis xviii.118-9).

8 Libitinarri A paradoxical situation developed, primarily due to the concept of the pollution of death, insofar as the undertakers and their assistants were shunned, even abominated by the population, as a consequence of their constant exposure to death They were probably paid for their services by the public health authority They had to live outside the city walls, and thus the community of undertakers gradually found a home outside the Esquiline gate in the area of the Libitina forest



11 The archeological evidence indicates that the Romans practiced both cremation and inhumation (what we'd call "burial"). From the mid 3rd century B.C.E. on, burial became increasingly more popular. Cremations took place either in a section of the cemetary set aside for the event (ustrinum), or at the bustum (the grave site where the ashes would be buried). In addItion to the body, survivors burned gifts to and personal belongings of the dead.


13 INHUMATION The Romans in the most ancient times buried their dead though they also early adopted, to some extent, the custom of burning, which is mentioned in the Twelve Tables Burning, however, does not appear to have become general till the later times of the republic; Marius was buried, and Sulla was the first of the Cornelian gens whose body was burned Under the empire burning was almost universally practised, but was gradually discontinued as Christianity so that it had fallen into disuse in the fourth century

14 Ritual of death When a Roman was at the point of death, his nearest relation present endeavoured to catch the last breath with his mouth. The ring was taken off the finger of the dying person and as soon as he was dead his eyes and mouth were closed by the nearest, who called upon the deceased by name. The corpse was then washed, and anointed with oil and perfumes by slaves, called Pollinctores,

15 Roman atrium

16 A small coin was then placed in the mouth of the corpse, in order to pay the ferryman in Hades and the body was laid out on a couch in the vestibule of the house, with its feet towards the door, and dressed in the best robe which the deceased had worn when alive. Ordinary citizens were dressed in a white toga, and magistrates in their official robes

17 All funerals in ancient times were performed at night, but afterwards the poor only were buried at night, because they could not afford to have any funeral procession The corpse was usually carried out of the house on the eighth day after death. The order of the funeral procession was regulated by a person called Designator or Dominus Funeris, who was attended by lictors dressed in black. It was headed by musicians of various kinds (cornicines, siticines), who played mournful, and next came mourning women, called Praeficae who were hired to lament and sing p559the funeral song (naenia or lessus) in praise of the deceased. These were sometimes followed by players and buffoons (scurrae, histriones), of whom one, called Archimimus, represented the character of the deceased, and imitated his words and actions. Then came the slaves whom the deceased had liberated, wearing the cap of liberty (pileati); the number of whom was occasionally very great, since a master sometimes liberated all his slaves, in his will, in order to add to the pomp of his funeral.


19 ). Before the corpse persons walked wearing waxen masks [Imago], representing the ancestors of the deceased, and clothed in the official dresses of those whom they represented and there were also carried before the corpse the crowns or military rewards which the deceased had gained The corpse was carried on a couch (lectica), to which the name of Feretrum or Capulus was usually given; but the bodies of poor citizens and of slaves were carried on a common kind of bier or coffin, called Sandapila; The Sandapila was carried by bearers,

20 IMAGINES Imagines (meaning literally, "images" or "faces") were Roman funerary masks, thought to have been made of wax, that were hung after the person's death, in the atrium of their ancestral home providing they had held curule office in the Roman state. This meant that they had to have been a censor, consul, praetor or curule aedile (later, also plebeian aedile). The use of these masks was mostly ornamental, as they were placed in the most public room of the house, with small inscriptions beneath them (tituli for most of the time. Here they would be viewed by all the clientia of the pater familias as the Roman house, especially the atrium and the tablinum was a semi-public place. The masks also played a role in Roman funeral processions when they would be worn by hired actors and would parade before the dead man.


22 The relations of the deceased walked behind the corpse in mourning; his sons with their heads veiled, and his daughters with their heads bare and their hair dishevelled, contrary to the usual practice of. They often uttered loud lamentations, and the women beat their breasts and tore their cheeks, though this was forbidden by the Twelve Tables

23 If the deceased was of illustrious rank, the funeral procession went through the forum and stopped before the rostra, where a funeral oration (laudatio) in praise of the deceased was delivered This practice was of great antiquity among the Romans, and is said by some writers to have been first introduced by Publicola, who pronounced a funeral oration in honour of his colleague Brutus Women also were honoured by funeral orations From the forum the corpse was carried to the place of burning or burial, which, according to a law of the Twelve Tables, was obliged to be outside the city

24 Funeral orations The laudatio Iuliae amitae The family of my aunt Iulia is descended by her mother from the kings and on her father's side is akin to the immortal gods. For the Marcii Reges go back to Ancus Marcius, and the Iulii, the family of which ours is a branch, to Venus. Our stock therefore has at once the sanctity of kings, whose power is supreme among mortal men, and the claim to reverence which attaches to the gods, who hold sway over kings themselves."

25 Grave sites, whether the deceased had been buried or cremated, typically were marked by inscribed tombstones and wooden grave markers. Thousands of thousands of these tombstones, from all over the Roman Empire, have survived (althought the wooden grave markers of the poorest classes have not). The tombstones could contain a sculpture of the dead person, demographic information, a list of the public offices held and public services performed by the deceased, and a dedicatory inscription by the family member who paid for the tombstone. It was not uncommon at all for slaves or freedmen of a childless person to raise the tombstone. Although tombstone inscriptions were often formulaic, they also could be intensely personal (e.g., the Laudatio Turiae

26 Laudatio Turiae...of my wife (Left-hand column) (line 1)... through the honesty of your character... (2)... you remained... (3) You became an orphan suddenly before the day of our wedding, when both your parents were murdered together in the solitude of the countryside. It was mainly due to your efforts that the death of your parents was not left unavenged. For I had left for Macedonia, and your sister's husband Cluvius had gone to the Province of Africa.(in 49 BC) (7) So strenuously did you perform your filial duty by your insistent demands and your pursuit of justice that we could not have done more if we had been present. But these merits you have in common with that most virtuous lady your sister. READ THE REST OF THE SPEECH ATTACHED AND HIGHLIGHT THE SECTIONS WHICH REVEAL INFORMATION ABOUT THE LIVES OF ROMAN WOMEN

27 FUNERAL INSCRIPTIONS To the gods of the netherworld To Julia Chrestes Junius Phoebion for his wife well deserving it he made it."

28 The corpse was burnt on a pile of wood. When the flames began to rise, various perfumes were thrown into the fire (called by Cicero (l.c.) sumptuosa respersio), though this practice was forbidden by the Twelve Tables; cups of oil, ornaments, clothes, dishes of food, and other things, which were supposed to be agreeable to the deceased, were also thrown upon the flames

29 When the pile was burnt down, the embers were soaked with wine, and the bones and ashes of the deceased were gathered by the nearest relatives who sprinkled them with perfumes, and placed them in a vessel called urna which was made of various materials, according to the circumstances of individuals. Most of the funeral urns in the British Museum are made of marble, alabaster, or baked clay. They are of various shapes, but most commonly square or round; and upon them there is usually an inscription or epitaph

30 The urns were placed in sepulchres, which, as already stated, were outside the city, though in a few cases we read of the dead being buried within the city. The places for burial were either public or private. The public places of burial were of two kinds; one for illustrious citizens, who were buried at the public expense, and the other for poor citizens, who could not afford to purchase ground for the purpose. The former was in the Campus Martius, which was ornamented with the tombs of the illustrious dead. The tombs of the rich were commonly built of marble, and the ground enclosed with an iron railing or wall, and planted round with trees


32 Private tombs were either built by an individual for himself and the members of his family (sepulcra familiaria), or for himself and his heirs (sepulcra hereditaria,. A tomb, which was fitted up with niches to receive the funeral urns, was called columbarium, on account of the resemblance of these niches to the holes of a pigeon-house. In these tombs the ashes of the freedmen and slaves of the great families were frequently placed in vessels made of baked clay, called ollae, which were let into the thickness of the wall within these niches, the lids only being seen, and the inscriptions placed in front. Several of these columbaria are still to be seen at Rome.

33 Tomb of Naevola Tyche

34 Collambariums

35 After the bones had been placed in the urn at the funeral, the friends returned home. They then underwent a further purification called suffitio, which consisted in being sprinkled with water and stepping over a fire. A feast was given in honour of the dead, but it is uncertain on what day

36 Among the tombs at Pompeii there is a funeral triclinium for the celebration of these feasts, which is represented in the annexed woodcut (Mazois, Pomp. i. pl. XX). It is open to the sky, and the walls are ornamented by paintings of animals in the centre of compartments, which have borders of flowers. The triclinium is made of stone, with a pedestal in the centre to receive the table.


38 After the funeral of great men, there was, in addition to the feast for the friends of the deceased, a distribution of raw meat to the people, called Visceratio and sometimes a public banquet. Combats of gladiators and other games were also frequently exhibited in honour of the deceased. Thus at the funeral of P. Licinius Crassus, who had been Pontifex Maximus, raw meat was distributed to the people, a hundred and twenty gladiators fought, and funeral games were celebrated for three days; at the end of which a public banquet was given in the forum. Public feasts and funeral games were sometimes given on the anniversary of funerals.

39 The Romans, like the Greeks, were accustomed to visit the tombs of their relatives at certain periods, and to offer them sacrifices and various gifts, which were called Inferiae and Parentalia. The Romans appear to have regarded the Manes or departed souls of their ancestors as gods; whence arose the practice of presenting to them oblations, which consisted of victims, wine, milk, garlands of flowers, and other The tombs were sometimes illuminated on these occasions with lamps In the latter end of the month of February there was a festival, called Feralia, in which the Romans were accustomed to carry food to the sepulchres for the use of the dead

40 The Romans, like ourselves, were accustomed to wear mourning for their deceased friends, which appears to have been black or dark- blue (atra) under the republic for both sexes. In a public mourning on account of some signal calamity, as for instance the loss of a battle or the death of an emperor, there was a total cessation from business,

41 Potters field- deviant burials Potter's Field The Potter's Field was located on the eastern part of the Esquiline Hill. There were grave pits for the:pauper class riffraffs friendless poor plague-infected bodies dead animals abandoned slaves arena victims criminal outcasts unidentified dead The Potter's Field eventually was removed. These open pits gave away an unbearable stench and provided disease-breeding pollution. Augustus created new dumping grounds elsewhere and buried the Potter's Field under 25 ft. of soil. The Field was renamed Horti Maecenatis (Garden of Maecanas) The Esquiline was also a place for executing criminals of authorities. The decease would be left to the birds and beast of prey near the Esquiline Gate

42 When any illustrious person dies, he is carried in procession with the rest of the funeral pomp, to the rostra in the forum; sometimes placed conspicuous in an upright posture; and sometimes, though less frequently, reclined. And while the people are all standing round, his son, if he has left one of sufficient age, and who is then at Rome, or, if otherwise, some person of his kindred, ascends the rostra, and extols the virtues of the deceased, and the great deeds that were performed by him in his life. By this discourse, which recalls his past actions to remembrance, and places them in open view before all the multitude, not those alone who were sharers in his victories, but even the rest who bore no part in his exploits, are moved to such sympathy of sorrow, that the accident seems rather to be a public misfortune, than a private loss. He is then buried with the usual rites; and afterwards an image, which both in features and complexion expresses an exact resemblance of his face, is set up in the most conspicuous part of the house, enclosed in a shrine of wood. Upon solemn festivals, these images are uncovered, and adorned with the greatest care. And when any other person of the same family dies, they are carried also in the funeral POLYBIUS ON ROMAN FUNERALS


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