Funerary stele
The Mausoleum of Senex Caecilius

I may be old, but I'm not quite ready for the grave yet! Nonetheless, it is reassuring to know that there is still room for an urn with my ashes in the family tomb. (It is the columbarium style: a rectangular chamber with vaulted ceiling and several rows of niches in the walls.) Naturally, in accordance with the law, it is located in a cemetery outside the city walls. You can locate it along the road to Ostia, surrounded by cypress trees,.

You may notice an open area enclosed by a wall in front of the tomb. That is where the family funerary feast takes place. We return there on special family occasions to honor the deceased with libations and a picnic. Being decorated with bright paint and plaster molding, it is not a gloomy spot at all. Someday a funerary plaque (titulus) like the one shown above may decorate my own little niche (nidus) in the wall.

An exhibit by students at the University of Michigan entitled Death on Display in the Ancient World illustrates death and burial in the Roman empire with three fictious grave groups created from ancient artifacts.

If you are interested, you can view the elaborate, circular mausoleum of Hadrian located in Rome, but remember to close up when you leave, please.

Can you deduce the origin of the term mausoleum from this double-dactyl?

Here are a few facts about funerals and burials in Roman times that may interest you.

  • Funerals were arranged by professional undertakers who provided the mourning women, musicians, and sometimes dancers and mimers.
  • The funeral procession of an affluent man might include members of his family dressed as his ancestors and wearing ancestral masks (imagines).
  • From the period of the late republic until the middle of the third century, most Romans were cremated. However, Jews and Christians objected to cremation, and it died out.
  • The catacombs, underground passages and burial chambers carved out of soft rock, were used primarily for Christian burials.

    Here are additional resources concerning Roman funerary practices.

    An article in The Ancient History Encyclopedia entitled "Death's Mansions: The Columbaria of Imperial Rome" provides interesting details and illustrations about the tombs.
    A gallery at The Christian Catacombs of Rome offers thumbnail photos and a historical summary of those tombs.
    An article in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities provides a thorough description of Roman funerary practices.
    An article entitled The Romans and Their Dead provides additional information about Roman funerary practices.
    An chapter in Rodolfo Lanciani's Pagan and Christian Rome provides an illustrated account of pagan cemeteries.

    Some of the preceding information comes from Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, written by Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins and published in 1998 by Oxford University Press (New York).

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