Posts Tagged With: funeral procession

A time to die in Ancient Rome…..


The Romans had two types of burials, cremation or inhumation, depending on the fashion at the time. Romans practiced cremation (burning) of their dead. The ashes would be placed in a small clay jar know as an urn and placed in a tomb. Cremation was the usual custom until about A.D. 100. The influence of the Christian religion moved the handling of the dead to burial, especially for those of the Christian faith. Many tombs in later Rome were along side the roads leading out of the city. Only the very rich could afford a tomb within the city. Poor people often could not afford a tomb and would be buried in a public pit on Esquiline Hill.The first thing they did was to close the deceased’s eye while calling out his name. This helped to make sure that the person was actually dead. Sometimes a deep coma could mimic death and if the family were going through the ritual and expense of a funeral, they certainly didn’t want the deceased sitting up in the middle of his funeral procession.
Then his relatives would wash the body and dress him in his finest clothes and wearing a crown if he had earned one in life. He would be laid out on a couch and a coin was placed in his mouth under his tongue so he could pay the ferryman Charon to row him to the land of the dead. The Romans believed that the soul of the dead would go underground to the river Styx. The soul had to cross the river. A coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay Charon, the boatman of the underworld, for the passage across. If the body was not properly buried and did not have a coin, the soul was forced to stay for one hundred years before being allowed to cross the river Styx. He was laid out for eight days then taken out for burial.
The outside of the house where the wake was held was adorned with cypress branches as a sign of mourning and at times the male relatives and slaves would clip the front part of their hair as a token of grief.
In an expensive procession there was the “funeral director” called the designator, who had lictors. He was followed by musicians and mourning women. Other performers might follow, such as mimes, imitating or even satirizing the events of the person’s life. Next came the newly freed slaves (most Romans freed a number of slaves at their deaths). In front of the corpse, men representing the ancestors of the departed, wearing wax masks in the image of the ancestors, walked. If the deceased had been a famous person, a funeral oration would be given in the forum. This was called a laudatio and could be given for either a man or woman.
If the body were to be burned it was put on a funeral pyre and then when the flames rose, perfumes were thrown at the fire. When the pile burned down, wine was used to douse the embers and the ashes wee gathered and placed in an urn.
Because of the expense of a funeral, the poor Romans, including slaves joined burial societies which guaranteed proper burial in large community tombs called columbaria instead of simply being dumped in a pit to rot.

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