Funeral Customs of the Ancient Romans Flashcards Preview

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Flashcards in Funeral Customs of the Ancient Romans Deck (42):

The period 753 B.C., Romulus the first king to 474 A.D., when the German Odoacer deposed the last emperor Romulus Agustus- 1200 years of the Roman Empire (Best years of the Roman empire)

Ancient Romans


Although the Romans borrowed and adapted much of their culture in the area of the practical and expressive arts from the Greeks, their contributions to the science and art of administration are substantially their own.

Roman View of Death and Importance of Burial


The doctrine which holds that the soul of man, although separated at death from the body, hovered around the place of burial for its continued peace and happiness, and required constant attention from the descendants in the form of offerings of food and drink.

Animistic View


Spirit hovers around the individual, and drawn into lighted tunnel (brigh light) goes back thousands of years. Nearly identical for everyone throughout the ages.

Near Death Experience - Animistic View


Should the offerings to the soul of man be discontinued, it could cause the soul to be unhappy and become a spirit of evil to bring harm upon those who had neglected their offerings.

Offering to the Dead


Specifically those of Greece and the oriental east emphasized the spiritual aspects of the afterlife, and included the hope of joining with the cult of god in a pleasant, wonderous, or estatic existence in eternity. Included this in philosophy was the concept of punishment and unhappiness for the evil.

Influence of Mystery Cults


A more philosophical conception proposed that the body and the soul, composed of atoms (small particles), simply disintegrated at death resulting in a "live for the day" philosophy.

  • Believed in gods, but they had no role after death.

Epicurean Influence


By 300 A.D., a deifinite set of beliefs formulated the Christian view of death and the importance of burial based on previous beliefs of Egypt. Hebrews, Greece, and Rome (mix of four religious bases). The result was twofold.

Influence of Christianity


  1. The immortality of the soul that in the future would reunite with a risen body.
  2. That every human body was the temple of the holy spirit and should not be desecrated in any way. (Anti-cremation statement).

Twofold Result of the Influence of Christianity


The same cycle of burial cremation- burial that occurred in Greech also occurred in Rome. The end of cremation came about in the Holy Roman Empire after 500 A.D. for two reasons.

Roman Burial Customs


  1. The cremation was rejected by the oriental mystery cults with their abhorrence of fire. (Hindus did not follow this rejection (the only exception)).
  2. The rise of Christianity with its emphasis upon the hallowed nature of the body- "Temple of the Holy Ghost" (and shall not be burned).

Two Reasons for the End of Cremation


Practiced by the Germanic invaders, conquering Western Europe eventually gave way to earth burial as they became converted to Christianity.



From 100 A.D. to 800 A.D. became firmly entrenched as Christianity grew. However, the opposing concept of intramural and extramural internment was debated during this period.

Earth Burial


Burial outside of population centers along roadways was done for sanitary reasons. The general population, as well as aliens and slaves were buried in common burial pits away from population centers called commune sepulchrum. Elaborate and costly tombs (masuoleums) along the roadways were for the well-to-do only.

Extramural Internment


Following the example of the martyrs, it was felt the dead Christians should be interred within their churches. (Origin: Catacombs- largest ones in Paris)

Intramural Internment


The wealthy could afford their own tomb. However, the poor "Misera plebs" became the function of the state. We see for the first time the rise of burial societies, whose origins were pre-Christian, beginning to bury the masses with pooled dues collected from the poor. (Origins of the insurance industry that develops 2,000 years later was based on burial societies).

Class Distinction


  • Libitina
  • Libitinarius
  • Pollinctores
  • Designator
  • Praeco or crier

Funeral Functionaries in Roman Society


Goddess of corpses and funerals.



Pagan roots, operated from the temple of Libitina. He was the supervising secular funeral director charging for his services. He dominated and directed the funeral.



Slave or employee of the Libitinarius. They were concerned with limited preservation using ointments, perfumes, and spices more or less to off-set the odor of putrefaction. Their objective was to hold the remains for about a week in state. There is evidence of cavity evisceration and pickling for the rich.



A kind of "Master of Ceremonies" subordinate to the Libitinarius who took charge of all funeral processions. Could have been an apprentice to the Libitinarius.



A special functionary who summoned the participants to a public Roman funeral.

Praceo or Crier


  • Baffoon
  • Wax masks

Early Funeral Directing


A hired actor to portray the deceased during the funeral procession. He would greet mourners and thank those that attended.



Special ceremonial masks worn by baffoons representing the deceased. Family and visitors wore these representing the deceased's ancestors- they symbolized a kind of welcoming commitee for the entry of the deceased into eternity.

Wax Masks


Held at night; a torchlight procession.

Ordinary Funerals for the Majority


Held during the day but the custom of torchbearers continued as a rememberance of the custom of nocturnal burial.

High Status Funeral Procession


  • Funeral oration in the Forum (city market place or open square)
  • Extramural entombment or cremation (depends on date)
  • Consecration of the burial site (if Christian)
  • Casting earth upon the remains
  • Designated mourning period was observed
  • Memorial festivals honoring the memory of the deceased with offerings to the Gods.

For the Well-to-do Roman


Usually women hired for the funeral who shrieked and beat their breasts, tearing their hair and garments and scratching their faces.

Professional Mourners


A triple ceremonial farewell or calling out of the dead as they circled the deceased three times. Rejected later by the Christians. (Stems from the fear of being buried alive)- Pagan ritual.

Conclamatio Mortis


Children were buried soon after death with little or no ceremony in gardens near eaves, and under the fountains of homes. This was due to high death rate.

Death of Children and Pets


First Christian emperor 314 A.D.- 379 A.D.

Influenced Christianity on Roman funeral behavior.

Constantine the Great


Specifically the Decani, would replace the Libitinarius and his staff as overseers of all funerals. Becuse the Libitinarius refused service to the poor, he was replaced by the state.

The church-state bureaucracy


One step from priesthood.



Extended municipal authority to include the public disposal of any Roman citizen who needed, but could not afford a funeral.

Constantine the Great


Would provide a bier, coffin (later on), and grave without payment.



Provided a religious procession, including a corss bearer, eight monks, and three ______, also bier bearers.



Laws prohibiting excessive spending and overcharging for:

Funeral Paraphernalia (Church Charges)


Took over church societies and changed them into ______ societies, which you pay in for funeral and other church offerings.



Government by religion- no difference between government and the majority religion- church state government was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church (for about 1,000 years). Decani were the bureaucrats.



  • Marked a major step in defining the status, character, and occupational role of the modern funeral director. Specifically the emerging role of the secular, as distinguished from this religious, undertaker and the assignment to him of specific tasks.
  • From 300 A.D. to 1800 A.D., some 1500 years, this secular undertaker (Libitinarius) disappears as an arranger, manager, director of funerals and supplier of mortuary paraphernalia. He was replaced by the church Decani.

Influence of Roman Burial Practices


These existed, usually among soldiers. Money was collected in a pool to pay for funerals and funeral items for people who could not afford them.

Burial Societies