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Roman Death and Burial

Roman funeral was a rite of passage, being an integral part of their beliefs to avoid
having malicious spirits rise from the underworld. There were generally 5 parts to
a Roman funeral, each a reflection of an individuals wealth and status.
The procession marked the movement of the deceased whilst the family and
occasionally clients as a show of respect to their patron, walked beside them, as a
loud noise was generated. The more wealthy and famous the flashier the funeral
procession, with mimes and musicians. For the poorer and general population of
Rome only a few flute players would play music. Professional mourners formed a
large part of the procession. Composed of women they were not part of the
deceased family, and would wail loudly and scratch their faces in the mourning. As
they were paid a large number of professional mourners indicated wealth and
power of the individual. Actors with imagines ( ancestral masks) formed the next
part, dressing up as the deceased ancestros and animate their persona. Ancestral
worship was crucial in Roman beliefs on death and the after life. Only after the
actors had passed the deceased then the corpse could be moved. Moving was
done in a bier ( a bed like tray). Those gathered to mourn then followed for the
cremation or burial. This procession was in many ways much bigger than events
held whilst living ie weddings, illustrating the vast significance to Roman society.
Cremation was the more common method of dealing with the dead. If the body
was to be cremated, the deceased was taken to the necropolis, meaning city of the
dead, they were placed upon a funeral pyre, which was then burned. The ashes
were then placed in a funerary urn. Cremation stems for the belief that if the body
is not buried then the spirit had not and could not cross the River Styx yet, this
was the river that takes a soul from the World of the living to the World of the
Dead. This then resulted in the belief that if anything negative was said about the
spirit it would become angered, since it lingered with close friends and family.
Burial also took place. The body was placed in a sarcophagus ( coffin) and
depending on wealth, was often decorated to varying degrees. They were buried
with no possessions but in Roman Egypt they were buried with a very lifelike
painting of the deceased attached to the sarcophagus.
After the cremation, if the deceased ( male or female) was wealthy or had made a
strong impression on their family or society, a eulogy would be offered.
At the end of a funeral it was tradition for a ritual feast to be held. This feast
symbolises to the spirit that they could go into the underworld and that their
family would move forward and move on with their lives.
Commemoration was how the living remembered the deceased. There were certain
days every year in which you would be allowed to remember your loved ones;
some days include Parentalia, held from February 13-21. Individual families also
had personal days for commemorating their dead. The idea behind this
commemoration was that you could take offerings to your deceased familys tomb
and that by doing so would allow the spirit to remember some of their memories
from their lives before.
For special cases such as the death of an emperor, funeral rites were altered.
Instead of having to be buried outside of the city like common people, the Emperor
was buried in the city. It was also believed that while the common people became

spirits, the Emperor instead would become a god through the process of
apotheosis. This meant that the Emperors commemoration was more expensive
and grand and that monuments were erected to please the Emperor and the gods.
The poorest citizens were also different unable to afford the more common burial
rite. They were buried in burial grounds resembling dovecots, which allowed many
people to be buried together in a small space. This was better than the alternative,
which was to be dumped in pits where their remains would rot.