From professional mourners to elaborate processions, we look at how wealthy Romans said goodbye to their deceased…
Back in the days of Ancient Rome, it was believed that a person’s soul left their body through the mouth – so the nearest relation would be at their loved one’s deathbed ready to inhale their last breath. Afterwards, the deceased would be lovingly bathed, perfumed and dressed in fine robes then coins would be placed over their eyes or under their tongue.
For the funeral procession, wealthy Romans would have an elaborate affair organised by professional undertakers called libitinarii. At the head of the procession there were dancers, musicians and actors wearing masks signifying the deceased’s ancestors. Also taking part were paid female mourners who wailed loudly while pulling their hair and scratching their faces. Following behind the main procession, friends and relatives transported the deceased in an open cloth-covered bier, or bed-like tray.
The deceased would either be buried or cremated and their ashes placed in an urn within a columbarium, or dovecote. This was an important part of the funeral ritual, as the Romans believed that until a body was interred it couldn’t cross the River Styx – the mythical river that took the deceased from Earth to the Underworld. Nine days later, there would be a feast, during which a libation was poured over the grave or ashes.
After a person’s death, families regularly commemorated their loved ones by gathering around their tomb and making offerings to the spirits. The Roman state also set aside special commemoration days during the year so that people could honour their ancestors.
While we may not follow the same traditions as the Ancient Romans, like them we do all we can to give our loved ones a memorable a send-off and to keep their memory alive in our hearts.
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