The Ancient Roman Funeral


ACLS Fellowship Program




P. Ariès began his sweeping survey of western attitudes to death (L’Homme devant la mort, 1977) with the death of Roland (778 CE), on the premise that the attitude depicted there represented a tradition that went back unchanged “to the dawn of history.” This study challenges that view by situating Roman mortuary behavior more securely than before within the long history of western attitudes to death. It argues that the basic institutional structures of the Roman funeral provided a continuity of cultural practice that promoted social and psychic stability in the Roman response to death across widely differing historical periods. Finally it attempts to link-up the two “halves” of the cultural history of death in the west by identifying which functions and forms of Roman funerals survived antiquity and which ones were lost or transformed.