Funeral Rites of Ancient Rome

              Ancient Roman FuneralFuneral customs are as old as civilization itself.   Indeed, every culture and civilization ever studied appears to have some form of funeral ritual, including a sacred place for those who have died and some means of memorializing their death.  Moving beyond these basic commonalities, however, funeral rites differ significantly.  Among the most elaborate of all burial rituals are those that were practiced in ancient Rome. 


            Funerals in ancient Rome for the poor were usually simple.  However, the funerals of the wealthy were quite a different story.  Funerals of the socially prominent were generally organized by professional undertakers called libitinarii who provided mourning women, musicians, and sometimes dancers and mimes.  As part of the funeral process, the deceased’s family would gather together and ride in chariots at the front of a large procession through the streets of Rome. When the procession reached the forum, the deceased was displayed and a eulogy was read.


            Romans either buried or cremated their loved ones.  Food, golden trinkets and various perfumes were all buried in the tombs of the rich.  It is thought these items were meant to help the deceased on his or her journey through the underworld.  Sometimes, although not often, the deceased seemed to have been granted a sort of “hero” status, almost being treated like a god after death.  In that case, the deceased would occupy a temple, tomb, or mausoleum where the public could enter.  If cremation was preferred, the deceased was cremated on a pyre, often with gifts and some of his or her personal belongings.


Ancient Roman Funeral Arch            Remembering and honoring the deceased members of their family was very important to the Romans, and this belief is evident in the intricate nature of their burial practices. It is interesting how these traditions have been carried on and improved.  But, today in our culture, you don’t have to be wealthy to have a nice funeral.  We believe everyone should have an opportunity to say goodbye.

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