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Funeral in Ancient Rome
During the first and second centuries AD, cremation was the most common burial practice in the Roman empire. Ultimately inhumation would replace cremation; a variety of factors, including the rise of Christianity among Romans and changes in attitudes to the afterlife, would contribute to this marked shift in popular burial practices. The objects displayed here pre-date that shift, having been recovered from a first or second century cremation burial in Puteoli (modern day Pozzuoli), the ancient harbor city of Rome.The Romans maintained a very systematic approach when tending to the dead. First, relatives would close the deceased's eyes while calling out the name of their dearly departed. The body was then washed and a coin was placed in the mouth, the coin was their payment to Charon, who ferried the dead across the rivers of the underworld.
Social status was an important factor in the Roman funeral. The dead were put on display: the length of this ancient "wake" depended upon the departed person's position in society. Upper-class individuals, such as the nobility, were often put on display for as long as a week, offering many opportunities for many mourners to pay their final respects. Lower class members of society, on the other hand, were often cremated after only one day. After the display, a funerary procession followed. Roman funerals were typically held at night to prevent large public gatherings and discourage crowds and excessive mourning which, in the case of major political figures, could lead to serious unrest. Hired musicians led the parade, followed by mourners and relatives who often carried portrait sculptures or wax masks of other deceased family members. The procession would end outside of town (it was forbidden to bury anyone within the city limits) and a pyre, or cremation fire, was built. As the fire burned, a eulogy was given in honor of the deceased. After the pyre was extinguished, a family member (usually the deceased's mother or wife) would gather the ashes and place them in an urn.
On these occasions, the person, if lying in his death bed, would be attended by his closest relatives and friends. Suetonius tells us that Augustus died amidst the kisses of Livia. Once prepared, the deceased person's closest relation would lay out the corpse somewhere near to the entrance of the house's threshold with the feet pointing towards the door and out. If the deceased was a high dignitary he may have the honour of "ius imaginam", the right to images, these were essentially wax moulds of his ancestors which could be laid out about and before him on the funeral bed. The final part of the preparatory ritual was to call out the deceased person's name several times. This was called "Conclamatio" and was probably done because of cases where persons might have been buried alive because they had only appeared to be dead.