Then came the mourners, the friends, distinguished persons, the magistrates of
the city, the common people, and lastly the slaves, who on such occasions were
not only permitted but expected to bear witness by their presence to an affection
which they had never felt before for him who was once their master. As a general
thing, the procession halted in the Forum. There the representatives of the
ancestors of the dead took their place in the seats of the curiales, whereupon
one of the number, perhaps a near kinsman, if such chanced to be gifted with
oratory, or otherwise a friend, mounted the Tribune, and delivered a funeral
oration in honor of the dead.
In the course of this address it was expected not only that the deeds of the
deceased should be glorified, but that the history of his family, his ancestors,
his kinsmen, should be given, especially in such parts as were calculated to
reflect credit and honor upon the departed.
When the address was ended the procession was renewed to the place of interment
or burning. If the latter, the pyre was already prepared. The body was at once
laid upon it, and the torch applied by the nearest kinsman. As the flames were
kindled the friends gathered near and cast into the burning pile small mementos
of the dead or articles of their own, such as incense, perfumes, and locks of
hair. As soon as the wood was consumed the ashes were sprinkled with wine and
perfumes, and were then gathered into the urn, which was set in the vault. Then
certain ones, speaking for the family, spoke aloud, as addressing the dead:
"Farewell, thou pure soul." "Lightly rest the earth upon thee." "Rest in peace."
Finally those who had participated in the funeral purified themselves with holy
water, and then dispersed to their homes. At the expiration of nine days a
funeral feast was given in commemoration of the dead, and this might be repeated
annually at the general festival of the feralia.
In the case of the poorer people the earth-burial was generally employed. The
method was not dissimilar to that of modern times. The body was put into a coffin
and lowered into a pit in the ground. The opening was filled up and a mound of
earth raised over the grave. When earth-burial was preferred by the wealthy, as
was sometimes the case, the sarcophagus was usually deposited in a stone tomb,
solidly and elegantly built. Nearly all graves and vaults were marked with some
sort of memorial tablet or monument, and on this was recorded an appropriate
inscription. This generally contained, besides the name of the deceased and his
family, a brief panegyric, or, at any rate, a sentiment of that sort wherewith
life in all ages has been wont to cajole his enemy. In the humbler ranks the
epitaph was for the most part an expression of domestic grief, or perhaps a word
of consolation for the living. The wife was made to say, "I await my husband;"
and the sadness of the latter is thus recorded: "She never caused me a sorrow
save by her death."
The Roman nobility, like that of other ancient nations, took pride in
ostentatious monuments. They were erected by preference in the most frequented
places. Along the sides of the Appian Way, as it neared the great city, were
built many tombs for the repose of the grandees of Rome. Among such structures
may be mentioned as specially worthy of note the pyramid of Cestius and the
mausoleum of Hadrian, now converted into the Castle of Saint Angelo. The ruins of
many similar piles may be seen as one journeys along the Appian Way from Rome
towards Campania. In the exhumed Pompeii we have what is known as the Street of
Tombs. The place resembles the arena of a circus. The traveler descends to the
bottom by a stairway, and sees around him in the circular wall the chambers and
niches wherein were deposited the urns and caskets containing the ashes of the
dead. From the resemblance to a row of nests these apartments or chambers were
called Columbaria or pigeon-houses.
The Christians, as a sect, did not relish or willingly follow the styles of
burial which prevailed in Rome. The idea of a literal resurrection of the dead
seemed to make the process of incineration revolting alike to humanity and
religion. Nor were the pagan rites which accompanied the earth-burial of the
Romans more pleasing to the instincts of the Christian