Roman Memorial of Death

Book 1, Chapter 4, 78 AD to 306 AD – Roman Memorial of Death – Continued

Burying and burning the dead was alike practised in Roman Britain. Herodian says that when the emperor Severna died at York, his body was burnt, and the ashes were placed with aromatics in an alabaster urn, and carried to Rome. Cinerary urns, of a hard, dark coloured ware, have been dug up, sometimes with leaden cases in which they were inclosed. Others showed traces of having been inclosed in a chest of wood, while some were contained in a sort of grave made of tiles. Rarely, a stone tomb was constructed, one of which was found in 1817 at Avisford, in Sussex. It appears to have been a chest formed out of a solid stone, and covered with a flat slab. Within it was a large square vase of fine green glass, containing calcined bones. Around this were three elegantly shaped earthen vases, with handles, a pair of sandals studded with numerous little hexagonal brass nails fancifully arranged three lamps, an oval dish, and various bowls.

When the body was buried without cremation, it was interred in a chest or coffin of wood, clay, stone, or lead. The sarcophagus was sometimes ornamented with carvings or mouldings. Liquid lime was poured in, so as to cover the body, and the hardened lime, when carefully removed, still shows traces of the form of the body, and even of the texture and colour of the garments. The Roman sepulchral inscriptions found in this country consist usually of a slab of stone, often containing an effigy of the deceased, and bearing an inscription like the following, on a slab found at Ellenborough, Cumberland.

D             M

IVL          MARITIM

A             VIX         AN


 “To the gods of the shades. Julia Maritima, lived twelve years, three months, twenty-two days.” Another form, frequently met with omits the initials D. M. (diis manibus, to the gods of the shades) and adds the initials for hic situs est, as on one of a soldier, at Cirencester.

Tomb from Cirencester (Corinium)

 “Rufus Sita, a horseman of the sixth cohort of Thracians, aged forty, served twenty two years. His heirs, in accordance with his will, have caused this monument to be erected. He is laid here.” Many more inscriptions might be quoted, but these must suffice. The subject may be further investigated in works named at the end of the chapter. With rare exceptions, any direct allusion to death is carefully avoided on these monuments. The knowledge of the future world among the Romans was so slight, and their anticipations of it so vague, that they appear to have shrunk from even as much as naming it. An obolus was placed in the mouth of the dead, as soon as life was extinct, to pay Charon for ferrying the disembodied spirit over the river Styx, but all beyond was shadowy and obscure. There was however a superstition or tradition, of almost universal acceptance that articles burnt or interred with the deceased would add to the comfort of the departed spirit in the world of shades. The dead were, therefore, clothed in full dress with their jewellery and other ornaments and were sometimes furnished with wine and provisions, and even with culinary utensils and articles for the toilet.

Chapter 4, Agricola

Policy of Agricola

Its Success

Treatment of Conquered Provinces by the Romans

Hadrian’s Wall

Visit of the Emperor Severus, Who Dies at York

Carausius Seizes on Supreme Power, He is Assassinated by Allectus, Who Succeeds Him

Chapter 4, Roman Roads and Towns

Results of the Roman Occupancy




Roman Mode of Government


Trades and Manufactories

Chapter 4, Roman Memorial of Death

Roman Memorial of Death

Mode of Government


Categories: Book 1

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