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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
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Polybius 6.53-54 presents the typical funeral ritual associated with illustrious men in the Roman empire. Are there common points of intersection between the ritual described by Polybius and funerals today? What are they? How do they differ?

Eve D’Ambra defines identity as “the construction of a social identity by external forces that dominate individual choices and freedoms” and with regard to Roman cultural identity “it had to be tested, challenged, and sorted out through the system that granted rank and status to citizens according to factors such as birth, wealth, and accomplishments, which occasionally clashed with one another.”

A funeral is one of the last opportunities for a person to express his or her identity, with the absolute last opportunity being the inscription that marks his or her tomb. What is the goal of the elaborate ritual Polybius describes and how does it serve to solidify the identity of the person associated with it?

Posted at Feb 23/2011 11:14AM:
geggie: If you have any questions, please let me know!

Posted at Feb 23/2011 01:37PM:
rmckeown: In his The Histories, Polybius describes in great detail how funerary rituals were undertaken (no pun intended) in ancient Rome. Interestingly enough, there are several common points of intersection that connect ancient funerary rituals with those of today. Polybius begins by describing how when a person died, their body was carried into the forum, where it was placed on the rostrum; then, a close relative of the deceased would orate a laudatio, or a speech of praise for the dead, to all of the surrounding spectators. In modern funerals, this activity of processing the body is almost directly mimicked by the procession of the coffin in a hearse, followed by a motorcade of friends and family from the church to the burial site. Also, in modern funerals, like those of ancient Rome, several close family members of the deceased and a religious figure, like a priest, speak openly to the gathered friends and family of the deceased, telling stories of the deceased’s life and praising his or her virtues. Also, Polybius describes how after the funeral ceremony is completed, relatives of the deceased would place images of the deceased in their houses to honor the memory of the deceased. Many modern funerals practice the same custom by placing photographs of the deceased everywhere during the ceremony in order to honor the life of the deceased.

However, some of the funerary customs of the ancient Romans that Polybius describes are quite different from those of today. Polybius describes how in ancient Rome, masks of the ancestors of the family of the deceased were paraded through the procession and even worn by members of the family with a similar build as their ancestors. Regrettably, this practice is not present in modern funerals (at least none that I have been to). Thus, this discrepancy between the funerary customs of ancient Rome and present day shows how funerals in ancient Rome were used to celebrate and honor the deceased and the legacy of the family name, while modern day funerals focus solely on the former. Also, while funerals in ancient Rome were great public spectacles, in which spectators from throughout the city would come to collectively mourn with the family in the forum, modern day funerals are more private events, at least for regular, every-day people. This difference between publicity of funerals in ancient Rome and present day is further accentuated by the settings in which the funerals were held. In ancient Rome, funeral services were held at the rostrum in the forum, a vast and open public stage. Conversely, most modern day funerals are held in private services in houses of worship, except in the cases of well-known people or public servants. Regardless of how the eccentricities of funerals of ancient Rome and modern day may differ from each other, it is quite astonishing how the primary theme of remembering and honoring the deceased still resides in funerary customs over two centuries later.

The overall goal of the ritual that Polybius describes is to solidify and propagate the memory and legacy of the deceased and his or her ancestors in order to both leave a lasting impression in the endless continuum of history and provide future generations with an exemplar to follow and aspire toward so that they too may leave their mark in time. Throughout the history of Rome, and the world for that matter, the driving force that has led people to succeed is the desire to leave an honorable legacy to be remembered by, fearing becoming a forgotten relic of the past. Examples of attempts that Romans made to be remembered include the naming of buildings after themselves or their families, the making of statues or coins depicting their image or those of their ancestors, and writing documents describing and praising their accomplishments in their lives or those of their ancestors. Thus, the grand and elaborate funerary rituals that Polybius describes symbolize the deceased’s final attempt to be remembered and honored for their numerous accomplishments. These great funerary practices that Polybius describes, therefore, encapsulate the spirit or the essence of the deceased and their ancestors and solidifies their identity by parading their wealth and image throughout Rome for all to see, sermonizing their life’s many conquests for all to hear, and finally immortalizing their legacy by being placed in an opulent burial site or mausoleum for all to behold even over two thousand years later.

Posted at Feb 23/2011 04:29PM:
cbahamon: Polybius: Though the concept of honoring the dead was just as present in Imperial Rome as it is today, there are several practices that distinguish the type of funeral that Polybius describes in his writings, The Histories, from the modern American funeral (or a highly simplified concept of such). Both involve a procession and eulogies glorifying the deceased however several distinctions remain. In contrast to the processions of funerals today, where the body of the deceased is mostly likely reclined and inside a box, the Roman deceased body was “conspicuous” in an “upright posture and only more rarely reclined,” (Reader, 88). Unlike the simple display of photos of the departed as a symbol of the deceased living on, Romans had funerary masks made not only for the deceased but for their ancestors as well. Then, the masks were put “on men who seemed to bear the closest resemblance to the original in stature and carriage,” (88) such that it appeared that all of the honored departed were alive and walking in the flesh. Finally, though modern eulogies tend to focus on the triumphs of the individual for whom the funeral is being held, Roman orations discuss, in addition to the primary party, “the successes and exploits of the rest whose images are present,” (88) such that there might be a renewal and a remembrance for all past heroes. Thus it seems a heavy distinction between Imperial Roman and modern funerals is the focus on ancestors and the adamant tie to the past.

D’Ambra: The purpose of the funeral that Polybius describes was to immortalize the identity and legacy of the deceased. In many ancient and modern cultures there exists a fear of being forgotten. The need to be remembered is illustrated by emperors and leaders carving their names into statues and monuments and even hacking out the names of other rulers to lay claim to others’ glory. The attempt at immortalization is grounded through a tie to the past via ancestor worship and a nod to hope for the future. This group of ancestors is ideally makeup a line of heroes, and the message is that departed was a great man, and his heirs will be as well. The funeral procession (and the final grave marker) is also a last chance to display one’s wealth so that one may be remembered as powerful and rich. However, it is interesting to note that it was not only the patricians who boldly proclaimed their position in society, for even the freedwomen and –men had an “L” put on their stones marking their former identity as slaves. One might think that admitting to a slave past would be like admitting to having been born from an ignoble line. Still, Rome was once a conglomeration of huts and there is honor in achieving greatness.

Posted at Feb 23/2011 05:43PM:
jdesrosier: Polybius describes the funeral as an "ennobling spectacle." In some sense this overlaps with our sense of a funeral today. It is generally a celebration of the deceased's life, their successes and legacy. Though a period of mourning and grieving, the memory of the deceased is honored through eulogies. This is very similar to the Roman practice of orating over the man "about to be buried." The purpose, however, is slightly different in present times. The eulogy is intended to honor the deceased and his/her family, while the Roman oration's intention extended to motivating the youth of the city to glorious and respected work. Death was a way for families in the Roman world to aggrandize their social standing through lavish processions, hired mourners and incense burners, that accompanied the grieving family. The publicity of the funeral was not an option open to everyone, as it is today. In Rome lower class families were not allowed to have funerary monuments in their homes, nor did they have the funding for funerary parades. While today the extent of funerals range in terms of financial status, the celebration of the deceased's life is a more somber, quiet gathering not intended to heighten a family's social standing.

The goal of the elaborate ritual described by Polybius is to extend the memory of the deceased and his ancestors as far as possible. The masks worn by family members of their predecessors remind viewers of their lineage, past successes and social/political standing. The funeral and funerary monument was one last hurrah for Romans to depict themselves to future generations. The oration touched on the deceased's birth, wealth and accomplishments, which Kleiner describes as key elements in a Roman's cultural identity. Their funeral and monuments kept alive the conversation between the living and the dead.

Posted at Feb 23/2011 07:18PM:
mschmidt-fellner: There are some aspects of Polybius’ description of Roman funerals that are concurrent with funerals of today. He describes the funerals as an "ennobling spectacle" which is something that can be intersected in the funerals of today. A funeral is generally a mourning of the life, but also a celebration of the accomplishments and legacy that the deceased has imparted upon the world. Often people make speeches about the deceased, which also happened, in ancient Rome. It was important to Romans that their contributions are remembered, which is a bit different from the eulogies of today. Often modern eulogies are more of a celebration and remembrance of what was imparted upon the person speaking from the life of the deceased. Death was much more prevalent and apparent in Roman life while now the death rates are not as high and death is greatly mourned as opposed to celebrated. Often there were hired mourners and lavish processions in the Roman world, which would seem audacious and vain in today’s world. Not everyone was allowed to have a public funeral, but the elite that did was in order to immortalize their existence.

As D’Ambra describes the importance of identity in the Roman World, it intersects with many elements of public, lavish funerals. In the Roman World the elite, especially the ruling class, was extremely concerned with being remembered. For example, Augustus places buildings and monuments with his accomplishments and inscriptions of his name as to not be forgotten. He even goes so far as to including the Res Gestae (List of Accomplishments) in his mausoleum. There is a distinct emphasis on a long and honorable ancestral line, which is included in many graves/mausoleums. As the funeral is the last opportunity to display wealth and authority in the Roman world, the elite went all out. Even those who could not afford or were not allowed to have a lavish display still wanted to remembered. It was important to many freed slaves to show that they had in fact been freed by inscribing an “L” next to their inscription. There was a hopeful continuum between the past, present, and future for each family that was clearly shown through the tributes to the dead and each person’s insistence on being remembered in their ancestral line.

Posted at Feb 23/2011 08:15PM:
jman: In Polybius’ The Histories, he describes a typical Roman funeral ritual. There seem to very many similarities to a Roman funeral to a modern-day funeral. One of them is that relatives “discourses on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead.” As the roman people would often talk about what the man that died did, it is the same to a eulogy at a funeral today. However, a eulogy today would focus less on achievements and more on how the speaker has felt as though the deceased had touched people’s lives and the impact that deceased had on the speaker’s life. Furthermore, a Roman funeral had a procession and “ivory chairs” that were placed in rows that seem similar to a funeral home. Lastly, I do not know if other households do this, but Polybius notes that families would “pace the image of the departed in the most conspicuous position in the house, enclosed in a wooden shrine.” In the Chinese culture, although we do not put it in the most conspicuous part of the house, we do put a framed portrait of the deceased on a wooden column. Just like the Romans would use this as a way to worship and honor the life of the dead, the Chinese do the same through incense and offerings of fruit.

Although there are several similarities, there are many things that I do not think that modern-day people would partake in. First, the Romans places the deceased in an upright posture. Today, the body is laid down and not put on display. In fact, several funerals have the bodies covered, and even the entire casket is covered. In addition, it seems as though that a Roman funeral was very much a “show,” a public viewing of one’s death. Polybius states of people mourning, even on the streets. Even Professor Molholt talked about how actors could be paid to lament at a funeral. Today, funerals are a very private scene, where only close family and friends come to honor the dead. It is very much a silent and somber ritual, and definitely not a “show.”

In regards to this “show,” it clear that a funeral in the Roman world had a very different intention than a funeral does today. As D’Ambra states, it is a construction of social identity, to form individualism. By having it be a show, it allows the deceased to proclaim to everyone who he is. Especially for slaves that became free, it was important for them to show everyone that they became free and should be respected as a freed slave. Furthermore, a funeral will mark someone as being loved and their impact on their family and society. All of this leads to a creation of an image. A funeral was a way for someone to make his or her final and lasting mark and to be remembered the way they want to be remembered. A great example of this is Augustus’ mausoleum. It was created almost 40 years before Augustus passed away—he definitely wanted to make sure that his image was kept the way he wanted it.

Posted at Feb 23/2011 09:23PM:
klougheed: Polybius: The importance of the body's presence at funerals still prevails today. In the opening of Polybius 6.53, the historian immediately notes how the body is carried into the Forum, similar to how, in modern day funerals, a coffin usually sits as the centerpiece. Although the Romans would eventually cremate their corpse, the presence of the body at the funeral, despite its lifelessness, seems essential to the ritual. For instance, when Septimius Severus died, he was cremated in Britain, but a life-size wax image of him was apparently constructed, placed in the Forum, and burned on a funeral pyre as though it were a real body.

The funeral oration also parallels the modern-day eulogy, extolling the virtues of the deceased. However, the heavy emphasis on the deceased's ancestors disappears from modern eulogies. In ancient Rome, the oration would not only detail the feats of the person being mourned, but would also launch into a exaltation of all the deceased's ancestors, lest they be forgotten. Today, however, the family line has largely taken a backseat to the achievements of the individual. Polybius argues that Roman funerals were for the purpose of inspiring young men to seek the glory of their predecessors, but today, funerals are less of a public event, and more of a psychological comfort in the face of a loss.

D'Ambra: The Roman funerary ritual constructs an identity for the deceased in the context of his ancestors and family line. The death masks represent the presence of the ancestors, and although the funeral oration praises the deeds of the recently deceased, Polybius notes that it also includes the illustrious tales of "the rest whose images are present, beginning with the most ancient" (6.54.1). The oral tradition of these orations makes it likely that the tales became embellished and glorified, which serves the purpose Polybius ascribed to these funerals--namely, to inspire young men to emulate the deeds of their dead relatives. According to Polybius, seeing the celebration of ancestors' lives, perpetuated throughout the centuries through oral tradition, would inspire the youths "to endure every suffering for public welfare in the hope of winning the glory that attends on brave men" (6.54.3). From a functionalist perspective, the funerals are a social construct designed to promote service to the Roman state. They achieve this by preying on young boys' hopes of winning immortality through funeral orations and death masks, since, upon death, the identity of the deceased is distilled into the legacy of their great deeds, in the context of their equally illustrious ancestors.

Posted at Feb 23/2011 10:33PM:
cteitz: Not a great deal has changed conceptually from funerals in Polybius’ time to the modern era. The presentation of the body and the discoursing “on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead” remain essential parts of funerals today. The eulogy in particular is something that remains an essential constant because it gave the funeral in Roman times brought the deceased’s achievements, particularly political ones, to the forefront of memory, while present examples serve an identical function. There is a marked difference, however, between the modern world and Ancient Rome in the technicalities of and reasons for the presentation of the body. The display of ancestor masks and reenactment of long-dead relatives essential characteristics are a part of the Roman tradition that has not survived into current times, with the exception of familiar storytelling that may occur in a personal setting after the fact. The performance of the family history gives the funeral a highly dramatized atmosphere, almost carnival-like with the music, and shrieking of hired mourners, usually missing from somber modern examples. This presentation served not only as a memorial for the greatness of the dead man, but also as inspiration for the living. The element of commemoration is key to modern funerals, but using a time of remembrance to set an example for the next generation is far less conspicuous now.

The ultimate goal of the funerary ritual is both to cement the place of the dead man in memory and to inspire those still living to surpass the achievements of the recently deceased and all those who came before him. For the elite, the display of the family’s history gives the deceased a final chance to show his place in society, among its greatest members. It also gives him the chance to demonstrate how he has gone beyond the accomplishments of his family and raised their social status. While this storytelling creates the identity of the dead man, it also places his life and that of all his family in the memories of the youth. Through the frequent repetition of cultural history and emphasis on specific values such as nobility and service to the state, the youth become well acquainted with the expectations of society and consider them as they aspire to even greater heights.

Posted at Feb 23/2011 11:44PM:
rwarner: There are certainly points of intersection between Roman funerals as described by Polybius and funerals today. For one, the procession into the funeral setting (graveyard or rostra) is constant in both, though Romans were displayed, while today we place our deceased in coffins. Then a eulogy is read to remember the dead, and though there are mourners at both, today’s funerals are much calmer than those of ancient Rome, and there are certainly no paid mourners to be theatrical with grief. It is important to note this change in what is considered respectful or appropriate, from great cries of lament to calm remorse, as it relates to a change in social conduct and cultural values. Just as we ride in limousines or herses, romans rode in chariots, and while we do not adorn them with axes or insignia, military funerals include the honors and metals won, and again this represents a straying from cultural values, but at the same time a close connection between our military customs and those of Rome, a highly militarized state. Finally, the custom of dressing up surviving family members as deceased ancestors is not one you might see at a funeral today, though it is the scene you most often think of someone saying something like “she’s the spitting image of aunt Bertha!” as a setting where distant family congregates to remember the deceased and familial ties.

The goal of the ritual as described by Polybius is to give a final account of the deceased’s life and tell of his accomplishments so he may be remembered. To be “tested, challenged and sorted out” then the funeral is the last chance to prove oneself. This is done by declaring one's "birth, wealth and accomplishments." The use of funerary masks to portray ancestors is to declare that the deceased comes from nobility or at least a line of men who have great accomplishments. Wealth is demonstrated by the funeral itself: the procession, the professional mourners, and whatever monuments the deceased could afford to leave behind. Accomplishments are then remembered by noting them on the monument so that everyone who sees it will know the deeds of the deceased. If identity is a test in Roman society, the funerary procession and grave markings are the last attempt at an A (or satisfactory).

Posted at Feb 24/2011 12:20AM:
schimene-weiss: In reading Polybius’ description of funerals for “illustrious” men in the Roman Empire, a number of commonalities between the rituals he describes and modern-day American funerals for prominent figures emerge. First, Polybius explains that such men were carried into the forum to the rostra, where their bodies were displayed. In modern times, the body of the deceased is often displayed at his or her funeral. Often, when a person was particularly illustrious, his or her body is displayed in an even more public manner—for example, the bodies of former President Ronald Reagan and Senator Ted Kennedy were displayed in the central rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC. One key difference between these scenarios in Roman and in modern times is that in Roman times, the deceased was displayed in an upright position—only “rarely” was the body reclining, according to Polybius. In modern funerals, bodies on display are almost always reclining—we might be shocked to see a body at a funeral displayed in an upright position. Polybius also describes a speech given by a child or a relative that discusses the “virtues and successful achievements of the dead”—this calls to mind modern-day eulogies. In the same way that Polybius describes, these eulogies often help to make the death more widely felt by the public. Polybius also mentions that if a deceased person served in battle, this is often discussed extensively during the eulogy and celebrated; the same is true of modern-day funerals of illustrious people.

The goals of the elaborate ritual that Polybius describes seem to be twofold: first, to glorify and mourn a person’s death, and second, to ensure that the death is publically felt. By having such a grand and elaborate ritual surrounding one’s death, a person’s identity is established as grand and important. By listing the deceased’s accomplishments and virtues in a public eulogy, those aspects of the person are emphasized, and they are mythicized and glorified. Additionally, the ritual that Polybius described was very public—the body was carried into the forum and placed on the rostra in a procession, and the public gathered around the body and listened to the eulogy. Polybius describes the effect of the elaborate ritual thusly: “the loss seems to be not confined to the mourners, but a public one affecting the whole people.” In addition to solidifying the identity of the deceased man as one who accomplished much and who is worthy of celebrating, an elaborate funeral ritual also solidifies his identity as a wealthy man—the ritual does not seem as though it would be cheap.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 11:37AM:

Modern funerals share many elements with the funeral ritual Polybius describes; for example, the practice of a close family member making a speech that recounts the life of the deceased and his or her admirable qualities was called a laudatio in Roman times and continues to this day. Similarly, a public funeral procession is often a component of ceremonies today and was a key part of Roman rituals. However, the procession Polybius describes is far more elaborate and meaningful than a modern-day procession. It was a very theatrical presentation that was a way to honor both the deceased and his illustrious ancestors. Some family members who resembled a particular ancestor would wear the ancestral masks that would normally be displayed in the alae of the domus, and they would wear a toga whose colors symbolized the relative’s status and accomplishments. This procession was a way of bringing together the past and the present, as the deceased became a part of the immortalized family tradition, and the surviving family members who witnessed this spectacle were inspired to live up to their name. Modern processions do not share this kind of theatricality, but the idea of a very public procession of mourners commemorating the life of a loved one is the same. Additionally, today we often see that funerals for those who held public office have more elaborate processions, led by vehicles and escorts that display insignia of his or her title, which was a component of Roman funerals as well.

Along with the theatricality of the procession, Roman funerals differed from modern-day ceremonies in their focus on the deceased’s family, rather than the individual. The laudatio would recount the deeds of the one who had just died, but others would give speeches telling of the great accomplishments of his ancestors as well. Additionally, though there are still public funeral processions today, modern funerals are usually small private affairs that take place at the burial site itself; the Romans, however, would carry the body to the public forum and make speeches from the rostra.

The goal of the ritual that Polybius describes seems to be a way of reminding the surviving relatives of the illustrious family legacy and inspiring them to continue to honor and uphold it, instead of remembering a single individual. The recently deceased person is given a great honor by having his own identity become part of the larger family identity. Today we tend to associate identity with what makes an individual stand out from others, but elite Romans were very proud to let their identities be defined by their family names and legacies.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 12:47PM:

Polybius gives an elaborate account of a funeral typical for an illustrious man. He describes the deceased as being carried into the forum to the rostra surrounded by relatives and many other people. Usually the people closest to the deceased would give some sort of oration illustrating the virtues and achievements of the dead. This is quite reminiscent of the funerals held today where family members are gathered in the front of a church or funeral home (wherever the venue of the funeral is), and the closest relative gives an oration. In both cases, the public is moved to tears by these speeches. However, in Roman times, an image of the deceased is framed and made into a shrine. This is not quite as commonly done today. The image of the dead is made into a mask and is brought out on public occasions where the family member who looks most like the dead in honor of the dead. The representatives who look most like the deceased wear special garb usually featuring purple linen and sometimes even gold embroidery. This is much more elaborate than anything that is done in today’s society.

It is clear that through funeral processions, the Romans were able to portray themselves in the light they desired. In Roman society, a funeral procession was crucial in solidifying the memory and legacy of the deceased. Through the orations given by the closest family members elevating the deceased to an almost deified status, people would remember the deceased positively. The sufferings that the deceased had endured for the good of the Roman public is magnified and inspires other, younger Romans to act in a “proper” fashion. In addition to these orations, the masks help preserve the memory of the dead. The use of the masks in public processions does not hurt the preservation of the memory of the dead either. In Roman culture, it seems that the fear of being forgotten and relegated relics of the past is a most prominent sentiment. The elaborate tombs and monuments constructed by emperors and great men are indicative of this fear. Furthermore, Roman culture seems quite obsessed with preservation of relationships between the living and the dead. Many of the tombs contained inscriptions that seemed to speak specifically to passersby on the road outside of Rome.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 12:59PM:
cmwu: The Roman funeral described by Polybius was a very public affair that was intentionally visible to not just relatives of the deceased but the general population of Rome, while funerals today serve a largely private purpose, commemorating the deceased within a community of family, friends, and other close acquaintances. Despite these differences, the funerals of ancient Rome carried some semblance to today’s funerals with regard to honoring the achievements of the dead. Nowadays, family and friends may read eulogies to commemorate the deceased for special memories that they would like to honor. Similarly, in ancient Rome, the deceased’s “grown-up son” or other close relative would “discourse on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead” (Polybius 53). However, the Roman funeral focused more on achievements within the public sphere rather than private fond memories and personal connections with the dead. The way in which the deceased is propped up in an “upright posture” during the procession to the rostra from the forum highlights the Roman desire to elevate the deceased in the public’s eye, which contrasts drastically with the modern North American custom of having a covered hearse transport the deceased. Unlike the Roman custom of having relatives wear the masks of the deceased, North American culture does not animate the dead, and instead commemorates the deceased less directly by leaving flowers and paying visits to their graves. This again reveals the differing purposes of each ceremony; the Romans sought to maintain “constant renewal of the good report of brave me,” and to consequently render the “noble deeds...immortal” in the public eye, while the funeral traditions of today are largely performed to remember those who have passed away within a private realm.

The goal of the elaborate ritual is two-fold: it both serves to honor the deceased and to inspire future generations to perform deeds for the public good so that they may be glorified in the same way upon their death. As Polybius notes, “young mean are thus inspired to endure every suffering for public welfare in the hope of winning the glory that attends on brave men” (Polybius 54). The Romans truly immortalize the deeds of the deceased by not only holding an elaborate ceremony commemorating his accomplishments upon his immediate death, but by “renewing” the honors with subsequent funerals of his relatives through the custom that family members represent him by wearing his mask during the procession. The deceased were therefore preserved in the glory of their best accomplishments, and served as examples to the living about how one should lead his life to better the empire over oneself.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 01:33PM:
lpress: 1) While the typical funeral ritual of illustrious men in the Roman Empire differs greatly from that of funerals today, there are a few points of intersection between the two. One similarity is that in both cases a son or close relative gives a speech in which he recalls the “virtues and successful achievements of the dead.” In both times of the Roman Empire and the present, these speeches invoke sympathy and a feeling of loss in all those present at the funeral. Another similarity is the idea of a funerary dress code. While it is widely understood that people are meant to wear black to a funeral today, those attending and involved in funerals of the Roman Empire wore togas of specific style and color. One major aspect of funerals of the Roman Empire that differs from funeral of today is the acknowledgement of others than the one for whom the funeral is being held. As described by Polybus, representatives wearing masks of ancient men are a central spectacle of the funeral, and there is much talk about these men and their accomplishments. Funerals today are almost always solely about one specific person; past family members are not regarded or remembered to the same extent.

2) Funerals during the Roman Empire were centered on status and importance of the deceased. The procession and rituals involved were the last chance for each man to display his wealth, signifying the power he had while alive. Immortalization was an important part of these funerals. Much of the rituals took place to assure that those of the past were not forgotten, as seen in the elaborate display of men wearing masks of ancestors. These men of the past were turned into celebrities, placed on a level almost with the gods. The “presence” of these men at a funeral shows not only their past excellence, but also shows the importance of the man for whom the funeral is being held, as he is now associated with the ancient immortals.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 02:03PM:

The general purpose of funerals today, as well as that of the ritual described by Polybius, is the same – to commemorate and celebrate the life of the deceased. To an extent, Polybius’ description of an ‘ennobling spectacle’ overlaps with the modern day funeral (6.53.24). According to Polybius’ description of Roman funeral rituals in The Histories, when a prominent man dies, he is carried into the forum to the rostra. This is mimicked by the modern day funeral procession where the body of the deceased in transported in a coffin in a hearse from the church to the burial site. Another common point of intersection concerns the oration delivered over the body of the deceased about to buried. This oration is similar to eulogies, which are meant to honor the deceased. The main goal of the oration, however, was to motivate and inspire young men “to endure every suffering for public welfare in the hope of winning the glory that attends on brave men” (6.54.8-9). Polybius also describes the placement of the deceased’s image in the house. The ‘conspicuous’ placement of the image is reminiscent of the arrangements of photographs present at modern day funerals.

The goal of the elaborate funerary ritual described by Polybius is to extend and preserve the memory of the deceased. It also serves as a type of propaganda designed to promote service to the Roman state – to inspire iuvenes to achieve the same glory and success as brave men. Also, the masks worn and art and architecture produced in honor of an elite man serve as continual reminders of his ancestry and lineage. Thus, the Roman funerary ritual was crucial in solidifying the desired memory and legacy of the deceased, preserving the relationship amongst the living and the dead.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 02:08PM:
aiarocci: m book IV: On Funerals from Polybius’ ‘The Histories,’ the typical funeral rituals of a Roman elite is described. There are some similarities that remain in the typical modern funeral, but the clear difference is the extremity of this “ennobling spectacle.” The concept of honoring the dead through this final ceremony still is the purpose of the funeral. It seems that the nouns have just changed from what Polybius describes. For example, the procession into the forum and then the body being surrounded by loved ones, and then listening to orations about the “virtues and successful achievements of the dead” basically amounts to the body being put in a hearse, followed in procession by the family to a church, or funeral home etc., then friend and family gathering around to listen to a eulogy. The shrine described by Polybius is a not a common practice today, but could be equivocated to a less dramatic act of placing photos of the departed around the home to remind people of them. I cannot think of a modern equivalent to the description of people putting on togas with purple borders and masks with the image of the family then riding around in chariots. Although, I really like the statement that the sight of essentially getting a final chance to see the dead alive as inspiring and ennobling for “ a young man who aspires to fame and virtue.” The idea that the oration can be inspiring is something that still remains, because I think most eulogies in modern funerals are to honor the life of the person who had died and to implore people to follow in their good ways (if they were a good person!).

I think that the goal of the ceremony described by Polybius is to give the deceased a final say in society and to make a final claim to the identity they built their entire life. Also, I think it gives their lineage something grand and dramatic to remember them by. The masks are a great way of keeping a physical reminder of the deceased present in the world even after they have passed. I think that death innately inspires people to find ways to make their identity last after their death, during their lifetime. And the Roman elite could do this through statuary and extravagant funerary processions. It seems that often their lives were lived with great consideration for the next generation, and by having a fancy funeral and statuary they are giving the gift of proof of a prestigious lineage to their heirs. It is interesting to contrast the monuments made by the not so “illustrious,” which leave a reminder to the world they existed as well. It is interesting because the roadside monument in effect leaves a more lasting mark on the world than the spectacle of a funeral.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 02:18PM:
cklimansilver: Polybius celebrates funerals as an "ennobling spectacle;" modern funerals echo many aspects of the Roman funeral, but there are also significant departures from the Roman tradition. Despite the fact that they are, at a basic level, a sorrow affair, funerals sought to commemorate the life and history of the deceased. This view is in line with the Roman tradition of honoring the past, particularly through elaborate and extensive means. Through speeches, celebrations, and display in the forum, Romans paid respect to the dead before cremation and burial. Modern funerals share many of these customs, including the display of the body (or, at least, the casket) and eulogies. Although the Roman funeral was more of a festivity than a black-clad affair might be today (as Western norms would dictate, at any rate), the similarities are striking. As with much of Roman life, the ancient funerals adhered to a class system. Only upperclass and imperial civilians could hold public funerals or parades; lower class citizens were not even permitted to erect small monuments in their homes. Today, money and resources decide the extravagance of a funeral, not social standing.

As before, Roman funerals aimed to glorify, if not deify, the deceased. What Polybius describes is almost immortalization: through memory, the deceased will live on in the minds of his descendants. The monuments established a connection between the past and the present, the deceased and the descendants, to elongate the line of history so dear to the Romans.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 02:43PM:
passafuime: The funeral processions as described by Polybius that the Roman’s held for their deceased had many similarities to present day funerals. The body of the deceased was carried into the forum by members of the family, usually the eldest son or any son, and this procession resembles today’s custom of presenting the hearst through a procession to start the ceremony of the funeral. The honoring of the physical body is something that has remained constant throughout time. Also similar to present day funerary customs was the Roman’s placement of images in their homes to honor those who had passed on in their families. The concept of maintaining a memory of the deceased through photos and images was a way to honor the successes and accomplishments of the deceased. Today, family members and close friends speak at funerals commemorating their loved ones life, and this was a similar practice described by Polybius in ancient Rome, as orators would celebrate the accomplishments and status of the person. One of the main ways in which ancient Roman funerals resemble present day funerals is honoring those who have served the nation for their bravery and dedication. Veteran cemeteries exist to this day and I personally have family members who request to be buried in such places and who take pride in showing their patriotism for their nation.

While funerals today bear very similar resemblance to funerals in ancient Roman times, there are also some differences in the ceremonies. For example, one custom of Roman funerals that has not continued to be carried out is the tradition of wearing masks of the deceased person to the procession. The Roman’s would chose people who looked most similar to the build and stature of the dead to wear such masks. Further, those of higher stature, like consuls and senators, had extravagant processions as funerals. While this may be similar today when a public figure dies, one way in which the common Roman funeral differs is that is was a public “spectacle.” Funerals today are private, held by the family of the deceased and not usually open to members of the public who do not know the family. This leads to the next difference in Roman funerals as compared to present day funerals. It seems as if the reasons the processions in Rome were so large and grandiose is because the person who had passed away displayed their social standing and status as a part of their funeral, something that many people wanted members of the community to know. Today this is not as important, and funerals are kept smaller and more within family and friends, while still recognizing accomplishments and successes.

This last point addresses the aspect of identity that D’Ambra discusses. The ultimate goal of such a funeral as described by Polybius is to hold a ceremony that will ensure the memory of the accomplishments, successes, and social standing of the person so that furture generations can learn from their life and potentially surpass all the good that person had accomplished. Ancestors were important in the Roman world, and younger family members could look to the lives of their deceased relatives for guidance. The identity of a person had the ability to live on forever with such processions, as the whole of the public was welcomed to the celebration and the inscriptions and sculptures of the deceased could last for eternity. Life was to be celebrated and the identity and status of a person to never be forgotten.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 02:54PM:
otraynor: Polybius's description of elite Roman funerals differs surprisingly little from the modern equivalent. In Polybius's time a man of great social stature would have been paraded into the forum, where a close friend or relative would deliver a eulogy that recalled all of the deceased's greatest accomplishments. Similarly, modern funerals often consist of a procession into a place of worship, with several pallbearers carrying the casket inside. Once inside, there is also a eulogy directed at the great accomplishments of the deceased. One of the largest differences between Roman funerals and modern funerals, however, is the 'presence' of the previously deceased ancestors. In Roman tradition elite families were allowed to have certain relatives wear the death masks of other great men from the family to the funeral of the newly deceased. In modern times funerals are much more personalized, and the deceased individual is the only one receiving praise and recognition. However, Polybius's closing point, that grandiose funerals and funeral orations inspire young men to be great, still holds today. Take, for example, the funeral of a former president or prominent statesman. The hearse often processes down a main avenue while thousands of spectators look on and mourn. A crowd of that size would surely inspire any young person to do great things and achieve the same recognition and love.

Elite Roman funerals, which sometimes bordered on ostentatious, are evidence of the Roman's concern with personal and family legacy. First off, recall that the elaborate rituals described in Polybius's 'The Histories' were restricted to the most elite Roman citizens. The families of these men and women were already well established in Roman society, for they were of the patrician class. The funeral procession only attempted to remind everyone else of this fact and reinforce their family's primacy in society. It is no wonder that the lower classes attempted to imitate this practice to the best of their ability - especially the freedmen. Because freedmen had no right to hold higher office or join the Roman army, their accomplishments were usually in the realm of business. Eurysaces, the freedman who became a successful baker and contractor, designed his eye-catching tomb to inform people of his own line of work. By including images of his wife and himself, Eurysaces was imitating the elite classes 'imagines' which they were allowed to display in their house. Because Eurysaces could never become one of the patricians, he decided to emulate their habits. Identity as portrayed on the funeral monuments of the lower classes and freedmen was often equivalent to imitating the upper classes, so that the plebeians might be able to convince passersby of their own importance.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 03:01PM:
hschreiber: In The Histories, Polybius describes a typical Roman funeral where the deceased is honored and revered. In the Roman funerary ritual, the deceased is carried, sometimes in an upright posture and sometimes reclined, into the forum for all to see. During this procession, friends and family and even onlookers mourn the deceased person’s death. This act of paying respects to the deceased is similar to the funerary practice of today. Some families decide to hold open casket wakes while others decide to have ones with a closed coffin. In both instances, family and friends honor the deceased and remember their lives. This idea of remembrance is very similar to that of a Roman funeral ritual. As Polybius describes, Roman families had masks made of their deceased family member. This mask would be placed “in the most conspicuous position in the house, enclosed in a wooden shrine” (Polybius) and thus, the deceased would be remembered every day in the household. In a similar fashion today, some families keep an urn with the remains of their deceased loved one somewhere in their house as a form of respect. One difference between funeral rituals of Roman times and those of today is that during Roman funerals, members of the family would wear the masks of their deceased ancestors during the funeral procession. In doing this, the Roman family is honoring their ancestors of the past. For the Romans, a funeral was a spectacle which brought together the past, present, and future. Funerals today, however, are not as much spectacles as subdued affairs.

According to Polybius, the goal of Roman funerals was to remember the deceased as well as the ancestors of the past. For the Romans, the past, present, and future were brought together in funerary rituals. Family members wore masks of their ancestors to remember them while the deceased person was carried to his funeral for all to see. Polybius also mentions that lavish funerals were meant to inspire young men to do good deeds for the Empire: “But the most important result is that young men are thus inspired to endure every suffering for public welfare in the hope of winning the glory that attends on brave men” (Polybius). In this way, funerals inspired the Roman men of the future. Above all the elaborate funerary ritual that Polybius describes is about remembrance and glorification.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 04:30PM:
sspiller: There are numerous similarities between current funerals and those of the Romans because funerals are often religious events in all cultures and like weddings and baptisms, the rituals rarely change. Polybius wrote “Here with all the people round, a grown up sin… or if not some other relative mounts the rostra and discourses on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead.” This discourse is the same thing as a modern eulogy. At a funeral, a spouse, child, or relative of the deceased tells stories and discusses the accolades of the dead. Another similarity is when “the relatives place the image of the departed in the most conspicuous position in the house, enclosed in a shrine.” This ritual is similar to the modern “wake”. The only difference is that it now typically takes place in a funeral home and instead of a “shrine”; the deceased is nicely displayed in a coffin. A further similarity is when the relatives “take them to the funeral, putting them on men who seem to bear the closest resemblance to the original in stature and carriage.” The role these men played would now be called “pallbearers”. Unlike Roman times, these men or women no longer wear togas and no longer resemble the dead, but it is still considered tradition to carry the coffin from the memorial site to the gravesite.

These rituals would often only occur for “distinguished members of the family”, so only a certain status of citizen would even be able of having this sort of lavish ceremony. It served as a way to solidify and in a sense “divinize” the deceased person. They spend their entire life developing their status within the Roman Empire and this ceremony serves as a way to solidify that. This is why the relatives share their “the virtues and successful achievements” at the funeral to reinforce the positive memories and the legacy of the dead. This is also the reason for honoring the ancestors at the funeral. Polybius writes, “Besides, he who makes the oration over the man about to be buried, when he has finished speaking of him recounts the successes and exploits of the rest whose images are present, beginning with the most ancient.” This further creates the family legacy and gives younger generations reason to strive to “do good service for their country”, be brave, and accomplish noble deeds.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 04:53PM:
mfinnegan: As is the case with funerals today, ancient Roman funerals were occasions to honor the memory of the deceased with a gathering of people in mourning. However, unlike contemporary funerals, in honoring the past, the Roman funeral was largely preoccupied with influencing future generations. One of the traditional customs of Roman funerals was the donning of waxen funerary masks of deceased ancestors by "men who seem to bear the closest resemblance to the original in stature and carriage." (Polybius) These masked men would then sit before the mourners on a row of "ivory chairs." According to Polybius, "There could not easily be a more ennobling spectacle for a young man who aspires to fame and virtue. For who would not be inspired by the sigh of the images of men renowned for their excellence, all together and is if alive and breathing?" While funerals today seem to be focused entirely on the life of the deceased individual, Roman funerals honor and exalt the deceased in order to inspire future generations to greatness. Moreover, contemporary funerals serve to mourn the individual, while Roman funerals were more celebratory spectacles.

As D'Ambra defines Roman cultural identity as correlating strongly with one's "birth, wealth, and accomplishments", it is no surprise that Roman funerals served to celebrate and recount "the successes and exploits" of the deceased and the ancestors of the deceased. Indeed, the object of the Roman funeral was to obtain a sort of immortality through the "constant renewal of the good report of brave men", letting the reputations and achievements of the deceased's family lineage be known to the Roman people for generations to come. Also in accordance with D'Ambra's definition of cultural identity, particularly lavish funerals would have implied the family's wealth and status. Polybius concludes that the "most important result" of a Roman funeral is that future generations should hope to claim "the glory that attends on brave men" - Roman funerals were meant to celebrate the past and inspire the generations to come to future greatness, and to instill the ambition of one day attaining and surpassing ancestral glory.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 04:54PM:
midenova: In his account of an elite Roman funerary procession, Polybius gives modern-day scholars valuable insight into Roman culture. These ancient funerary processions also share many similarities with today’s rituals. Firstly, when Polybius mentions how the body was carried to the rostra, it is similar to how the coffin is driven to the cemetery. Also, in today’s funerals there is almost always an eulogy that praises the deceased and recounts important moments of his/her life; this holds true for Roman funerals as well. Roman funerals also had a dress code, where some people who would dress up as deceased relations would wear togas with a purple border, a gold border, or that were all purple. Today, there is an all-black dress code at funerals.

However, there are also some differences between Roman funerals and modern day funerals in Western culture. As mentioned previously, in Roman funerals, family members would dress up as deceased relatives by putting on a mask made to resemble them. Today, such a tradition does not exist. Also, there is another point of difference is not mentioned in this excerpt of Polybius, but is worth mentioning. In Roman funerals, the funerary pyre would be lit in public, and then eagles would be released from the top of the flames to symbolize the soul’s release. This spectacle is not replicated in modern-day Western funerals.

As described by Polybius, the goal of the elaborate funerary procession was to inspire the generation of young men. The funerary procession would highlight all of the great accomplishments of the deceased, the young men in the audience would have been impressed by this, and thereby would be encouraged to do great things themselves. Therefore, the identity of the deceased would have been solidified as a good Roman citizen, one who lived his life in service to society, and who encourages future generations to do the same. Another goal of the funeral was to make the person’s memory immortal. Such an elaborate funerary procession would have been a display of wealth and power, and the public would not have forgotten it quickly. Therefore, the purpose of the funeral was also to have the person be remembered as a rich, influential man.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 04:59PM:
bchu: Funerals during the Roman Empire according to Polybius have some similarities and differences compared to today’s typical American funerals. The Roman practice of having a grown-up son or relative speak of the virtues and accomplishments of the dead is similar to today’s eulogy, also customarily given by a close relative. Illustrious Romans may be carried into the rostra in an upright posture (or, more rarely, reclining) in the open air. In modern funerals the body typically remains in the casket, but in the case of open casket viewing it is opened during visitation so that guests may look upon the deceased a final time. Otherwise, pictures of the deceased may be displayed during visitation, usually with a larger, often formal portrait placed on or near the casket. During the Roman Empire, an image was also made of the departed but for a different purpose—it was not used during funerary ceremonies for the departed, but instead for a wooden shrine “in the most conspicuous position in the house” (6.53). While placing photographs of the deceased in one’s home is typical today, the other Roman use of the image does not have a modern equivalent. The Roman images were displayed during public sacrifices and also used during the funerals of other family members, where they were carried by men who have the largest resemblance to the image. Furthermore, these images are also eulogized, beginning with the most senior image present. Both modern and Roman funerals honor the deceased, but Roman funerals also emphasize ancestry and celebrate the deceased as one member of a distinguished lineage.

The goal of the Roman funeral is to reinforce a family’s social status by celebrating the accomplishments of the deceased’s ancestors. Polybius writes, “when the one giving the eulogy has finished speaking of the deceased recounts the successes and exploits of the rest whose images are present, beginning with the most ancient” (6.54). By “images,” Polybius is referring to ancestor busts that only freeborn citizens are permitted to possess. Thus, families who were always freeborn or became citizens much earlier in the past had much more family history to be recounted and celebrated. Any listener would immediately know and be impressed by the accomplishments of the deceased’s family and respect his survivors as the continuation of that heritage. There are also visual cues regarding the endeavors of the family: the images are carried by the relatives that bear the “closets resemblance to the original in stature and carriage” (6.53), and the togas that these relatives wear is according to a custom: “they have a purple border if the deceased was a consul or praetor, are whole purple if he was a censor, and are embroidered with gold if he had celebrated a triumph or achieved anything similar” (6.53). Furthermore, the chariots in which the relatives ride in are decorated with objects and accessories that the relatives whose images they bear would have had in life. Finally, at the rostra the image carriers are seated in a row of ivory chairs so that the entire family’s occupations and accomplishments are displayed for all to see.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 05:01PM:
jthomas: Today's funerals steal carry some of the many ideas portrayed in the Roman funeral thousands of years ago. As Polybius explains, in a Roman funeral the deceased is normally carried in a type of parade. In this way everyone can see the deceased on last time and pay their respects. This kind of parade was reserved for the wealthiest individuals, and freedman did not have this honor. Even in today's world, we generally do not have parades for the deceased unless it is for someone of great importance, and a large amount of people want to pay their respects. There still is a parade like aspect to the normal funeral, which is the procession lead by a hearse, and the general public must let this vehicle through in all circumstances. Also, a similar process is a wake. Like in Roman times, where the body is physically carried through the streets for all to see, the body is put on display in a casket, or sometimes closed casket, for people to pay their respects. Also, as Polybius explains, a person close to the deceased gives a speech about the person. This also happens today, sometimes during a religious ceremony or before the body is buried. Finally, similarly to how busts of ancestors were paraded down the street with the deceased, at wakes sometimes the family will set up pictures or a slideshow depicting family members, but generally it is mostly of the deceased.

The procession that Polybius explains is the last impression that a recently deceased person has before they are buried. Power is the main objective in the Roman life, and sometimes death or the death of a family member can provide you with that. Perhaps, someone's father died and was known for many great triumphs. Forever would he or she be known for being the son or daughter of such an important figure. The more grand the procession, the more aware the public is to how important this person truly was. The inscription on a tomb forever solidifies the deceased deeds, and will be know to all who pass it. In this final way the deceased is forever glorified.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 05:19PM:
mstokely: Given Polybius’s account of a typical funeral in ancient Rome, there seems to be many similarities between an ancient Roman funeral and one that would be conducted in our culture today. Though there are small procedural similarities (such as the procession of the deceased body) the biggest similarity is the discussions that arise, either formally during the funeral, on informally amongst loved ones. Formally, at many funerals today, family members may speak about the importance of the deceased persons life, much like the “discourses” Polybius mentions. Another topic brought to discussion, mostly on an informal level today, but was very prominent in Roman funerals, are the memories and reminiscence of past family members, not just the most recently deceased member. Drawing on these two examples, a more generalized similarity can be seen between the actually function of a funeral today and in ancient Rome. A common theme in these discussions is how this particular family member “should” be remembered. The rhetoric of funerary speeches often suggests to the listener what to focus on when remembering the deceased individual. This is very similar to the intent of an ancient Roman funeral. Though there is a similar insistence of how the dead should be remembered at a funeral, there is a big difference in what the Romans choose to remember on and what we focus on today. These differences can be better understood by addressing the differences seen in a contemporary funeral and a Roman funeral. For instance, the procession of dead ancestors that Polybius describes is not something seen today at all. They served the purpose of not only reinvigorating the image of the identities of former relatives, but also give a visual representation of not only the recently deceased position in their family and lineage, but also their place in society. The procession clues people into the type of family this individual came from. The most important difference though is the use of symbols and colors to craft an identity for the deceased. Today, images and colors that surround a funeral are standard (mourners wearing black, flowers and wreaths at the funeral) and do not carry any particular or different connotation between various funerals (axes on the chariots, color of the robes worn by the impersonating processioners). They all are simply used to signify the death and the emotions that are involved. This was not true in ancient Rome, where different symbols where used to denote the class, wealth and job of the deceased. By thoroughly attributing these characteristics, both with these symbols and depiction of the family, the focus of the Roman funeral can be summed upped much different than the focus today. While today we focus on mostly the death and the important qualities of the deceased, Roman funerals also focused on the factors that D’Ambra associates with the social identity, “birth, wealth, accomplishments.” For the Romans, the funeral was seen as a way to finalize the definition of your social identity within the Roman world.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 05:49PM:

There are many funerary rituals that Polybius describes that are still present in modern funerals. Polybius explains that when someone passes, they are carried into the forum “here with all the people standing round, a grown-up son, if he has left one…and discourses on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead”. When someone has died, it is customary for many people that knew them in all facets of their life to come together to acknowledge their life achievements. Funerals typically are used more to mourn the loss of a loved one, but it has become more and more common to celebrate the life lived, usually with pictures, letters written to the deceased, and beautiful decorations. Another similarity is the way in which people arrive or depart the funeral. Polybius states “they all ride in chariots preceded by the fasces, axes, and other insignia…and when they arrive at the rostra they all seat themselves in a row on ivory chairs”. Similarly, the body is placed in the hearse and then driven to the cemetery with the family and friends then following after. Lastly, appropriate attire is expected, as Polybius describes for the ancient Romans, it was to “wear togas with a purple border if the deceased was a consul or praetor, whole purple if he was a censor, and embroidered with gold if he had celebrated a triumph”. Present day the expected color to wear is black with professional attire. One major difference between funeral processions today compared to ancient Roman traditions is the idea of the funeral being a public event. Modern day funerals are very private matters, pertaining to only those who had a personal connection with the deceased. For the Romans, funerals were about proclaiming the status of the deceased which was why they were made public affairs, completely opposite of the purpose of a modern day funeral. Another ritual that does not take place is the wearing of the mask of the person who died, and those who made the masks must maintain some sort of resemblance to the person who passed away. Again, as Polybius describes, the ultimate goal of the funeral was to finally exclaim to the public the status and wealth of the person who died, and the funeral was a way for the generations to come to learn of and honor those that came before them. This is consistent with the aspect of identity that D’Ambra discusses, “the construction of a social identity by external forces that dominate individual choices and freedoms”.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 05:59PM:
milardi: In The Histories Polybius describes funerals in ancient Rome. Many of the details of the funerary service that he mentions are surprisingly similar to modern funerals. Polybius mentions that there was an “oration over the man about to be buried” that “recounts the successes and exploits” of the deceased. This can be equated to the modern day Eulogy. Additionally, similar to modern day funerals, Polybius describes there being a large gathering of family and friends at the service, as well as some religious figure. In ancient Rome the body was often displayed to the crowd. While not all modern day funerals display the body a great number of funerals tare open casket, and thus similar to the tradition Polybius described. A final similarity is that after the funeral Romans would decorate their homes with images of the deceased, and in modern times it is common for the family of the deceased to put pictures around the house of their departed loved one.

Despite these many similarities there are also some important differences between the funerary traditions of ancient Rome and those of the modern day. The funeral Polybius described seemed to be more of a performance then modern ones. In ancient Rome the body was often in an upright position, while in modern funerals the body is always reclined and peaceful. Additionally in the Roman during the funeral someone of similar stature to the deceased would dress up as them and wear a mask of the deceased face. Ancestors were also represented in this same manner; the living relatives that bore the most resemblance to the ancestors would wear masks and in essence pretend to be them. Modern funerals are much less theatrical, and also more focused on the individual who died, rather then that person’s ancestors.

The goal of the elaborate ritual was multifaceted. First it was a chance for the deceased to preserve his or her memory and display his or her lifetime accomplishments. Secondly, It was a chance to glorify the family of the deceased, and encourage living members to continue to build the family legacy. From the elaborate tombs they constructed it would seem that Roman’s were concerned that the memory of them, and particularly the memory of their accomplishments, was preserved. This is strikingly evident is Agustus’s “Res Gestae” or list of accomplishments, which was displayed in his mausoleum. This need to show ones accomplishments or identity, however, was not limited to the rich. Even those with little means would want to use this last opportunity to display their accomplishments. Freed slaves would often have portraits done of themselves with an L next to their name in order to indicate the improved status that they achieved during their lifetime. Finally, as was mentioned before, the ancestors of the deceased were also glorified during the funeral. On tombs, as well, the names of ancestors were often displayed. Thus, the purpose of the rituals both glorified the deceased and his or her family.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 06:30PM:
csmith: In his discourse, “The Histories”, Polybius catalogs particular funeral rituals of the elite classes in Roman society. While many of these traditions have become fundamentally ingrained in modern ceremonies, Polybius details certain aspects of Roman services that differ quite remarkably from those of today. The procession of the deceased to the rostra closely resembles that of modern funerals though the body is typically enclosed in a coffin—rarely “in an upright posture” which Polybius claims was more common than a reclined position. Following this presentation, an immediate family member or close relative would recount the notable achievements that distinguished this particular man or woman in society as a form of honoring the person’s life. Similarly, in modern funerals, one can reminisce the loss of their friend or family member through the kind words and fond memories spoken by someone close to the deceased and/or a religious figure. From meaningful tributes to humorous recollections, guests are invited to honor the deceased and collectively mourn this passing. Additionally, Roman funerals sought to set an exemplar for younger generations to emulate the respected qualities and achievements commemorated during these orations. This aspect corresponds with modern funerals as the young generally look up to their elders and are able to cherish their legacy in the form of these laudatory speeches. A crucial difference between funerals of ancient Rome and those of today lies in the fact that for the elite classes, death was a public affair and turned into a form of spectacle. Though the loss was naturally felt most deeply by those close to the deceased, Polybius explains that their sorrow affected the public as the centralized setting of the funeral in the forum attracted the attention of the entire community. Modern funerals, on the other hand, are much more private and usually in an intimate setting. While photographs and pictures of the deceased are customarily displayed during the funeral as well as the ceremony following, Polybius affirms that the Romans honored the death in a much more radical fashion. A relative who most closely resembled the deceased would parade around during the funeral in a “mask” that detailed the distinct characteristics and physiognomy of this man or woman.

While the goal of these elaborate rituals practiced in antiquity was to celebrate the deceased, death was often turned into a form of spectacle for the Romans. For the elite classes, funerals represented a continuum of the past, present, and future. Ceremonies commemorated the great accomplishments of the person’s life while tombs and mausoleums solidified his or her identity and conveyed certain aspects of their character he or she wished to communicate. Much attention and time was spent crafting these tombs as Romans placed immense value on the after-life and memorializing one’s legacy. For the lower classes, especially former slaves, it was particularly important for them to establish their identity and role in society. For example, the Relief of the Servilii celebrates the progress of the family “from slave to freedmen to freeborn citizen” (Kleiner, 83). For plebeians who did not have the same opportunities as the elite classes, this sense of accomplishment was extremely meaningful as they sought to solidify their identity and commemorate their freedom through death.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 06:57PM:
kmanalo: In comparison to the funerals that I have witnessed, funerals that took place during the Roman Empire share the same purpose – to remember and inter the dead – but also involve the glorification of those who are alive. Both funerals involve a procession, yet instead of marching the dead into a church or a funeral home, the Romans held the ceremony at the forum, the rostra relating to the altar area in a church. Similarly, relatives or someone close to the person who had just passed would speak about the deceased. One interesting aspect of Roman funerals is the mask that the family who has just lost a loved one places inside the home as a reminder of the dead. Someone then wears these masks to public sacrifices to symbolize the presence and remember that person who passed. Finally, Polybius mentions that the orator at the funeral “recounts the successes and exploits of the rest whose images are present…” in order to further motivate the people who are alive to make the most of their current lives and to remind them of the greatness that they have already achieved. This facet of the Roman funeral is remarkable because it probably pacified the public and allowed them to focus on the specific accomplishments of the deceased, which also inspired the public to continue to strive for the best. In that way, the public would be inclined to think of the person who died when embarking on new endeavors. The Roman funeral solidified the identity of the person associated with it by substantiating the person’s familial role with the person speaking and his or her social role as well with the announcement of his contributions to society – in all, solidifying a legacy for the person who had just died.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 07:28PM:
Arodriguez: There are various differences and similarities between the funerary rituals of today and those described by Polybius in The History. In comparison to the funerary rituals in Puerto Rico, roman funerals were more theatrical and similar to a performance. In ancient Rome, the dead were carried into the forum usually in an upright posture. Today, the dead is placed inside a coffin where it is not visible to the public. Nevertheless, like in ancient Rome, all the relatives attend the funerary and take time to ponder on the life and achievements of the dead. Usually the relative most close to the dead will prepare a speech concentrating on the good deeds and life of their lost one. In contrast, in Rome it was the relative who most resembled the dead who would “discourse on the great virtues and achievements of the dead. In both cases, the purpose is to create sympathy, reflection, and mourn amongst the listeners. Although today the body is not exposed to the whole public during the funerary ceremony, in Puerto Rico during the last day of the funeral the coffin is opened so that the closest relatives of the dead can take a look at their ancestor for one last time before being buried. Although today relatives don’t produce a mask resembling the features of the dead, in Puerto Rico it is customary to place photographs of the dead relatives next to the rest of the family pictures in order to acknowledge their depart and to preserve their image. In addition, the procession of the body to the rostra is similar to the idea of the coffin being carried by the men of the family to the burial site. Finally, the funerals of today are focused on the achievements of the person who died while in Rome funerals were meant to praise not only the dead but also the family lineage. Funerals were a very important ritual for the Roman citizens since it was their last chance to show their rank and accomplishments to the public. Most importantly the social status of the dead gave the family a name within the virtuous families of Rome. As D’Ambra states, “identity had to be tested, challenged, and sorted out.” Funerary rituals reiterated the family’s rank within Roman citizens through a discourse of the person’s own achievements, such as military participation. This was especially important for the freed slaves, who now wished to elevate their social status. One way to commemorate the dead while publicizing the family’s history was through the building of tombs. For example, the tomb of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, a former slave who won his fortune by running a bakery, built a tomb in his own honor. The frieze that ran through the top of the tomb depicted the various stages of bred-making. Thus, he let the public know he had enough money to build a tomb for himself after being freed from slavery. Nevertheless, the figures in his frieze are not classicized and have no reference to Greek art as favored by Augustus. Therefore, art and ceremonies such as funerals were a projection of the family’s social class and rank.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 07:51PM:
chuang: Funerals today and the typical funeral ritual associated with illustrious men in the Roman empire have many similarities and differences. Both types of funerals have the same idea of a procession. In the Roman era, the deceased would be carried in open air through the forum in an upright posture (sometimes reclining), while people paid their respects. Modern funeral processions usually involve closed caskets, but funeral attendees still pay their respects. Also, the Romans then gave a laudatio, which is a speech that praised the deceased and recounted their contributions in life. Through the speech, Roman youths were also encouraged to take on glorious feats such as those the deceased that taken on. The laudatio also acknowledged the ancestors of the deceased, which modern eulogies do not dwell on. Modern eulogies are more celebratory of the dead and comfort the deceased's family. The Roman funerals were also more elaborate and theatrical, with dramatic grieving and acts of mourning.

The goal of the elaborate ritual Polybius described was to immortalize the deceased's identity and legacy. By mentioning the ancestors in the laudatio, the memory of these ancestors were preserved for a longer time. In the processions, some family members would also bear the mask of the ancestors. As mentioned before, through funerals, youths were encouraged to fight for glory and support Rome. The funerals aimed to inspire these young minds through recounting the glorious acts and embellished stories of the deceased's life. The accomplishments and contributions of the deceased were marked and preserved for future generations, which solidified the identity and social status of the deceased and their ancestors and family.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 07:59PM:
kgroszyk: Polybius’ description of Ancient Roman funerals reveals some points of intersection between the ancient funerals and funerals of today. The Roman practice of a relative making an oration to recite the virtues and successful achievements of the dead is similar to a current day eulogy -- though modern day eulogies tend to focus on personal attributes and anecdotes, rather than one's greatest accomplishments. The tradition of making the funeral public so that even those who did not know the deceased can views the rituals and mourn is something that is unique to Rome, as most modern day funerals are held for friends and family. This tradition reflects the fact that Polybius’ description is of a funeral for an “illustrious man”, and the funeral was meant to allow all Roman people to honor him and his accomplishment. The practice of creating a mask with the deceased person's likeness, and then having a family member who looks similar to the deceased person wearing the mask to funerals and public sacrifices is another practice that is unique to ancient Rome. Based on Polybius’ descriptions, it seems as though Roman funerals were designed to allow the public celebrate one’s legacy and accomplishments, as opposed to modern day funerals which are intended to provide close family and friends with the opportunity to mourn the deceased in a more somber and melancholy manner.

The goal of the elaborate ritual Polybius describes is to preserve the legacy of the deceased, and to inspire the living to accomplish similar feats, so that they may be honored in this same manner when they die. By recounting the accomplishments of the deceased and their contributions to the state, these rituals solidify the identity of the person associated with it by highlighting certain aspects of their life that are deemed noble by the Roman people. Thus, his or her identity is created and preserved based on carefully chosen stories which depict certain aspects of his or character that were celebrated by the Romans -- such as bravery, wisdom, and victory.The ritual of wearing masks of the deceased person’s likeness and recounting his or her accomplishments at all future family funerals, allows his or her legacy to live on many generations beyond his or death, and allows the descendants and family of the deceased to take pride in the accomplishments and honor of their dead ancestors.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 08:43PM:
caronson: There are some general similarities between funeral ceremonies of the Roman Empire and those of today, however these are mostly surface attributes, as much of the purpose in these ceremonies has changed. Funerals today are sometimes described not as a mourning of a death but as a celebration of a life. The spectacle that Polybius describes is very much the same. However, its seems that funerals today have a more somber atmosphere and are more focused on the individual. Roman funerals consisted of an oration acknowledging the wealth and accomplishments of the deceased, much like funerals today, yet it also focused on the ancestry of the diseased. Furthermore, tying into the Romans' concern for status, their funerals were not just to honor the diseased but also to display the families wealth and success. Other than these underlying differences in the purpose of the ceremony there are of course many physical differences. For example, at roman funerals people of similar stature to the diseased would where masks imitating them. Also, instead of the body being placed in a horizontal coffin as we do today, it was place in an upright, standing position. To sum, Roman funerals were one last chance to acknowledge the wealth and accomplishments of the diseased as well as display the wealth and social status of the family and solidify all their identity.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 08:45PM:
cparker: There are many stark similarities between the ancient funeral rituals of the Romans and our modern examples, however also a few differences. Most similarly is the manner by which the dead mans life is celebrated. Paralleling modern times the dead man is carried into the place of significance by a number of pallbearers, a eulogy, or “discourse on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead”, is given by a son or close relative, and afterwards his “image” is placed inside a wooden shrine (coffin) and put in the most conspicuous area for all to see. Our modern example is essentially identical. Where the modern representation differs greatest is the presence of dead relatives at the ceremony, people wearing the death masks of deceased family members. Modern funerals focus completely upon the deceased and not on the past relatives of the family. Roman funerals were also a much greater public spectacle. Modern funerals are a celebration of the deceased life and mourning for their passing however they are generally private. Roman ceremonies on the other hand took place in forums, almost as a large and spectacular as the deceased life was great. The purpose of Polybius’s described ritual was to glorify the great deeds of the illustrious man, so that his accomplishments be recounted and hopefully emulated by the future generation. Polybius states, “But the most important result is that young men are thus inspired to endure every suffering for public welfare in the hope of winning the glory that attends on brave men.” Within the ceremony these recounted exploits are thus solidified and made immortal, forever being associated with the great man’s name.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 09:05PM:
asung: Funerals during the Roman Empire, as described by Polybius, seem to people today completely extravagant and overly ostentatious, being an opportunity for a last public demonstration of social status and power instead of a quiet, mournful event to lament the one who has passed away. In some ways, this is true, as any elite man in the Roman world would exploit his own funeral as a means to display himself as a legendary figure, using art and ceremony during the event to connect himself with his honorable, perhaps even divine, heritage. For example, a line of men all wore masks of the deceased’s renowned ancestors, adopting the mask of the man to whom he looks most similar, and then they all arrived to the funeral in elaborate chariots and paraded indoors, sitting in one row of chairs. Later on, the orator described the accomplishments of each of the men, forbidding their deeds from being forgotten. In this way, the audience were allowed to see directly in front of them, alive and breathing, the distinguished line of men that preceded the deceased and eventually understand how the deceased is now another honorable man in that group. This emphasis on great and noble ancestors helped to define the person’s identity in terms of his relatives, demonstrating how the man has such prestige, wealth, and power because he so rightly deserves it, seeing as he was born into it. The funeral is projecting to the world that the man was so successful and triumphant in his life, and this legacy will continue on throughout the ages because this line of Romans has persevered gloriously from generation to generation.

Although the focus of funerals now lies mainly on the presently deceased, some aspects of Roman funerals are similar to the funerals today, in that one relative approaches the front of the room and gives a eulogy, praising the dead’s achievements and acknowledging his or her accomplishments, inspiring those in attendance to attain the same level of success in their own lives. Also, the man or woman is carried from the funeral and brought to the grave, followed by a line of cars filled with mourners, which is similar to the funerals of ancient Roman times except that the body is carried in followed by a group of chariots. The entrance was much more conspicuous than the exit. Thus, funerals today and thousands of years ago share some similar elements, as they honor the dead and help us remember those whom we loved.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 09:27PM:
gwhitridge: Polybius’ description of the Roman funeral depicts a grand scene, however this scene has much in common with the funerals of today. The Roman funeral usually had kin or someone close read a eulogy, which is the case for many funerals today. The more elite funerals also had a procession around the area in order to show people that someone important had died, this is done for many statesmen or presidents today. Lower class people were not allowed to have public funerals in Rome. Another similarity between the funerals is that the youth were meant to be inspired through hearing the deceased accomplishments, which is exactly what eulogies of today are supposed to do. Perhaps the biggest difference, which was unique to Rome was, if there was a member of the family who resembled an ancestor that person would wear a mask resembling them in order to represent the them at the funeral. Another difference is that the funerals of ancient Rome were meant to celebrate the accomplishments of the deceased in public, those of today are held with close family and friends.

D’Ambra describes the importance of lavish funerals as ways to remember the successes of the dead. For example not only did Augustus construct a large temple where he was to lay about 40 years before he died, on the obelisks outside he listed his accomplishments. For the wealthy of Rome lavish monuments were designed to as lasting ways to remember the important. No expense was spared in the construction of these monuments. For those of less wealth, especially freed slaves it was important to show that they had in fact been freed, the L on their graves signified this.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 09:32PM:
amarks: Polybius mentions many funerary customs that are still custom today in society. When there is a death today it is custom for all extensions of the family and anyone who knew this person, in some aspect or time, in their life gather to acknowledge their life achievements. During Roman funerals the body would be put on display to the crowd, much like an open casket ceremony in present day (Polybius). Today when we think of funerals we tend to think that people have gathered to grieve that persons death. Also its is regarded as a celebration; a celebration of the life the deceased lived. Like Polybius mentioned funerals, “recounts the successes and exploits.” For us who have been to a funeral, the celebration of one’s life accomplishments is our common day Eulogy. We also see more and more of pictures, nice decorations, etc. at the funerals trying to remember the good on a gloomy day. Polybius also brings up that the Roman would decorate their homes with mementos of their loved ones death. Today this is like putting up a picture frame or some other reminder of that person in our homes. Lastly Polybius touches on the subject of attire. Members attending the funeral would where togas with different color border to signify the deceased social class. Some examples, “purple border if the deceased was a consul or praetor, whole purple if he was a censor, and embroidered with gold if he had celebrated a triumph”. Today people are expected to wear black.

One big difference I find today is that in the Roman age funeral processions were a big deal in society. Today most funerals tend to be extremely private family matters. Roman funerals were more of a show, proclaiming the death of the individual. Today most times the deaths are announced in a small section in the local newspaper not a parade. This is a major difference in what Polybius said. There are however great professions today when a person of great importance to ones country dies. This is the exception today. Some other differences between Polybius and modern day are some little things like back in Roman day there was the wearing of the mask of the person that had died and also today the deceased is laid down or reclined not upright as stated by Polybius. Also Romans focused a lot on the family of the dead more than the actual person it sometimes seemed, making it a proclamation of that ones family and urging the living ones in the family to continue to build the family legacy. Funerals in a way back then were a way to project the family’s rank in society and social class.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 09:35PM:
ylee: The funeral rituals of Rome described by Polybius have both similarities and differences when compared to those practices of modern time. First of all, it is similar in that when a person dies, the funeral and mourning process does not contain to only family members, but it extends to public affecting those who knew the deceased, or even who do not had actual relationship with the deceased. Images of deceased displayed and speeches for the dead made are other shared features between the Rome and modern world. Nevertheless, how the funeral rituals were performed differ in details. In Roman times, when a man dies, he is carried in an upright posture and more rarely reclined; both positions are not used in modern times in which the dead bodies are laid down. While the images of the dead are sometimes carefully decorated in modern times (mostly with flowers), Polybius describes a ritual in which masks of the deceased and ancestors put on descendants whose appearances most closely resemble each ancestor he is supposed to represent. The “representatives” even wear togas and ride in chariots. When they arrive in rostra where the dead body is displayed, they sit in ivory chairs as if the ancestors are watching the whole funeral rituals.

Romans believed themselves to attain and enjoy afterlives that are longer than lives lived alive. This philosophy of Romans is emphasized through various artworks and architectures; Augustus started to build his tomb as soon as he grabbed the power, while normal citizens used much wealth on building funeral architectures of their own too. In this line of thought, it is natural for Romans to have their funerals as elaborate and grandiose as possible. “There could not easily be a more ennobling spectacle for a young man who aspires to fame and virtue. For who would not be inspired by the sight of the images of men renowned for their excellence, all together and as if alive and breathing? ” In his The Histories, Book VI: On Funerals, Polybius describes how the funeral rituals worked to invoke such an awe and aspiration from viewers. In verse 54, Polybius also notes that the oration and other steps in funeral rituals constantly reminding the participants how the deceased was respectable and worthy of such an elaborate ritual. Funerals were for solidifying the deceased and his family’s successes and memories both for themselves and for public. Thus, the funeral rituals were also a part of Roman culture of individuals building up public images and “identities” constantly throughout life and even after death.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 10:03PM:
emilygilbert: The Roman funeral rituals described by Polybius share several similarities with funerals today. Like in Rome, funerals today often involve processions, however now they usually take place in cars. Also, family members eulogize the deceased in both Roman and modern-day funerals. Both funeral traditions involve public ceremonies with the bodies present for people to say their goodbyes to the person before burial or cremation. At these ceremonies, people wear particular clothing, show their grief, and mourn the loss of the deceased. Although there are many similarities between Roman and modern-day funerals, Roman funerals seemed to be more elaborate and over the top than funerals today. Romans funerals were held in the forum for the entire community to attend and professional mourners were often hired to pull out their hair and beat their chests in grief. Nowadays, funerals are usually held in churches and temples for family and friends, not the entire community.

The goal of the Roman funeral was to extol the deeds and accomplishments of the deceased so that they will always be remembered. Romans prided themselves on their achievements and wanted everyone to know what they had done for society. They showed this desire to be remembered in many ways - they put reminders of their accomplishments on coins and wrote their names on buildings they had erected. Augustus even put a list of his accomplishments, the “Res Gestae,” on his tomb so that no one could forget what he had done for society. In addition to remembering the most recently deceased family member, Roman funerals sought to pay respects to all of the deceased ancestors in the family. Masks of the ancestors were made and performances were held in order for people to remember the accomplishments of generations past.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 10:07PM:
pmeehan: The complex funerary ritual which Polybius describes in his Histories is a union of public and private life in the construction of identity, so typical to Roman culture. In particular, Polybius details the events in the funeral of an elite Roman whose personal identity was intrinsically inseparable from public image. Just as the space of the home both juxtaposed and married the two spheres of Roman elite life, so too did the funeral play a significant role in cementing the dual identity of the deceased. Most obviously, Polybius writes that the funeral was a public spectacle: a procession featuring living family members, hired mourners and musicians, and the body of the deceased (sometimes in effigy). Romans attached great importance to such spectacles, and this format of funerary procession was an effective way to involve the public in the celebration of a great life. Visual language of clothing and living representations of the dead (wearing masks) communicated status and reinforced the notion that the dead were still present. Indeed, the living legacy of the dead was a significant part of personal and familial identity. The oration at the rostra recounting the achievements of the deceased was not only a celebration of the individual, but a performance which fused his personal deeds with his patronal role in the community. Polybius asserts that the oration was not simply a reflection on past deeds, but an exhortation to imitate the dead who lives on as an inspirational exemplar for his family and for all young men. Collective memory of the dead and personal (or familial) memory united in such objects as the death mask, an honorary display in the household which also played a role in the funerary procession and in public events like religious sacrifices. Furthermore, tombs along major roads served as reminders to passersby of virtuous lives, and often even actively engaged the living through provision of benches on which to rest and contemplate life and death. Thus, elite funerary rituals like that in Polybius’ Histories were elegiac celebrations of life which served as a capstone in the construction of Roman identity through a grand and final fusion of public and private veneration and through a transformation of the ephemeral into the eternal.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 11:01PM:
E Johnson: Yes, there are common points between the funerary scene Polybius describes and the ones we enact today--the dead are still honored through eulogies that bring out emotions and memories in those who had a part in the life of the deceased. Traditionally, there is also usually an emphasis on the passing of the torch to the younger family members of the deceased, although not in such a pronounced way as he describes in regards to death masks.

The ultimate goal of the ritual is to praise the dead for their virtuous behavior during life and indicate their loss to the world through the death mask ritual, in which those who have been lost get to "walk" again and those who have lost them get to reflect on their loss and character. Identity, then, is something set in stone if the funerary rite is properly done--not unlike the monuments, statues and reliefs we have discussed that seek to demonstrate the power, wealth and virtue of their late honorees. The only difference is that the latter displays of power are intended for many more generations than the former can hope to reach.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 11:06PM:
mziff: Polybius, one of the foremost historians of the Roman Republic, was a Greek who was captured and detained in Rome for more than seventeen years. During his stay, he grew fascinated by the Roman people and their culture and depicted both the intimate details of their society, their government, and the violence of their many wars. In a section of Book VI of his Histories, Polybius describes the manner in which the funerals of “illustrious” men are carried out. Remarkably enough, the ancient Roman funeral, a ritual more than two thousand years old, shares many similarities with funerals today. One common characteristic of both is the tradition of having a grown-up offspring of the deceased extol the virtues of the lost family member. The person granted this privilege recounts the life and accomplishments of the deceased, in effect celebrating his life and reminding those in attendance of the proper way to comport oneself. A funeral always sobers the living’s thoughts on mortality, but the main purpose is to elevate the recently lost loved one and to teach all, but especially the deceased’s family members, how to live a good, fulfilling, and virtuous life.

Where the Roman funeral and the modern funeral differ, is in their specific ritual qualities and in their intent. The Roman one entails the family members to don the death masks, or imagines, of their ancestors. Not only are the deeds of the elite deceased spoken for all to hear, but also the entire family ancestry is recited and their glorious history recounted. The identity, in every sense of the word, of a Roman male was intricately intertwined with his family heritage. With the passing of the elite male, the eldest son was expected to surpass the greatness of his father. Success in the public sphere for an aspiring young Roman was determined by his ability to lead men in battle and his skill at ruling while holding political office. The young adult assumed the immense responsibility of having to outdo his glorified ancestry. During every funeral, this right of passage occurred, and for this reason, the Romans were able to conquer the entire Mediterranean world while the morals, or mos maiorum, of the Republic were still strong. As Polybius stated, the “constant renewal of the good report of brave men, the celebrity of those who performed noble deeds is rendered immortal...” They were motivated by the constant need to outshine their relatives thereby strengthening their hold on the ancient world.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 11:15PM:
nelder: Polybius’ account of Roman funerals is very interesting when juxtaposed with contemporary funeral practices. Both rituals seem to be centered on honoring the memory of the deceased, but they do it in different, though sometimes similar ways. They intersect when it comes to the idea of the eulogy. Romans would have someone, ideally the oldest son of the deceased, stand up and give a speech recounting the accomplishments and virtues of the dead, just as we do today. However, where in contemporary times we tend to frame the eulogy, and the funeral itself, in private terms (i.e. what the deceased meant to those closes to him), Romans sought to frame the funerary experience in more public terms. The Roman eulogy was meant to have meaning to the public as a whole. The funeral was heard in the most public place in the city, the forum, and the speaker also recounted the history of past honorable men who had died. In these ways, the Roman funeral was more about coming to terms with death in the public sense rather than the more private notion of coping that we have today. Contemporary funerals seem to be more about helping people grieve and find closer in the passing of their loved ones. Roman funerals seemed to be more about furthering an idea that public service is the road to honor and those that are up to the task are the only ones worth remembering. In this way, Roman funerals meant much more to those seeking to obtain such honor, when compared to contemporary times, than those directly involved with the death. As I said before, the Roman idea of honor was extremely important to all those in society. For Romans, accomplishments meant nothing if others didn’t recognize them. These elaborate public funerals were the perfect way to make sure that everyone knew what great things you had done in your life and for Romans that was key. Roman society doesn’t seem to be based on intrinsic ideals. Romans could only conceptualize their worth in relation to how the rest of society thought of them. The Roman funeral was the crown jewel on a life devoted to gaining standing the public’s eyes. For a proper Roman, a funeral such as the one described gave ultimate meaning to a lifetimes worth of work.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 11:26PM:
lwilliams: Polybius’s lively description of funerals in Augustan Rome shows how many of the practices performed to commemorate one’s life are echoed in the funerary practices today, but also explicates the differences in what aspects of identity were stressed as important. As in Augustan times, funerals today are often accompanied by eulogies and obituaries acknowledging the noteworthy deeds of the deceased. The choice to have open casket funerals or pre-funeral wakes mirrors the Roman practice of carrying the body through the town in a public display. The use of symbols and props in funeral rituals continues today, but differs greatly from that used in Roman times. Where Roman’s used colors, costumes and insignia to designate the status of the deceased and their family, modern funerals use a more universal language of mourning that does not differ from person to person- black clothing, flowers, and somber music.

Like the Romans, we often wish to leave behind a legacy marked by our names, with buildings and foundations named after the primary donor. However, contrary to the Roman funeral, which stressed the eternal importance of a person as a continuation of a historical family legacy of accomplishments, modern funerals tend to focus on the importance of an afterlife, mentioning deeds as they pertain to that individual, not as a reminder of the family’s heritage. This is due to the importance of heritage to a Romans identity. In such a hierarchical world, the right to claim notable ancestors defined many aspects of a person’s life. Whether by parading a family’s most famous historical figures in a funeral procession, or by cementing rights earned as a freedman on one’s tomb, funerary commemorations were the final opportunity to fortify a family’s identity.

Posted at Feb 24/2011 11:36PM:
avela: Polybius’ description of Roman funerals is highly reminiscent of many important features of modern funerals. Most modern funerals include some sort of procession, usually from a church or funeral home to a burial site. The Roman funeral procession differed in that the final destination and focal point of the procession was the public gathering, or “memorial service” as it is referred to today, that took place in the forum. At the Roman memorial service, a eulogies were given following the same basic format of modern eulogies—calling to mind the person’s virtues and telling anecdotes—and evoking more or less the same reactions from those who heard them. Then as today, eulogies are given by close relatives or good friends. Roman memorial services differed from modern ones in that they were intensely public affairs, taking place right in the forum, while nowadays it is commonly accepted that funerals are private and meant for only family and friends of the deceased. The practice of keeping images of the deceased in the home is also continued today, as most people keep photos to remember deceased loved ones. Certain cultures even maintain the custom of adorning and displaying images of deceased loved ones during special holidays, such as the Day of the Dead in Mexican culture. However, life-sized representations of the deceased are not usually brought out for other funerals today as they were for Roman funerals.

Every aspect of the Roman funeral ritual was meant to propagate the identity of the deceased and leave the living with a carefully constructed image of who the person was and what they stood for. Therefore, the Roman funeral was a public event, meant to reach the masses with a message about the deceased and their family by association. A lavish procession showed off wealth and prosperity, a parade of illustrious ancestors boasted family lineage, and a well-orated eulogy would tout individual accomplishments. After striving throughout life to establish and maintain a favorable social identity, it follows that a Roman would want their efforts to be recognized and recorded in the public memory even after death.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 12:01AM:
nfadaifa: Roman funeral rituals can be seen in many aspects of present day funerals processions. Polybius describes the ceremony of an “illustrious” member of society in which they are carried in procession to the forum. In the ceremony of a common citizen (roman equivalent to plebian) this great ritual treatment is a rarity, however in the ceremonies of modern hero’s such as the late Michael Jackson, Selena, Princess Diana, essentially a media celebrity of some sort such precessions of the deceased being hoisted and carried to the ceremony isn’t out of sorts.

Another commonality in Roman funerary tradition and present customs is that of the eulogy. Polybius describes a person, usually a male heir “extols the virtues” of the deceased, telling of the persons great deeds, specifically bringing to attention military victories. The function of a eulogy is similar in its focus on the character and contributions to society. The difference in the focus of the speeches likely stems from the importance Romans placed on imperial success and focus on the common good as opposed to individual achievements. Rome’s success was largely based on the strength of the military. In what seems like a tactical move by the Roman government, the lives of military hero’s were emphasized and given importance because it supported Rome’s imperial goals, in which public participation in the military was necessary. Roman rituals differ in the perceptions of afterlife. Romans traditionally placed an idealized portraiture of the deceased and set up some sort of shrine, which would be uncovered for festivals. This was meant to immortalize the lives of the dead. Present day it is common to acknowledge the anniversary of the person’s death to respect and appreciate their memory.

The desired effect of the rituals Polybius describes is essentially the glorification of war hero’s and men who placed a higher value on the good of the state than on their own self-interests. • The identity of the person who the ritual is associated with is usually that of a person who put has put state needs ahead of personal needs. Immortality is stressed in the death of individuals who directly fought in battles necessary to establish or maintain Roman power and therefor the identity of the person becomes a shared heritage.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 12:12AM:
becohen: In Book IV of his Histories, the Greek historian Polybius gives a detailed account of Roman funerary customs among prominent Roman men. Although many of the Roman elite’s practices for memorializing the dead bear some resemblance to modern practices, there are also stark differences in focus and emphasis between the funeral of a prominent Roman and the essence of a modern American funeral. Polybius discusses how the deceased is “carried at his funeral into the forum to the so-called rostra, sometimes in an upright posture and more rarely reclined.” The placing of the deceased in the forum, the place of public business and discourse, means that the funerals of prominent Romans were meant to be public affairs and not intimate private gatherings. Although most American funerals are private with an audience of family and friends; as in Rome, public funerals still occur following the deaths of prominent figures, such as politicians. However, the public exposition of the body in an upright position is quite a foreign concept in the modern funeral, which tends to hide the body in a casket, rather than place it on display. Polybius’s account of “discourses on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead,” bear great similarity of the modern practice of eulogies lauding the accomplishments of the dead. However, the eulogies at the funerals of prominent Romans appear to be less personally focused and more centered on the political accomplishments of the deceased. Polybius also describes how wooden shrines were placed in the houses of the dead, although there is often some memorialization through pictures or iconography at modern funerals, this practice possesses nowhere near the ritualistic importance with which the Romans practiced it. Perhaps the most radical difference between Roman funerary practices and modern ones is the use of imitation conducted by living persons to memorialize the dead. Polybius describes how, “The image is a mask reproducing with remarkable fidelity both the features and complexion…putting them on men who seem to them to bear the closest resemblance to the original in stature and carriage.” This practice of the dead being imitated by selected living persons wearing masks resembling the deceased is completely non-existent in modern funerals. Although both modern funerals and those of prominent Romans focused on remembering the life and achievements of the dead, there are distinct ritualistic and ideological differences between these two sets of practices.

The ultimate goal of the elaborate ceremony described by Polybius for honoring a prominent Roman man was to both honor his achievements and promote his family and personal memory through the immortalization of these achievements. Polybius discusses how funeral orations immortalized the deeds of mortal men so that they could serve as a guide for future generations of their family and future Romans. The ceremony indicates a dual purpose of honoring both the man himself through the focus on the body and its likenesses, and to honor his deeds through the oration. Ultimately, the goal of a prominent Roman was the same as that of many of the public buildings constructed in Rome, to ensure that the works of the powerful would be remembered long after they had died.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 12:57AM:

The funeral ritual for an illustrious man in the Roman empire included a funeral procession, a “discourse on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead” (Polybius 6.53) and a gathering of mourners, often more public than private. After the procession, an image or mask of the deceased was placed in the house, and became a permanent testament to them, even after their life was over. During public sacrifices, these masks would be brought out, and people would play the role of these men. In this way, Roman funeral rituals located those who had just died within the past, present and future. Modern funeral rituals certainly include processions, speeches or anecdotes about the deceased and a gathering of mourners – sometimes very large and very public. Consider John F Kennedy’s funeral which drew hundreds of thousands of people to view his casket and included a procession with a horse drawn carriage. However, funerals no longer locate the deceased within time in the same way they did in the Roman empire. Now, it would almost be considered taboo to pretend to be able to imitate such an illustrious leader, but that does not mean modern funerals do not look forward.

Polybius also makes the interesting observation that funerals were both forward and backward looking – a point of intersection with modern funerals that I believe is more prevalent today than many would realize. While commemorating a great individual, funerals also inspire new generations: “There could not easily be a more ennobling spectacle for a young man who aspires to fame and virtue. For who would not be inspired by the sight of the images of men renowned for their excellence, all together and as if alive and breathing?” (Polybius 6.53) While funerals are stilled meant to commemorate the dead, they certainly do look towards the future. Consider Edward Kennedy’s eulogy to JFK, “He was still becoming the person he would be, and doing it by the beat of his own drummer. He had only just begun. There was in him a great promise of things to come” (Kennedy). While these words describe JFK, they also seek to inspire those who are still alive to live up to his promise and ideal.

My driver’s education teacher once said jokingly that only the nice people seem to die in car crashes. You only read about the straight A student who volunteered at the soup kitchen three times a week being killed when her car veered off the road late at night, not someone who was just squeaking by, and maybe experimenting with drugs. Maybe my teacher was right – or maybe funerals are about changing one’s identity to what one wishes one could have been, or thinks that one might have been. An individual may not live on for eternity, but the persona they create, and the identity they express with their funeral ritual may. Elaborate funeral rituals are a final chance to assert one’s unique identity. No doubt the Alexander the Great and Augustus we know today come from the identities they left behind with their funeral rituals, more so than who they were when alive. Their funeral rituals marked the beginning of the writing of history. The elaborate ritual Polybius describes seeks to glorify and elevate the deceased individual. Similar to Greek sculptures, Roman funeral rites capture the ideal of an illustrious man, more than their veristic identity and solidify one’s identity as an inspiration for future generations and heroic leader of of their time.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 01:23AM:

The typical funeral ritual associated with illustrious men in the Roman empire as described by Polybius share common points with funerals today. First, both Roman funerals and funerals today recall the accomplishments and virtues of the deceased figure. On the one hand, the relatives and people attending the funeral in general discourse on this subject. Meanwhile the orator gives a speech with a focus on the same subject matter. These two traditions existed in Roman empire according to Polybius and is carried out throughout today. Another similarity is how both funerals of Roman empire and funerals today are not confined to the mourners of the family circle. Funerals are presented as ceremonies with effects of arousing common sympathy over the loss. The procession, the oration, and of course the sentiments of the funerals are all public.

Differences indeed also existed between funeral rituals in the Roman empire and funerals today. One practice particular to the ritual described by Polybius is the placement of the image of the departed in the most conspicuous position in the house, enclosed in a wooden shrine. Such practice is not much expected of a funeral today because the size of the family that lives together with each other today becomes much smaller than before as more people tend to live within a core family consisted of parents and their children. As a result, there is much less emphasis on the position of the departed individual within the family, or in his genealogy. Rather, the funeral is more focused on his individual virtue and achievement, although here we do need to take into consideration that the funeral rituals that Polybius talked about were associated with illustrious men in the empire, who tended to care more about their genealogy and the honor of their family line. On the other hand, the inspiring effects on aspiring young people of the funeral rituals of illustrious men in Rome are less visible in funerals today. This is partially because the notion of endurance of suffering for public welfare is less prevalent today as a result of the increasing size of communities and developing individualism.

The goal of the elaborate ritual Polybius describes lies within ennobling and honoring the departed, and thus inspiring the younger generations. This goal is achieved by recalling the birth, wealth, and accomplishment of the departed that marked his social status. The scale and location of the funeral are important factors determining its visibility, which reflects the wealth of the departed. Funerals procession of more illustrious men in Roman empire were carried out in conspicuous fashion and large scale. Accomplishments of the departed are discussed among the mourners and recounted collectively by the orator. Representatives of distinguished family members wear togas with borders of different colors to denote the social rank of the departed, and magistrates all seated themselves according to the respective dignity of his offices of state. All these procedures meant to mark the social status of the departed. His Roman cultural identity as in the definition of D’Ambra is thus tested and solidified for one last time.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 01:54AM:

Today’s modern funerals take many cues from ancient Rome, but the differences are evident in the context in which funerals are performed now, versus how they were performed in ancient times. The body of the deceased still plays an important role, and though in a less central role than being paraded about in an upright fashion as in ancient times, today’s ceremonies seem to focus more on the image or the idea of the body of the deceased, hidden away in the coffin for a procession, or the creation of a wax figure in some cases for other rituals. Because death was a more common occurrence in ancient Rome than it is today, we see the context in which the funeral is being performed affect what it is seen as most important. The modern-day eulogy is less a life-long resume of accomplishments, and more centered on the emotional and personal impact the deceased had on the speaker or the community. In ancient Rome, because of the heavy prevalence of death, the family’s ancestors were also recognized in a ceremonial fashion with their descendents dressing up, and donning masks to represent the most influential and prominent figures in their family. This public display was mean to celebrate the lives of the entire family, and not just that of the recently deceased. The goal of the funerary rituals was meant to be the final account of the life of the recently deceased. Along with the tomb itself being a reflection of not only the individual, but also the family itself, the funeral was a chance for the family to forever engrain the deceased into living memory through procession, ritualistic masks, and rituals involving the actual body of the deceased. The funeral and tombstone engraving were the last chance to set the best impression of the deceased life into the memory of all those still living. Especially for freed slaves as we discussed, there was a huge importance in recognizing social status, accomplishments, wealth, and the time alive for the deceased.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 03:29AM:
fstrauss:There are many similarities between the Roman funeral described by Polybius and funerals today. For starters the body is still ‘paraded’ however it is not upright or reclined, rather it is concealed by a coffin and is carried by a hearse. The body is still accompanied by family members, but nowadays members do not wear masks or carry busts of their ancestors during the procession. The ceremony is also far less public than the Roman equivalent, unless of course it is of a major public figure such as Princess Diana. The tradition of a close family member reading a eulogy of the person who has died is still in practise today. One main difference is the mask of the deceased which the Romans would keep and then keep in their household. Today, while we may keep personal items, photographs of the deceased we do not have exact casts of them on display.

The ritual that Polybius describes is significant in preserving the memory of the ancestor lost. It is not only important to the direct family but every Roman citizen. The eulogy would include achievements and qualities that every Roman should strive to achieve and possess. The choice of reader would also be an important factor of the funeral. It would indicate the deceased’s heir as well as symbolise the future of the family.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 08:21AM:
mmcvicker:In Polybius’ The Funeral, he describes aspects to the Roman ceremony for the dead, which have multiple parallels with modern practices. First, the deceased Roman is carried at his funeral into the forum and onto the Rostra. While here, a family member stands in front of a crowd and lists the virtues and successful achievements of the dead. This is similar to the modern practice, or at least the Catholic practice, of gathering family and friends in a church, bringing the body down the isle, and having a family member talk about how great of a person the deceased was. The Romans also used images of the departed in the ceremony, which matches the tradition of having photographs present at the funeral ceremonies in order to remind people of the dead person’s life.

Although there are some similarities between Roman and modern funeral rituals, many differences exist as well. The biggest difference would have to be the Roman’s wearing of their ancestors’ masks. They would take family members who most resemble their ancestors and put them in masks to attend the funeral in order to create a glorious spectacle of great and noble men honoring the deceased. Modern practices refrain from wearing masks of the dead at ceremonies. It may have been inspiring in Roman times, but if done today it would most likely be considered creepy and distasteful. Another difference between the Roman and modern rituals is that the Romans liked to spend time honoring the ancestors “present” at the funeral, while the modern day service are usually very focused on the particular deceased person that the ceremony is dedicated to.

The goal of the elaborate Roman funerary rituals that Polybius describes is to cement the name of the deceased in history. The Roman nobles spend their lives building respect for themselves, through different kinds of public works and military services, and want to be remembered. The Romans dedicate a lot of the ceremony to honoring the ancestors in hopes that one day they will be one of those ancestors honored at the funeral of their son, grandson, etc. Because this person lived an honorable life, their achievements will be read and remembered at every family funeral to come.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 08:22AM:
clebovit: There are multiple points of intersection between the funerals that Polybius describes in his historical account of Roman funerals and modern day mourning. Both cultures have ceremonies that eulogies or as Polybius puts it, “facts are recalled to their minds and brought before their eyes.” In both cultures, eulogies recall a person’s best characteristics and accomplishments. Furthermore the entire Roman service in the forum is very similar to a memorial service. Both services allow one final opportunity for friends and family to remember the life of an individual.

The two cultures’ post-death practices diverge in the effect a funeral is supposed to create. In Roman times, the eulogy has an ulterior motive, indoctrinating younger citizens about the glorious nature of serving the Roman Empire. A modern day eulogy has no clear purpose other than to remember the individual. Also the distinction between the size and scale of funerals based off of class distinction is not as prevalent in modern times as it was during the Roman Empire. Although exorbitantly wealthy people have grandiose funerals, the general proceedings share the same structure as normal person’s funeral. Unlike the Romans, different color clothing is not worn depending on the deceased’s status.

Status was critical to Romans in all facets of life, even verging into the afterlife. The size of the funeral procession and proceedings was symbolic of the wealth of an individual. Even the wealthiest of people could hire criers and lamenters to even more loudly proclaim a person’s significance. Finally, gravestones also provided a chance for a demonstration of one’s position. Freed slaves included the libertus or L or their tombstones to show that they were no longer enslaved. Freedmen adorned a similar F on there respective tombstones to show their citizen status. (p. 88 of the reader)

Posted at Feb 25/2011 08:43AM:

It strikes me that our modern funeral rituals are effectively an abstracted version of Roman funeral rituals. While many of the basic principles remain in modern times, the Roman funeral was a more particular, and more decorated event. Beyond the ritual itself, the Roman baker’s tomb (mentioned in Kleiner) struck me as a fascinating example of how the Romans aimed commemorate their deceased on a specific and individual basis. The decorative program on the baker’s tomb matched his profession and served as a constant reference to who he was as a person. This kind of specific, documentary imagery is a suggestion that the Romans believed the tomb-and the funerary ritual-should involve imagery that quite literally brought the deceased into three-dimensional form. Too, in the funerary ritual, the masks and the ancestors served as a reminder of what the deceased looked like, and served as a literal “picture” of what the family lineage looked like. Today, we have one succinct photograph to do the work, which we often place atop a coffin as a remembrance of the exact likeness of the deceased. But, in only a few instances have I seen evidence of a full decorative program that commemorates the entire family, the profession, and the image of the deceased.

Beyond the imagery, both modern and Roman rituals served as an opportunity to recount the accomplishments and character of the deceased. However, as many previous posts have mentioned, the modern ritual is generally a private event in which it is less necessary to dispel the CV of the deceased. Again, the Roman funerary ritual strikes me as a more literal gesture of transition, in which the accomplishments of the deceased are a reminder of the younger family members of what they must carry into the future. This is implied in the modern funerary ritual, but it is not explicit, and often the ceremony is not centered on the facts, but rather, on the sentimental moments shared with the deceased.

Lastly, it struck me that, in both modern and Roman times, the inscription was a central part of the process of commemorating the deceased. In both cultures, the inscription is an extremely sentimental, and symbolic act that is performed in many contexts. But, it is an especially important “final” mark to a person’s life, which will forever specify their identity and their life’s work.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 09:13AM:
nvitrano: Public mourning and celebration of the dead is something that has continued throughout man’s history. As long as people have been dying there have been rituals and customs associated with it, and Ancient Rome was no exception. Polybius describes in detail in his The Histories the funerary rituals performed by the people of Rome. The funerary rituals of today, in some ways, mirror those of ancient Rome. The Romans carried the dead bodies of celebrated men into the forum in a kind of funerary procession. This ritual is not unlike the funerary processions of today. Today bodies are moved from the church to burial site with a procession of cars in order to alert the public to the death of this person. The procession in ancient Rome would not include cars, but both are done in order to alert the public of the death. The Romans, however, also celebrated the death of all their family members during this processional by having living family members portray them in the funerary march. Today, although remembering the dead in other ways is a common practice, the funerary rituals of today usually just focus on the deceased at hand and the living left to mourn them.

Once at the forum, an orator speaks about the dead man’s life and achievements. This is in every way comparable to the eulogies given at today’s funerary proceedings. Both serve to honor the dead and acknowledge that which they accomplished in their lifetime. It is in a way a celebration of the great things that the deceased did. It gives a sense of meaning and purpose to the life that had just been ended. The differences, although I cannot be certain, probably come in the manner in which these “eulogies” were given. It seems that the Romans would focus more on the military and political accomplishments of the deceased where as the eulogies of today take on a far more sentimental tone, usually accounting how the deceased had touched and affect the live of his loved ones and colleagues.

Being forgotten and losing one’s identity in death is a common fear among all men. The Roman funerary ritual clearly shows an outward desire to, for the last time, glorify the “identity” of the deceased. In an attempt to remind the public of the deceased’s social status, wealth, and influence, granted that the deceased was a celebrated man in the Empire, his body is paraded through the streets in a lavish procession usually involving paid mourners. Once at the forum the life and accomplishments were relived through oration to remind the public of all the deceased had done in they time they had on Earth. This outward over-expression of “identity” didn’t, however, stop there. The Romans, and people worldwide today, also created elaborate and grandiose tombs that again were emblematic of the “external factors” which constructed this person’s identity, the bigger and more grand the tomb, the richer and more influential the person. The dead and the living of ancient Rome were in constant “communication”. The people of Rome wanted to leave a part of them selves so that they would not be forgotten and that their “identity” would continue to be know for eternity. The funerary rituals in place were there so that the identity of the individual (and often his family) could be solidified (almost quite literally) in the stone and marble that lined the city limits.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 09:18AM:
hstrausser: In Book VI of The Histories, Polybius describes the elaborate ritual of an ancient funeral. The body of the deceased is carried into the rostra, with all the people present at the funeral gathered round. A relative of the dead then makes a speech about the virtues and accomplishments that this person achieved during their lifetime. An image (bust) of the deceased is placed at the most prominent position in the house, so that mourners can look at it and simultaneously mourn the person’s death while celebrating their life. These customs still occur at modern funerals today: the casket is brought into the cemetery by a hearse, followed by a procession of friends and loved ones in the motorcade. Relatives still speak about the deceased person’s life: the memories they have shared, that person’s accomplishments, their virtues and best qualities, etc. Finally pictures of the dead are often placed around the house in order to remind the guests of their lives.

One aspect that Polybius describes about Roman funerals differs greatly from modern funerals. In ancient times, the ancestors of the deceased were honored at the funeral as well as the person who had just died, while today the funeral is focused only on the recently deceased.

The goal of the funerary ritual described by Polybius is to recount the achievements of the dead person and solidify their identity within the rest of the society. In speaking so highly of that person’s life, it is hoped that others present at the funeral will be inspired to be as successful as the deceased. In addition to solidifying the dead person’s place in society by their accomplishments, an elaborate funeral also publically cemented their reputation as a wealthy man, therefore doing the same for the members of the family that are still living.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 09:42AM:
ereese: Thousands of years separate modern society from that of the Romans, and yet some of humanity’s most intimate and personalized rituals have remained the similar at their cores. Polybius concisely describes some of these Roman traditions, and their counterparts in current times are immediately evident. Bearers would carry the body of the deceased Roman (of sufficient social standing, of course) to the rostra, akin to our modern practice of mourners or family members carrying the coffin. The next step Polybius describes strongly recalls the modern-day eulogy; where the dead Roman’s son or relative would speak to the mourners and share knowledge of the deceased’s life and achievements, the modern American funeral has at its core a eulogy performed by a close family member or friend that also highlights the most memorable and positive traits of the dead. There also existed a particular dress code for parts of the Roman mourning experience (although this particular part of the funerary experience in Rome - living citizens masquerading as the dead - does not exist in current-day grieving, it is important to note that the clothes in which one adorned themselves formed a construct of respect and celebration of the dead). Polybius writes that those who took part in this part of the funeral would wear togas with specific adornments so as to communicate reverence for the deceased. Although simulation of the dead person is not our goal in modern America, we still adorn our bodies in a certain style of dress (dark colors, conservative apparel) to convey respect.

As one can already tell in the preceding paragraph, though, there are differences between then and now. Most striking is the theme of imitation that underlies a big part of the Roman funeral. Americans do not dress up in an attempt to replicate the deceased, but for the Romans, this was of the highest honor. By dressing up as the dead and thereby animating their most significant accomplishments even after the fact of death, the concept of death as an awful, inescapable end would no longer instill fear in the hearts of Romans. Rather, young people would be inspired, because as Polybius writes, “Who would not be inspired by the sight of the images of men renowned for their if alive and breathing?” (Polybius 53).

The goal of these funerary traditions was to create an identity of the deceased that was not strictly limited to their bracketed living existence. Rather, the dead would be woven into the fabric of Rome past, Rome present, and Rome future. Their image would not cease to inspire upon their death; in fact, according Polybius’s glorifying words, the funeral traditions fo the Romans allowed a culmination of reverence and awe that some might argue would not even have been possible during their lives.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 09:47AM:
icanal: There are some similarities between the ritual described by Polybius and the funerals today. One of those is the idea of remembering the dead: the idea of procession. As Polybius mentions, the orator at the funeral “recounts the successes and exploits of the rest whose images are present…” not only to remember and commemorate his death but also remind those in the funeral the importance of this life in a way encouraging them to make most of their lives. While current funerals are more of a celebration of the dead to ease the pain of the extended family within the presence of friends, Roman funerals were more formal, theatrical and serving to the sole purpose of the traditions. They also differ in various ways. The typical funeral ritual in the Roman Empire includes the dead being carried around in the open space while modern funeral processions usually carry the deceased in closed casket/coffins.In addition, the tradition of wearing a mask, usually done by the family members mostly resembling the deceased is also not a commonly observed tradition in current funeral ceremonies. This idea of carrying the memory over the generations and putting more pressure on the young generations by these orations and symbolic representations is also very Roman yet not quite common in today’s world. The transferred identity over the generations keeps the dead alive among the family and also strengthen the reputation of this elite man hence empowering the elite family as a whole.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 09:55AM:
mmanella: The recounting of funeral rituals of the aristocratic Romans by Polybius allows for an interesting comparison to modern funerary practices. First, in terms of common points of intersection, a procession of some form is still preserved today in most funerals as the body of the deceased is carried into a holy setting to be placed on display. Second, the “discourses on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead,” also exist today in many different styles. Sometimes more than one relative project their kind words and blessings from a high altar, or rostra in ancient Rome, and today it is more common to have varying types of discourses from specific memories brought back to life, or songs and poems to beautifully commemorate the life of the departed. Third, in terms of dress, just as the important representatives of the deceased occupation wore togas with a purple border or completely purple togas for consulship or censorship respectively, in today’s services with armed forces or military associations current members of the service pay their respects to a fallen soldier dressed in their service attire. They do so to show their respect for their lost comrade, as well as what it means to serve for one’s country.

Some more contrasting comparisons include the use of wedding masks, and also not mentioned in the article but in lecture, the practice of hiring professional mourners. First, wedding masks in ancient Rome were worn to not only honor the deceased, but the extended family of ancestors connected back to the person honored on that day. Today this form of remembrance is not practiced often if at all, but instead as was custom in ancient Rome, pictures of the person honored are placed both around the altar and in the private home to commemorate their life. Second, we learned in class when looking at a relief image of a funeral from Amiternum, Italy that wealthy aristocrats would pay hired mourners to lament excessively during the ritual to add more of a disaster-type feel to the mood of the occasion.

The goal of the elaborate ritual Polybius describes is to allow for a performance, a glorious spectacle, to celebrate family ties to the greatest extent possible in order to perpetuate a sense of honor and respect for fallen Romans and their families. A Roman funeral service, at least one performed by an aristocratic family, invited a multitude of guests who may or may not have impacted or shared moments with the lost individual. This type of public spectacle helped a family introduce to a wider audience the honor and history of a particular aristocratic family in order to spread a more established sense of personal identity. This idea of hosting a public event does not happen as much today with more private funerals preferred by most wealthy families. Additionally, this type of private event is concerned mostly with honoring the specific individual who has just passed rather than the ancestry and family name. In other words, identity for the Romans had much deeper ancestral ties in terms of the ritual practice itself, whereas today’s funerals are more personal services with individual commemoration as the special emphasis.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 10:01AM:

In Polybius’ account of the illustrious man’s funeral, he details how grievers don the likeness of their renowned ancestors on the procession day. In his speech the chosen orator includes the great deeds of these ‘resurrected’ great men, too- “what spectacle could be more glorious than this?” Polybius asks. At a modern funeral, loved ones of the deceased are expected to gather together, clothed in somber colors, to show their support as individual agents. It is meaningful when someone from the childhood of the deceased attends their funeral, or when someone who might have had disputes with the deceased makes an appearance. The value of the event in its current form is placed on celebrating the various human connections made by the deceased, while in Polybius’ time, the funeral procession was seen as a moment to sew together the vast historical narrative of a persons’ lineage. Modern funerals send the dead off with toasts to their character and stories of their good humor, the ancient rites sent the dead off by working them into the fabric of history.

Because the ancient Roman funeral processions were so loud, large, and public, the orator’s speech was very instrumental in how future generations of family members and citizens alike would remember the deceased. The orator would work to ennoble the dead so that they might fit in with their splendid ancestors figuratively gathered at the event. The establishing of identity that occurred during the Roman funeral is vastly different than what happens at a modern funeral, partially because we live with so many means of documenting identity (photography, video recordings, etc.) that funerals generally delve into someone’s past using ‘bench markers’ that the deceased him or her self created.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 10:01AM:
haoki: The deceased individual is still carried in a cortege to where the funeral service is scheduled to take place, but he would not be “conspicuous in an upright posture” during the procession (88 Course Reader). This illustrious man today would rather be reclined in the coffin. Orations are still made, praising the actions, virtues and achievements of the deceased. Although there remains the tradition of death masks (such as Joseph Stalin’s in bronze), the ritual of wearing the mask of the deceased and making rounds in a chariot—especially by a member of the family with the most similar stature to the deceased individual—would be deemed peculiar in today’s society. Nowadays, people are more willing to adhere to modesty than the idea of the spectacle, especially on the difficult subject of death, coupled with the uncertain promise of an afterlife. Polybius states that the memorial service is not limited to the remembrance of the deceased individual. In fact, other images are also praised for their past achievements, starting with the most ancient of members. The service becomes a communal, patriotic and quite close-knit remembrance of the Empire’s men, from the founders of Rome to its emperors. They serve as models for living young men who will thus physically see the grandeur of the funeral, and appreciate and understand his identity as a Roman.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 10:11AM:
jconnuck: Polybius’s description of Roman burial rites outlines a process of remembrance similar to our own in striking, though perhaps not surprising ways. He writes, “some…relative mounts the rostra and discourses on the virtues and successful achievements of the dead,” (53, reader p. 88). While Roman culture was obsessively concerned with one’s public reputation, it is common practice for us too to eulogize the dead. This reflects the natural human longing for immortality through remembrance; the hope to live a life that somehow leaves some mark behind. The Romans held this up as an ideal, but we still value this today.

It is also not uncommon in modern society to have some kind of large photograph or slideshow of the deceased at a slideshow, serving as a reminder of the loved one who has perished. The Romans used a different technique to serve a similar role by having family members of similar appearance dress in masks resembling the dead.

Where the two traditions differ is that we emphasize remembering the most recently departed, whereas the Romans believed very strongly in filial piety and thus the whole line of ancestors were paid tribute at any given funeral, not just the body to be buried. This makes sense in the context of a Roman society where one’s place (with a few notable exceptions) was based in large part on one’s family’s status. Because our social system rejects that entirely (at least in theory), we feel a much weaker sense of familial pride in the sense that the Romans did.

The public element of the funerals described by Polybius make their purpose clear. Burials were used as more than just collaborative grieving sessions; they were a person’s final statement of identity in a culture that cared very much about the successes of the individual. Before being laid to rest, a person’s entire ancestry must be presented in order to establish that very important aspect of the Roman identity. Then their individual works and accomplishments are read so as to impress upon those present the greatness of the recently departed, as well as the loss that will be felt by their absence in the future. The rites Polybius serve to highlight the most valued aspects of Roman identity, as Eve D’Ambra says, “birth, wealth and accomplishments.”

Posted at Feb 25/2011 10:35AM:
JMorris:The Romans typical funeral rituals are a lot like our modern day rituals. Polybius talks about how he Romans would have laudatio that would talk about all the accomplishments and great things about the deceased, which is similar to a eulogy. There would also be a long procession in the public streets to the forum Modern day funerals tend to be private but there are examples of public processions of famous individuals. The body would be propped up on and could be seen by the crowds. In comparison to modern day funerals we do sometimes have open casket services to see our dead for the last time. They would prop up one of their arms under the head to make the deceased looked relaxed and well. This can be seen in modern rituals by the make up and nice clothing we put on the deceased. Polybius also talks about how the Romans also had death masks. These death masks would be worn during funeral processions and saved for the next procession. Theses death masks were still made long after the Roman Empire into the 19th century i.e. Napoleon(in our collections). Although we don’t create death masks anymore imagery of the deceased is usually put up around the house and at the funeral. There are definitely similar themes of celebrating the deceased life as well as not forgetting them.

The decease agenda is to not be forgotten so they would name buildings after themselves or have impressive tombs. Polybius talks about how it is about the identity and legacy of the deceased. Romans cared about their wealth and power and wanted to show for it after their death. Many funerary monuments on the via Appia would have benches and other things to attract travelers to come and read the inscriptions thus keeping the memory of the deceased alive.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 10:35AM:
dporitz: In Polybius’ The Histories, he goes into great detail describing the nuances of the funeral rituals in Roman culture. Through these descriptions one sees the many similarities between modern day ceremonies and those of Roman times. Arguably the largest similarity is the role of the funeral in remembering the accomplishments of the individual as well as celebrating their life and legacy. Both Roman funerals and most modern day funerals have a priest or another religious figure who is in change of running the service and praising the individual’s life in collaboration with other close family members and friends. In this way, the process of speaking about the “virtues and achievements of the dead” remains central in both contemporary as well as Roman funerals. For Romans, the eulogy brought the deceased’s achievements back into the hearts and minds of those participating in the funeral, serving a very similar function as modern day eulogies. Finally, there exists clear similarities in the funeral procession and showcasing of the body, Polybius explains that the bodies of the dead were carried into the forum to the rostra where they were displayed. Although not identical, both modern day and Roman funerals both handle and display the body in a very similar fashion.

Although having many similarities, Roman funerals were also unique in many ways. Romans used funerals to celebrate and honor the deceased’ family’s name equally as much as mourning the loss of the individual. In contrast, most modern funerals are solely focused on the individual and not on the legacy of family. Secondly, funerals in the Roman culture were great public spectacles that attracted masses of people and were meant to be open events to the public. In contrast, most modern funerals are private events that are focused on close family and friends. Most Roman funerals were held in the rostrum in the forum, which is a large stage open to the entire public, where as most contemporary funerals are held in small churches or other private religious spaces.

The overarching goal of the Roman funeral that Polybius describes was to ensure that the deceased individual would be remembered for future generations thus immortalizing the legacy of the person. Roman’s had a clear anxiety of being forgotten or lost in history, as such the funeral was the last time to ensure that ones identity would be retained by the living. The common theme of creating public works made of stone and even coins that bore the image of emperors and other influential individuals all share the same theme of wanting to be remembered and worshiped by future generations. A such, ones public funeral and their burial stone was the last opportunity for them to make a lasting impression and leave their “mark” on Roman culture. For this reason, it was a time to flaunt ones wealth and power and to create a public spectacle that would be remembered by future generations as well as serve to carry ones family name forward with respect and recognition.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 10:36AM:
sengle: In “The Histories,” the Greek historian Polybius describes the prototypical funeral of an affluent Roman. There are several similarities between funerals of wealthy and elite Romans and those of individuals today (or at least in Western society—I cannot attest to funerary rituals in other parts of the world). The Roman ritual began when the deceased was carried into the forum and his body was placed on a rostra. Family members gathered around the rostra and recounted the successful achievements of the dead. This sequence of events is analogous to the contemporary tradition of a funeral procession followed by eulogizing the individual. During the procession, the dead is transported in a hearse to their final burial site while friends and family follow in vehicles. The typical eulogy (Greek for “good words”) is often written by an individual close to the deceased in which they praise the life and work of the dead. However, in contrast to a Roman society that emphasized tangible material accomplishments, eulogies of today tend to praise individuals from emotional and psychological perspectives.

The elaborate funeral rituals of elite Roman men served two main purposes; one for the deceased and one for living family members. For Romans, who believed in an afterlife, adequate and elaborate (for the elite classes) preparation for death was of paramount necessity. Asserting one’s identity was important for Romans for they were members of a state in which social hierarchy was strictly enforced and at the core of their daily lives. Therefore, it is no surprise that wealthy Romans purposefully re-iterated their affluent status through their funerals. Additionally, living family members celebrated the accomplishments and achievements of the deceased through multiple speeches and eulogies. The goal was to emphasize their various triumphs in an attempt to connect the deceased to lives of great, respected Romans and transitively a glorious and powerful Roman past.

Roman funerals were not only intended to celebrate the lives of the deceased. There were several “selfish” psychological intentions on the part of the living. Living family members went to great lengths to prepare and enact funerary rituals for reasons that benefited themselves as well. By honoring their ancestors, living Romans transitively glorified their own lives.

It is necessary to add that announcing and preserving one’s identity for eternity was psychologically important for all Romans, because not only affluent Romans were celebrated with funerary rituals. Pleibians (members of the lower classes, including freed slaves) participated in similar, albeit less extravagant, traditions. Although they were prohibited from certain acts such as displaying busts of their ancestors in their house and having public funerary celebrations with processions and speeches, lower-class individuals commemorated their deceased through funerary reliefs, decorated cinerary urns, etc.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 10:44AM:
mhorn: In Polybius, The Histories, he describes the Roman funeral tradition, and allows us to compare our own customs with historic ones. The central difference between Roman funerals and modern funerals is in the performance of the funeral. Roman funerals were used as a platform from which families could convey a legacy to lasting generations. The mechanics of the procession was also similar to those of today. Romans would carry the body for all to see through the forum, and place it on the rostrum. There they would herald all the accomplishments of the deceased, and solidiy values for future generations (like Augustus Res Gestae). In modern times we mimick the same procedural tradition. We carry the body in a hearse, and have a public display of the dead’s followers. We don’t go as far as the Romans though – they would hire actors to lament in front of spectators and the relative with the closest stature would carry a mask of the deceased. Today, when we are done with our motorcade, we carry the chest with the body to the burial site, usually a cemetery where many people are buried. There we summarize the virtues of the deceased so that the funeral participants, usually a small group of family and friends, can receive a last impression/re-invigoration of the deceased’s memory. Even though the Roman eulogy is comprable to ours, they would also summarize the positive history of the person, there funeral eulogy was honed on the public aspect of the funeral. Not only was the body, if it belonged to a rich familiy, buried in a lavish display structure, but also the speech was directed at the public participants and strangers. The Roman funeral was an opportunity to position the family’s heritage in the society and communal history. Not like us, we take the moment to remember the person and their influence on our lives. We have little communal purpose in our funeral tradition. The funeral is not a tool in which we establish the identity of the deceased, rather the other way around. We reflect on the deceased’s influence on us, and how it affects our passage through life. The Romans, however, used the funeral as an irrefutable last chance to laud the dead and corresponding family. Augustus was well aware of this aspect in Roman life. He began to build his mausoleum 30 years before his own death, and even constructed the forum through which he was carried. On his tomb he publicly inscribed his resume on the Res Gestae, a typical motion of public appeasement. Today the extent to which we appease a public is restricted to those of grand fame, and soley though the imagery of a television or radio.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 11:02AM:
rcuellar: Funerals today resemble these events described by Polybius in many ways, though not as extravagant or as theatrical. For the most part the reason for the Funeral is just as it is today, a way to celebrate the passing of our loved ones into a better place and a way to show respect honor and acknowledgement of their past and legacy. Just as one would see the an orator speaking of the deceased past life and accomplishments today many family members talk of the successes ,hardships, and times remembered of the deceased. Another commonality is the precession seen both in reading and today. Although not carried out as a display and theatric of wealth and success, Precessions today are still easily recognized by the police escort and limo, still giving that elite feel. The major difference that I see between present and roman funerals is that in present day funerals people do not the dress as family members, that have past, that they most resemble and wear clothing of special colors and details to describe their life accomplishments. The goal of the extravagant and detailed rituals that described by Polybius in my opinion is a way to remember the past of the deceased as well as the history and legacy of the family as well. As seen in the large theatrics of dressing as the ancestor you most resemble, and wearing togas that commemorate their life’s accomplishments the family attending these extravagant funerals are instantly reminded of their past and the successes of their family up to now. This along with the speeches of the orators could serve to keep the memories of the past alive as well as to motivate the current family members of their potential and drive them to make a legacy that their family members will commemorate at the time of their passing.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 11:04AM:

Funerals today resemble these events described by Polybius in many ways, though not as extravagant or as theatrical. For the most part the reason for the Funeral is just as it is today, a way to celebrate the passing of our loved ones into a better place and a way to show respect honor and acknowledgement of their past and legacy. Just as one would see the an orator speaking of the deceased past life and accomplishments today many family members talk of the successes ,hardships, and times remembered of the deceased. Another commonality is the precession seen both in reading and today. Although not carried out as a display and theatric of wealth and success, Precessions today are still easily recognized by the police escort and limo, still giving that elite feel. The major difference that I see between present and roman funerals is that in present day funerals people do not the dress as family members, that have past, that they most resemble and wear clothing of special colors and details to describe their life accomplishments.

The goal of the extravagant and detailed rituals that described by Polybius in my opinion is a way to remember the past of the deceased as well as the history and legacy of the family as well. As seen in the large theatrics of dressing as the ancestor you most resemble, and wearing togas that commemorate their life’s accomplishments the family attending these extravagant funerals are instantly reminded of their past and the successes of their family up to now. This along with the speeches of the orators could serve to keep the memories of the past alive as well as to motivate the current family members of their potential and drive them to make a legacy that their family members will commemorate at the time of their passing.

Posted at Feb 25/2011 01:59PM:
nwalker:There are several points of intersection between the funeral rituals that Polybius describes in comparison to a modern day funeral. When a ‘worthy’ person died in ancient Rome, there body was placed on the rostrum and then a speech would follow describing the accomplishments and life of the deceased. Several close members may speak, or a religious figure such as a priest, would follow with a ritualistic blessing. Compared to modern day funerals, the process seems strikingly similar. The deceased are carried into the location of the funeral with their sarcophagus, or coffin, placed at the center of the service. A person close to the deceased, whether it is a family member or religious figure, then speaks about the life of the person. This process is strikingly similar to the Roman tradition and memorial process. The ritual described by Polybius is enacted in order to affirm the respect and memory that the deceased deserved; a funeral procession is essentially the last opportunity for the deceased to be recognized within this world. The process itself highlights the great deeds taken on by the deceased and initiates a respectful tone that is long lasting after the funeral itself.

Posted at Mar 08/2011 04:13PM:
aantar: Polybus' description of Roman funerals as a "ennobling spectacle" hints their importance in Roman culture. In most cultures, the death of the main leader of monarch was a huge deal but ordinary common-folk or even salves were not cared for in such a respect. Romans really brought funerary proceedings to the forefront of society as an incredibly important event for everyone. The funeral was meant to celebrate the deceased life and set in stone one's legacy (literally) for the rest of time. Many of our funerary rituals today are taken from and reminiscent of those used in ancient roman times. Teh "eulogy" was a speech made about the person honoring his or her accomplishments and character. There were celebrations and processions which got bigger as the family had more money. LIfe insurance was also created in roman times through funeral homes to make sure everyone had a proper burial and ceremony. Some families hired mourners to cry incessantly to evoke emotions of spectators and burn incense during the processions to mask the smell of the body. The funeral become the most important event at the end of one's life acting as a last hurray to seal one's legacy and recognize their contributions to society.

Posted at Apr 06/2011 05:39PM:
tborden: The ancient Roman funeral rituals described by Polybius are quite reminiscent of modern funeral practices. I believe that even some of the more unfamiliar aspects of those ancient traditions have a modern-day counterpart. Polybius explains that one of the goals of the funeral was to project the impression that "the loss seems to be not confined to the mourners, but a public one affecting the whole people". This was accomplished by enumerating the deceased's contributions to society, specifically in the context of a moving speech. The deceased is also physically present at the funeral, "sometimes conspicuous in an upright position", which tries to deepen the impact of the person's passing by juxtaposing his physical presence against his personal absence. When a culturally or politically significant figure passes away today, a private ceremony may be held for friends and family, but a very large component of the funerary proceedings are quite public. The deceased may "lie in state", a tradition in which the body is put on public display for a period of time, for the benefit of the mourning public who wish to pay their respects. However, an even more pervasive analog to the ancient Roman funerary practice of recalling the deeds of the deceased is the "media coverage" aspect of modern funerary "tradition". For example, when Ronald Reagan died, there was a period of time where images, video clips, sound bytes, or discussions relating to Reagan, his life, and his accomplishments were dominant on any news channel, and at least frequent on most other channels. All of the video footage of Reagan served to "reanimate" Reagan to the public, in much the same way that the ancient Roman tradition of having the family members "who seem to bear the closest resemblance to the deceased in stature and carriage" don masks of the deceased commemorated the person by allowing the mourners to pretend that he is alive and that they are watching him walk and talk. I believe that if the ancient Romans had access to the kind of video and communications technology that we have today, their funeral practices for "illustrious men" would unfold in a very similar fashion to funeral practices today.

Posted at May 10/2011 09:25PM:
bborgolini: Many traditions of the ancient Roman funerals still stand today, notably the procession, displaying of the body and attendance of family and friends. In ancient Rome, the bust of the deceased would be displayed prominently, eternalizing the person in manner that often idealized them in the memories of their loved ones. Especially in the cases of members of the imperial family or wealthy classes, their physical characteristics

Posted at May 10/2011 09:29PM:
bborgolini: are made youthful,, their skin smooth and their features young. They may have been more idealized in the days of the Romans than today, but there is the same pictoral representation of the deceased. In addition to their portraits, the procession resembles those of today, carriages being replaced by hearses, horses with cars. Though procession today are more

Posted at May 13/2011 09:28PM:
rvillene: Polybius, the writer of “The Histories,” and Greek historian describes a Roman funeral of a wealthy Roman citizen. His study allows for the articulations to be made about the implications of funerary customs in Roman society. The goal of the elaborate ritual Polybius describes is to offer a respectful commemoration of the deceased person. This “ennobling spectacle,” was a commemoration of the deceased persons success, and expression of his or her legacy. Funerary events were actually rather similar to ours in that they contained a period of mourning, in which emotions of sadness could be expressed for the loss of the deceased. Also, there were the equivalent to eulogies, where the honoring of the deceases, along with the family of the deceased took place. However, in addition to this commemoration was the message of motivation and remembrance for the deceased. In this way, the funerary was a learning experience for those spectating. Social stance of the family with the deceased member was also recognized in a funerary. There were elaborate spectacles and canorous music. Some funerary spectacles even had hired people to attend the funeral, as well as hired people to play music, and hired people to be a form of audience, that would serve to enhance the funerary spectacle. The funerary was in a way, the deceased persons entrance into the afterlife. This is to say that funerary monuments were often times constructed before ones death. This idea is similar to that of Egypt, where Pharos would build colossal pyramids as their homes when they die. Roman Emperors sometimes followed this same idea, but also elaborated their funerary monuments with the equivalent to a resume, or things that they have accomplished which would be displayed in a relief format.