Private Life in Ancient Rome

[From the May 1892 issue: Part I]


THE man-child born into a Roman household, and formally acknowledged by his father, received upon the ninth day that religious lustratio which so plainly foreshadowed the rite of Christian baptism. A girl was thus consecrated on the eighth day after her birth. A sacrifice was offered for the infant upon the family altar, or the child was presented in one or more of the temples of the gods, and recommended to their especial protection. As a defense, also, against the evil eye and like mysterious ills, there was hung around the baby’s neck, by ribbon or chain, a small locket, — usually heart-shaped or circular, sometimes crescent or cruciform, — made of gold if the parents were wealthy, otherwise of some inferior material, and containing an amulet. This was the bulla, of which so many specimens are still to be seen in various museums, and which never fails in the picture of a well-born youth. The custom was probably of Etruscan origin, and applied originally to the children of patricians only ; but it was subsequently extended to those of all senators and knights, and eventually to all free-born children. A boy wore his bulla constantly until he received the gown of manhood ; a girl hers until her marriage. But the ornament was always carefully cherished, and occasionally resumed ; and it is a curious fact that a triumphator invariably put on his bulla upon the great day of his public glorification, as a protection against the envy of his fellow-citizens.

There was no such thing as a public registry of births, for civic purposes, before the time of Marcus Aurelius ; but a private record of the lustratio appears to have been kept, in most cases, and was sometimes appealed to for purposes of identification. Without attempting here to enter fully into the complex question of Roman nomenclature, it may suffice to say that, from early republican times, we find every free-born Roman male possessed of at least three names : his own individual first name, or prænomen ; a gentile name, derived from the great gens, or clan, to which he belonged ; and a cognomen, or surname, which more narrowly defined the special branch of the family from which he sprung. A girl’s name consisted, in primitive times, of the feminine form of her father’s nomen ; later, of his cognomen, and a personal appellation of her own, which was not, however, very much used. Marriage had originally implied, as with us, the wife’s acceptance of her husband’s family name; but this had been, in the vast majority of cases, the same as her own. After mixed marriages between the members of different gentes became customary, the wife made rather a point of retaining her own family name.

The child received its first instruction at home. Either the mother was the teacher, or, in cases where one or more married sons lived on under the paternal roof, some freedwoman or female relative acted as nursery governess to all the little ones. In this way they were taught reading, writing, the elements of arithmetic and of the laws. But far more important than even this modicum of book-learning was held, at least in the earlier period, that practical education which the child received by association with its elders, and admission, as years went on, into their activities. Thus the girl learned at her mother’s side to spin, to weave, and to sew ; the boy, of his father or elder brothers, the mysteries of planting and harvesting, of swimming, riding, boxing, and the use of weapons. If the father were a flamen, the son was early trained to assist at sacrifices as his camillus (bearer of the sacred vessels). If the mother offered a sacrifice, her daughter acted as camilla. Were the father of a station to receive clients in his atrium, his boys stood beside him during the ceremony, and so learned to know the names and faces of his political and social following. In days of family triumph or mourning, when the shrines were opened and the images of the ancestors displayed, the children were always present. They took part in the family meals, when these were simple and there were no guests, and sometimes they helped serve at table.

Very early, also, in the history of Rome we find mention both of boys’ and girls’ schools. Plutarch seems to imply that even Romulus and Remus went to school in Gabii, and the unhappy Virginia was on her way to school when her precocious beauty attracted the fatal notice of Appius Claudius. Virginia, however, was of plebeian rank, and her mother was dead.

The primary teacher, or litterator, was usually a slave or freedman, who acted as private tutor, or instructed a small class in the pergula, or veranda, attached to a house or shop. Schooling of this kind was usually paid for by the month, and very poorly paid ; insomuch that the litterator had often to eke out his income by some other employment, such as the writing of wills. Under Diocletian, the monthly fees of a primary teacher were limited to fifty denarii, rather less than a dollar. The school year consisted of eight months, with a long vacation, comprising July, August, September, and October. There were also special holidays, such as the feast of Minerva and the Saturnalia, New Year’s Day, and the 22d of February, the great day of commemoration of the dead.

The substance of what was taught in these primary schools was the same as that which an old-fashioned or more carefully secluded child acquired at home ; and this simple instruction, purely practical in its aim, was deemed all-sufficient for the youth of Rome down to the time of the second Punic war. But after that period there grew up an ever-increasing demand for the services of Greek grammarians, who not only taught their own language, but introduced a more scientific method of studying Latin itself; and who succeeded, after a time, in imbuing the Roman mind with something resembling the broad ideal of Greek culture, — that is to say, the harmonious and equal development of all a man’s faculties, both physical and mental.

The principal textbook of the Greek grammaticus was Homer. The master read aloud, with proper accent and inflection, a passage from the poet, which the pupil must first commit to memory, and afterward be examined in, not merely upon its grammar and prosody, but upon all the various questions in geography, astronomy, history, and mythology which it might suggest. Written exercises had also to be prepared, translations from poetry into prose, and original themes. The criticism of these last must have involved some elementary teaching in rhetoric, but a further pursuit of the various branches of learning comprehended under this head was reserved for the higher schools of the rhetoricians.

The grammatical course was deemed equally appropriate for boys and girls, and a good number of the latter attended the grammar schools, though there was plainly always a preference in favor of home education for them. To get the full benefit even of this amount of instruction, it was needful that the pupil should both understand and speak Greek, and this the children of the wealthy learned to do in infancy from domestic slaves of that nation ; just as to-day those of the Russian nobility learn French and English from their nursery governesses. As soon as a boy was old enough to begin his public education, he was placed under the special charge of a servant, called pædagogus, whose business it was to help him prepare his lessons and go with him to school, and who continued to be his personal attendant until he received the toga virilis.

Long after this period, however, a young man might, and often did, frequent the schools of rhetoric, which, like the grammar schools, were an importation from Greece, and conducted mainly upon the Greek method, and where music and the higher mathematics were taught, as well as the arts of composition and oratory. Yet it is evident that a dull but deep-seated objection to all this foreign culture lingered throughout the whole republican period, not merely among the masses, but in the minds of enthusiasts for the old Roman spirit and traditions, like the elder Cato ; and when Atticus, the friend of Cicero, published a collection of Greek anecdotes, we find Lucullus congratulating him upon the barbarism of some of his expressions, on the ground that it did not become a good Roman to know Greek too well!

Every well-bred Roman boy learned to ride, run, leap, swim, and box, as a necessary preparation for his military service, and the Campus Martius was the place assigned for the practice of these and all other athletic exercises. Under ordinary circumstances, a lad was supposed to have finished his regular schooling by the end of his seventeenth year, at which time, also, he ceased to be puer, and became juvenis, and liable for military duty. Already, in the vast majority of cases, he had laid aside the toga prætexta, worn both by boys and girls of rank, and had been ceremoniously invested by his father or guardian with the toga virilis, or plain white garment of manhood. No precise age was fixed for this solemnity, and the time of the year was also optional, although the feast of the Liberalia, which occurred on March 17, was undoubtedly a favorite season. Upon this great occasion, the bulla was first removed from the boy’s neck and consecrated to the Lares, and an offering was then made for him in the family chapel; after which, attended by a train of relatives and friends, he was led into the forum and formally presented to the public. His full name was afterward inscribed on the list of citizens kept in the tabularium at the Capitol, or among the archives of his province. A sacrifice was offered for him at some public altar, and a banquet followed, accompanied, in the case of imperial or other very distinguished youth, by largess to the people.

After this ceremonious introduction to public life, there usually remained for the young man a finishing year — the tirocinium — of special preparation for the calling which he had elected to pursue. If he were to be a lawyer, or aspired to public life, as almost all the law students did, he attached himself to the train of some eminent statesman,— as did Cicero to that of the great augur Q. Mucius Scævola, and Cælius, afterward, to Cicero, — and learned what he could by observation of his manners and methods. If he had chosen the military career, he obtained a place, in some respects resembling that of a staff officer, under some famous general; so that, without being subjected to all the drudgery of a common soldier, he learned the routine of camp life and the duties of a commander. Boys of the middle and lower classes went directly, as they do now, from school to the business of life.

Some uncertainty exists as to the time at which a free-born youth became qualified to vote in the general elections. He was free to marry, to contract debts, to receive a legacy, or to make a will from his fourteenth birthday; but so long as he was prætextatus he certainly did not vote. It is altogether likely that the introduction to the forum constituted his political majority, but it must be remembered that the suffrage lost its significance after the state was no longer free ; that is to say, in those imperial times about which we know so much more than of any others.

Next below the legitimate children, in the hierarchy of a Roman house, ranked the vernæ, or domestic slaves born under its roof. There had always been slaves in the Roman commonwealth from the earliest historic period, and the master had legal power of life and death over his human chattels. But the servitude of the olden time, when even a patrician tilled his own fields, with the help of his sons, was practically a light enough order of bondage. The vast majority of masters had only one, or at most two or three slaves, who were treated in some sort as members of the family ; sleeping under the same roof, and taking their meals in the same room with the master, if never at the same table. Similar social conditions are wont to mark the modest beginnings of any state, but in the nature of things they cannot endure. A servile population always increases faster than a free one; great towns grow up, and become centres of civic and commercial activity, and the landed proprietor finds it convenient to pass a part or the whole of the year in them, leaving the main business of agriculture to his rustic dependents. Small freeholds are also gradually absorbed in extensive estates, which are worked by great gangs of laborers, under the supervision of men who have risen from their own ranks ; while habits of luxury and ostentation grow fast among the privileged class, and call for armies of domestic servants with highly specialized functions. All these changes were either accomplished or in rapid process of accomplishment in the Roman state by the year of the city 550 ; that is to say, two centuries before the Christian era. The dominant passion of the race for foreign conquest had also its influence in developing the institution of slavery. On the one hand, a slave could not be drafted into the army, wherefore his services were all the more indispensable in every department of home industry ; on the other, among the countless prisoners taken in foreign war, and thereby reduced to slavery, there were many from highly civilized Greece and the farther Orient, who were capable of instructing their comparatively rude conquerors not merely in the finer arts and crafts, but in every department of human knowledge, whence it came to pass that a large majority both of the skilled workmen of Rome, and of the teachers, readers, and amanuenses employed by the wealthy who aspired to culture, were slaves of foreign extraction.

The first step in the social revolution thus accomplished was the division of a man’s slaves into the familia rustica and the familia urbana, a classification corresponding roughly to that of our negro slaves into field and house hands; while exactly the same notion of degradation was involved in the transfer of a member of the latter department to the former. Meanwhile the rural slaves worked under overseers, risen for the most part from their own rank, who were almost of necessity hard and cruel, and they were often little better lodged than the beasts for which they cared. Now and then there would be a fanciful and kind-hearted master like the younger Pliny, who piqued himself on having made the slave quarters in his Laurentian villa “ nice enough for guests ; ” but it may be taken for granted that such philanthropists were not exceptionally numerous in ancient Rome.

The modest corps of house servants maintained by a distinguished Roman in the earlier time had been headed by an atriensis, or steward, who also kept the house accounts. Later, when the style of living had grown more elaborate, his duties were divided, and the atriensis became a mere major-domo, who had enough to do in exercising a general supervision over the arrangements of the dwelling itself. The ever-increasing crowd of menials under him fell into different classes, each with a sub-intendant or overseer of its own. The cubicularii performed the duties of housemaids ; the tricliniarii took charge of the dining-rooms ; the supellecticarii kept the furniture and tableware in order ; the culinarii were kitchen drudges. Those who served the bath formed another distinct class, and the functions of valet and lady’s-maid were distributed among a score of specialists. There were pages, more or less pampered, to run on errands; an invitator to summon guests, and other slaves whose special duty it was to wait upon the latter ; while the ostiarius, or porter, was frequently chained in the vestibule, like a dog. Were the master of an artistic or literary turn, he would have servi a bibliotheca, a pinacotheca, and a statuis, for the care of his books, pictures, and statuary; to say nothing of copyists and amanuenses, runners to carry his letters, and readers to defend him from ennui, at his meals, in the bath, or in bed. The number of attendants who should accompany a great man or a great lady when going abroad was matter of lively emulation, especially in respect to the slaves who bore the litter, who wore brilliant liveries, and were usually Syrians or Cappadocians of unusual stature.

Out of this army of functionaries only a limited number were likely to be vernæ, and these were usually trained for the personal service of the children of the house, and shared many of their educational advantages ; so that we find the freedman who had been verna always holding himself distinctly superior to other manumitted slaves.

A highly prized slave was occasionally set free by the pure grace of his master, or in gratitude for some signal service, either during the lifetime of the latter, or after his death by his will. The right of the slave was also practically recognized to his own small peculium, or savings, and these might be applied to the purchase of his freedom ; but their accumulation, very slow at best, was yet further hindered by the master’s claim upon the little horde for making good certain pecuniary injuries which he might sustain through the slave. After the number of bondmen had so increased that one man often owned many thousand souls, it became advantageous to educate them wholesale in trades and crafts for which they might show an aptitude, and then let out their services; and occasionally the master directly advanced the capital for setting his slave up in business, allowing the latter a share of the profits, out of which he might hope some day to buy his freedom.

The common punishment for a refractory slave was beating. If a runaway were caught — as he could hardly fail to be, since there were extremely heavy penalties for harboring or assisting him — he was branded, and either fettered, or had an iron collar, like a dog’s, forged for his neck. In aggravated cases, he was at once turned into the amphitheatre or otherwise put to death; and if he attempted to take personal vengeance upon his master for any wrong whatsoever, his whole family shared his fate ; the regular form of capital punishment for a slave being crucifixion, under the most ignominious and agonizing circumstances.

The institution of slavery reached its greatest development in Rome in the last century of the republic, when slave traders and slave markets flourished both in the capital itself and in all the great ports visited by Roman ships. Already, however, in the early days of the empire, the spread of philosophic and humanitarian ideas had softened the theory of human servitude and modified the slave’s position. Marriage was made legal for him ; he was empowered to testify in certain courts, and to lodge complaints of cruelty; kind masters, like Pliny, respected the provisions of his will; under Claudius, if his master abandoned him when he was old or ill, he was thereby set free ; under Hadrian, the wanton slaughter of a slave by his master was forbidden ; under Constantine, the crime was made one of homicide. And thus, at last, with the formal conversion of the world to Christianity the long-declining slave system of Rome received its death-blow.

So much for the position and mutual relations of the ordinary members of a Roman household, or what may be called the inner family circle. But there was a sense in which the Roman family might be said to include an indefinitely larger number of persons, and to this outer circle belonged the authorized guests of a house, its clients, and its freedmen. The term hospitium, embraced not merely the spontaneous welcome to bed and board of a man’s personal friends, but a sort of contract for mutual hospitality, written or otherwise attested, which might be made either between two communities, or between two individuals on behalf of themselves and their dependents, or even between an individual and a community. This custom was one of extreme antiquity in Italy, older certainly than the rise of the Roman people. The contract was drawn up, attested by a hand-shake or a formula of words, and accurately recorded ; and it remained binding upon the posterity of the contracting parties until formally and publicly annulled. Hospitia privata, contracts, that is, for mutual hospitality between individuals, were sometimes engraved upon bronze tablets, and either inserted in the wall of the atrium or suspended upon it. Usually, however, a simpler device was employed by private persons. The would-be guest presented a small engraved ticket, or tessera, like that which admitted to the theatres, of which the host had a duplicate ; and he was at once made welcome to the privileges of the house. He was given a bath and a meal, an offering was made for him at the family altar, he was assigned a bed, and he became thenceforth, for an indefinite period, to all intents and purposes a member of the family. So far from fretting under this as an imposition, the great Roman statesman was ambitious to harbor as many such guests as possible, and it was a matter of policy with him to look well after their comfort and interests, that he might thus increase his prestige in the provinces and abroad.

Originally, and always so long as the state remained free, the relation of client and patron was also a sufficiently honorable one ; resting, like that of guest and host, on pledges of mutual service. There was this difference, however, between the position of a client and that of the legal guest: that the latter was a free citizen in his own community, while the former had usually no civic rights whatever. Either he was in banishment from his native place, or he belonged to a tribe or city which had been vanquished, and so disfranchised, or he was a freedman whose manumission gave him no political status. In each case, he needed the protection of some powerful personage, and was only too glad, in return for the same, to take the name of his patron, engaging to fight his battles both at home and abroad, and to assist him out of his own private means — if he had any — when extraordinary payments, as of ransom or dowry, were to be made. Client and patron might neither accuse nor testify against each other in the courts, and it was a capital offense, by the laws of the Twelve Tables, for a patron to betray his client’s interests. It was no uncommon thing for the entire population of a conquered city or state to seek such protection of the general who had subdued them, and of his descendants. Thus the Marcelli became the hereditary patrons of the Sicilian towns, the Fabii of the Allobrogian, Cato Uticensis of the island of Cyprus, and so on.

The libertus, or freedman, either continued to reside in his patron’s house and perform his old functions, or he was endowed by the latter with capital for starting in business, or with some small freehold property. In case of the subsequent impoverishment of either party, they were still bound to assist each other. The patron always paid for the funeral of his freedman, was his legal heir if he died childless, and the ex officio guardian of his children if he left any under age.

The relations of patron and freedman remained virtually the same throughout the imperial period ; those of patron and client altered materially, and from a moral point of view very much for the worse. When the number and strength of a patron’s following had ceased to have any political significance, and no longer increased his importance in the state, it became largely a matter of senseless ostentation on the one side, and self-interested sycophancy on the other. The hangers-on of a great man received their maintenance, and in most instances this was all they wanted. They were of every rank and condition: men of letters, from whom a certain tribute was expected in the way of flattery ; adventurers and professional legacy-hunters; scions of great families, who had early run through their patrimony ; the idle of every grade, with a tatterdemalion fringe of the congenitally and hopelessly poor. A few favored individuals out of this motley regiment might be invited to the patron’s own table ; but all claimed as their right, and regularly received, one substantial meal a day, or its equivalent in money. Sometimes the clients en masse were regaled at a public table, where the viands were supplied by a contractor at so much a head. This was, originally at least, an exceptional arrangement for days of public rejoicing, as when Julius Cæsar, on the occasion of his triumph in 46 B. C., entertained the entire male population of Rome at twenty-two thousand tables. A more common custom was to appoint a place where a species of dole was distributed daily to all the clientèle. This dole consisted, at first, of food only; later, it was replaced by a money payment, amounting, on an average, to about ten dollars a month. On special occasions, like the patron’s birthday, a larger sum was given, and Martial mentions one such when the amount was trebled; but he adds contemptuously that the donor’s origin was so obscure that it was doubtful whether he had a right to a birthday at all! On the other hand, if the great man were ill and could not receive his clients, there appears to have been no distribution; but even so a client who managed to make a number of successive salutations, and to keep well with several patrons, as many did, might secure without further exertion a modest maintenance for a rising family.

Passing now from the domestic habits and indoor arrangements of a Roman of condition to his means of locomotion, and the consequent power of obtaining change of scene, when this was needful, we find that when Rome was at the summit of her power the entire extent of the empire was provided with a system of public highways which rendered communication between its different parts easy and comparatively rapid. The model for all these mighty roads was the oldest and most frequented of them all, the Via Appia, which led southward from Rome, and was built in 312 B. C. by Appius Claudius, at a cost, so it was said, of about six thousand dollars the English mile. It was wide enough for two teams to pass, and paved with imported stones as broad as the way itself, and so accurately fitted that no joining was perceptible. It seems hardly probable that all the Roman highroads were as magnificently constructed as the Appian Way, yet the time made by the government post does not appear greatly to have varied on the different routes, and it was everywhere much the same as that of the modern diligence.

No public provision was made for private travelers, their needs being met by individual enterprise. There were men in most of the Italian cities who let out rhedæ, which were roomy four-wheeled carriages, and cisia, a species of light two-wheeled gig, rather like the bagherino of modern Tuscany, as well as the horses to draw them. The offices of these were just without the city gates (for driving within the walls, except in the case of the vestals, was almost unknown), and here the bargain was made, either for changing carriage and horses from stage to stage, or for making the whole journey with the same team. No doubt a man might also use his own conveyance. if he had one, providing it with horses or mules hired along the road.

In the latter days of the republic great pomp began to be affected by wealthy travelers, and this increased to such a pitch that Nero’s regular train consisted of a thousand wagons, while Poppæa took with her five hundred she-asses for convenience of bathing in their milk, and had horses shod with gold. “Everybody travels, nowadays, with a troop of Numidian cavalry in front, and a band of scouts sent on ahead,” is the satirical observation of Seneca. “They all have mules loaded with vessels of glass and murrha and sculptured work of famous craftsmen, for it would be beneath a man’s dignity to load his packs with stout articles which would bear knocking about.”

The traveler of consequence always avoided, if possible, passing a single night at an inn. On the incessantly frequented route from Rome to Naples, he was almost sure to have either a villa of his own, or a friend whose hospitality he might demand. Failing these, he would take tents along and camp out, particularly in summer time ; and doubtless it was the absence of distinguished patronage which made the inn of those days both so comfortless and so cheap. It is certain, however, that places of public entertainment, such as they were, existed all along the most frequented roads of the empire, and that in some cases they were aided from the public treasury. Proprietors in the neighborhood often built them on speculation, letting them to landlords, or managing them through their own slaves. At certain places there would be a choice of inns, and Horace remarks on the rival establishments of Forum Appii.

Popinæ, or restaurants, both those where a regular table was laid, and the humbler kind where a lunch was taken standing, are mentioned so often as to lead us to infer that the fashion of renting furnished rooms and going out for one’s meals was as common in ancient Rome as it is in Latin countries now. At the rural inns it was customary to pay an inclusive sum for board and lodging; and indeed one hardly sees how items could have been specified, when the total bill amounted to a half as (about seven tenths of a cent), which Polybius says was the regular charge, in his day, for a night’s entertainment in the inns of Cisalpine Gaul.

Highway robbers abounded in the outlying provinces of the empire, and in all mountainous and forest regions ; but those who went southward from Rome by day, during the first century of our era, were in general safe enough, owing to the very press of travel upon the road. There was a constant succession of those caravans described by Seneca, whose owners aped imperial luxury. The expense thus incurred was often literally ruinous, and many of those who had thus flaunted upon the road ended their days as gladiators, a profession which Nero had made rather fashionable.

Great stress was laid upon travel as putting a finishing touch to the education of a distinguished youth, whose mind was supposed to be expanded by the mere sight of novel scenes ; and rich young Romans were continually sent to study for a year or more in the famous schools of Greece. Thither, too, went the Roman of leisure, either as a religious pilgrim to some famous temple or shrine, or as a mere tourist; for every self-respecting citizen of the later republic felt that he ought once, at least, to have seen the beautiful monuments of the elder land. Relics of demigods and heroes, particularly those which claimed connection with that great epic war under the walls of Troy which had led to the building of Rome, were objects of especial interest and awe.

But while the Roman of the Augustan age had often a cultivated and even critical taste in matters of art, his enjoyment of the beauties of nature was much more limited. Those grander scenes and phenomena of the outer world which are so thrilling to the modern mind were for the most part uncomfortable and repugnant to him, though there are examples of landscape art which warn one against too sweeping a statement. Certain of the gentler aspects and humbler charms of nature, cool springs with mossy banks, broad green meadows, quiet sheets of water, shady groves, and fair garden-beds, he did love intensely, and such he would have about his country home, or if, like Atticus, he were rich enough, even inside the city; but his villa was his first extravagance, and always his peculiar pet and pride. It is difficult to say how many distinct country properties a Roman of rank might not possess. If Cicero and Pliny, who have told us so much about their various installations, are to be taken as representatives, one would say that four or five huge country-seats and as many lesser villas would be a moderate allowance, while the dates of the letters of these two show how incessantly they moved from one place to another. Sometimes, no doubt, they did so at the bidding of their affairs; often they were impelled by mere restlessness and love of change.

“Hence are vague journeys undertaken,” says Seneca in his discourse on Tranquillity of Soul, “and divers coasts are visited ; but everywhere, whether on land or on sea, we discover that levity of mind which is always disgusted with the present. Now we seek Campania, and anon, aweary of its delicacies, we make for the wilderness, and explore the forests of Bruttium and Lucania. But the craving for something pleasant revives in the desert, and we must needs have some relief from the tedious squalor of those rude spots. Tarentum is the place! We praise its harbor, its exquisite winter climate, and its fine old mansions. Finally we bend our steps toward the City of Cities. Too long have our ears missed the din of its streets, the plaudits of its theatre. We are ready even for a taste of human blood. Thus journey follows journey, and scene succeeds scene; and so it is, as the poet Lucretius says, that ‘ every man would from himself escape.’ ”

Nearly all we know of the funerals of the earliest period is that they invariably took place at night. Later, when there had come to be much emulation in the matter of funeral expense and display, the obsequies of distinguished people, at least, were often celebrated in the daytime; and it was reserved for the Emperor Julian to prescribe a return to the solemn custom of old by an edict beginning with the simple words, “Death is rest, and night is the time for rest.” The lighted torch, however, always held its place in the ceremonial, as it does for the most part in Latin countries to this day, and thus it became the symbol both of wedding and of burial.

Grand public funerals were the exclusive privilege of eminent men and the scions of great families, and the funeral procession was so arranged as to offer an opportunity for the most pompous exhibition of wealth, political honors, and long descent. When a man of rank, whether a patrician or one of the official nobility, had breathed his last, his eyes were closed by the nearest of his by-standing relatives, while the rest lifted up the conclamatio, or traditional cry of lament, “Ave atque vale !” (Hail and farewell !) The friends then retired, and the body was left in the hands of professional undertakers, who washed, anointed, and robed it richly, set between its teeth a coin to pay the ferryman Charon, and laid it on a couch of state in the atrium of the dwelling, with feet turned toward the entrance door. Incense was then burned all about, either in trays or upon miniature altars, and flowers were used in profusion. The insignia of office of the deceased, if he had filled public offices, were displayed, and the crowns, if any, which he had won in the public games, or which had been decreed him by the Senate for triumphs upon the sterner field of war. Boughs of cypress or pine were hung up in the vestibule as a token of mourning, and the lying in state lasted from three to eight days, during which time the corpse was visited by kindred, clients, and friends. If the interment or cremation were to be private, the remains were then quietly taken away. Otherwise a herald summoned those who were expected to join the procession by the solemn and immemorially ancient formula : “Ollus Quiris leto datus. Exsequias, quibus est commodum, ire jam tempus est. Ollus ex ædibus effertur.” The order of the procession was thereupon arranged by a master of ceremonies, called a designator, and it closely resembled a triumphal march. First came a band of music, with trumpets, pipes, and horns, and immediately after this the hired female mourners intoning a sonorous elegy on the deceased. Next, exactly as in the procession which introduced the games of the circus, came dancers and mimes, to whom a singular freedom of speech and action, and even of jest, was allowed. In the fourth place came the most significant and imposing part of the whole stately ceremony, the procession of ancestors in their images or likenesses. When a man of note died, a wax mask was immediately taken of his features, and colored in exact resemblance to his look in life and health. This mask was affixed to a bust of wood or marble, inclosed in a marble or alabaster shrine, and set up in the atrium of the deceased. On the occasion of a public funeral, these wax masks were removed, or fac-similes of them were made, and worn by professional actors hired for the occasion, who might resemble the distinguished dead in stature, and strive further to impersonate them in dress and action. The dead man seemed thus to be accompanied and ushered to his rest by a guard of honor composed of all his famous forbears. Nor was family pride always content with the images of historic personages merely, but mythical ancestors were also introduced, and Tacitus tells us that Æneas and all the kings of Alba Longa walked in the funeral train of Drusus. The same great writer has left us one of his most thrilling descriptions of the funeral, sixty-four years after the battle of Philippi, of the aged Junia, niece of Cato, wife of Cassius, and sister of Marcus Brutus. “The images of twenty most illustrious families were carried before her,” he says, “but Brutus and Cassius were conspicuous ” (nay, his word is stronger, — præfulgebant, were illustrious) “ by their absence ; ” being still under attainder on account of their complicity in the death of Cæsar.

After the ancestors followed the memorials of the dead man’s public achievements ; then torch-bearers and lictors with lowered fasces ; and after these the body itself, borne by the sons upon a bier in early times, but subsequently extended upon a car of state, clad in magnificent robes, or inclosed in a hearse, which was surmounted by a sitting effigy of the deceased. Last walked the mourners, all in black. — the women without ornaments, the men without any insignia of office ; the sons with veiled faces ; the daughters unveiled, but with streaming hair ; freed men, and slaves who might have been liberated by the will of the deceased, — the latter with shaven heads, — clients, friends, the public generally, just as in a funeral of today. Custom imposed no check on the expression of grief, and flowers and severed locks of hair were freely scattered upon the passing bier.

If there were to be a public oration, the funeral procession moved first to the forum, where the speech was delivered. In other cases, an informal eulogy was delivered at the place of interment or cremation, which was almost invariably outside the city walls. All the great highways leading out of Rome had come, in the last centuries of the state, to be lined with family tombs, some of them of vast extent and of infinite splendor. Certain noblemen had private burial-places of great beauty, shady with trees or gay with flower-beds and fountains, upon their suburban estates ; and slaves and other dependents of the family were laid, humbly, indeed, and at a respectful distance, but within the same precinct as their betters. The tomb was conceived of as at least the temporary dwelling-place of the dead, and was often very richly furnished. The walls were frescoed ; there were lamps and candelabra, both for illumination and decoration, and vases of beautiful shape and workmanship adorned the walls. The warrior had his weapons beside him, the civil officer his badges, the great lady her ornaments and toilet articles, the child its toys. All these things helped to give the tomb a homelike appearance, both on the grievous day of burial, and on those subsequent days when religious services were held there in memory of the dead. The remains were either simply deposited with the couch on which they had been carried to the grave, or they were inclosed in one of those sculptured sarcophagi of which so many beautiful examples are still to be seen.

The religious rites which followed included both a consecration of the new resting-place and a purification of the bereaved relatives from their contact with death. A nine days’ mourning followed, and was concluded by an offering to the manes and a funeral feast; after which the black robes were laid aside, and the ordinary activities of life resumed. If there were funeral games, these too were celebrated originally on the ninth day.

In cases of cremation, the simpler and probably older fashion was to excavate a grave, three or four feet deep, and fill it with fuel. This was a bustum. The corpse was extended upon it, the fuel kindled ; the bones and ashes fell into the cavity with the coals of the dying fire, and the former were subsequently collected in an urn, which was set in the midst of the ashes. The earth was then filled in and heaped above in a tumulus, or barrow, and the place was inclosed. Cremation upon the rogus, or funeral pyre, was a much more stately and costly affair. It took place upon unconsecrated ground, but near the family burial-place. The pyre was often of elaborate and artistic construction, and all manner of articles of luxury, spices, garments, ornaments, and rich wares of every kind were laid thereon by friends, as last gifts to the deceased, and consumed in the general conflagration. The coals were then quenched with water or wine, and a few days’ exposure to the Italian sun and air sufficed to dry the ashes, which were collected in an urn or other cinerarium and deposited in the tomb before the end of the nine days’ mourning.

Such were the obsequies of the rich and great. The masses laid their dead away silently, as they have done in all time. For the comparatively well to do there were the vast systems of columbaria, associated in our minds chiefly with their hallowed usage by Christians in the catacombs, but originally a pagan fashion, dating from early Roman times. These columbaria were often constructed and owned by joint-stock companies, who undertook to keep them in order, and sold or let the separate niches as required. Or a great nobleman would build a columbarium for the reception of his slaves, by way of adjunct to the family tomb, as may still be seen in the burying-place of the Volusii, near Perugia. For the very poor there were simply vast common pits, into which the bodies were flung, uncoffined, while the remains of malefactors, even in Horace’s time, were exposed, unburied, to the action of the elements and to the birds and beasts of prey.

All through the republican period, and probably from yet earlier times, a vast common burial-ground extended outside the Viminal and Esquiline gates of Rome. Maecenas seems to have been the first to appropriate to private uses a portion of this ancient cemetery, which he transformed into a garden or park. His example was followed by Pallas, a freedman of Claudius, and by others, until the whole region became a place of gardens, like the Pincian, and the recent dead were probably pushed further afield.

As between burial and cremation, the former was the ancient Oscan and Latian practice, and the innate prejudices of the Latin race appear always to have been in its favor; but the two customs flourished side by side in Rome from an early historic period. The expansion of the city and the vast increase in its population created powerful sanitary reasons in favor of cremation, but certain great families, like the Cornelii, stood out against it to the end. The underlying thought in burial appears to have been that of deep rest on the bosom of the common mother ; in burning, that of consuming the corruptible flesh in sacrifice, while the spirit ascended in vapor to the heaven out of which it came. The latter idea seems, at first sight, the more pious of the two; but their full belief in the resurrection of the body caused it to be rejected by the early Christians, and with the conquest of the Roman Empire by Christianity the burning of man’s mortal relics went wholly out of use.

It remains to say a word concerning Roman feasts and services in commemoration, one might almost say in worship, of the dead. These were numerous and religiously observed, some public and some private. To the former belong the Parentalia, which lasted from the 13th to the 21st of February inclusive. Their celebration began with a service of the vestal virgins at the grave of Tarpeia, and while they continued the temples were closed, magistrates laid aside the badges of their office, and weddings, as we have seen, might not take place. We seem to hear an echo of the priestly functions performed on these occasions in the voice which weekly, in every Roman Catholic church, entreats the charity of common prayer for those “whose anniversaries occur about this time.” Over and above the public rites there were many private services in memory of the departed, feasts like the so-called Rosalia, occurring in the spring or early summer, when flowers are most abundant, when friends were invited to partake of a simple banquet of bread and wine, eggs and vegetables, at the tomb of the deceased; when roses or violets were distributed to the guests, to be laid upon the grave, and offerings were made there of water, wine, warm milk, honey, or oil. There exists the fragment of a funeral stone, the inscription upon which provides that the sleeper shall be commemorated by sacrifices four times in each year, namely, “on the anniversary of his birthday, on rose day and on violet day, during the general Parentalia, and on the kalends, nones, and ides of every month.”

Harriet Waters Preston.
Louise Dodge.