Rituals of Power: From Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages

By Frans Theuws; Janet L. Nelson | Go to book overview
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IMPERIAL FUNERALS IN THE LATER
ROMAN EMPIRE: CHANGE AND CONTINUITY

Javier Arce


Introduction

Not long ago, in September 1997, the whole world had the opportunity to attend, via television, the funeral of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, in London. The ceremony, meticulously organised by the protocol-specialists of the British monarchy, involved the expenditure of every possible resource so as to convey all the symbolic details in a political situation that was rather delicate for the British monarchy itself. The cortège and the translatio of the body along a route where every point was very carefully chosen—Kensington Palace, St James' Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey—represented an affecting demonstration of grief and public mourning on the part of thousands of people. The Queen of England herself appeared, and came down to the gates of her palace to watch and offer respects to the coffin. Prince Charles, former husband of the dead woman, and his sons and heirs, joined the cortège at a precisely-detemined moment (the heirs ought, always, to preside at the funeral cortège in order to be identified as such). In the Abbey, the duty of giving the laudatio funebris fell to the princess's brother (among the Romans of the Republican period, Polybius says the laudatio had to be given by the son or by a very close member of the family of the deceased). This funeral oration was nothing other than an elogium (eulogy), and also a statement and public proclamation of the rights of the heirs. Then there followed the nenia (among the Romans, it was a funeral chant), which on this occasion was performed by a famous popular singer, Elton John.


Double funerals

The funeral of Diana was not that of a chief of state or a king or an emperor. Yet Diana's role as consort of the heir to the throne,

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