Spectacles of Death in Ancient Rome

By Donald G. Kyle | Go to book overview

and denial of burial of certain noxious persons, and that Amerindian ritual killings and human sacrifices were public and spectacular. Sacrificial rituals included degrees of care before the killing, as well as decoration or costuming of the victims, and some variations suggest contests or scapegoats. The killing, even of captive foes, by Aztec priests was quick, but the subsequent corpse abuse included rolling of the torso down the steps, mutilation, decapitation, and dismemberment. Hearts were offered to the Sun, heads were displayed, and parts were consumed; but Aztec cannibalism, epiphenomenal and limited, was probably intended as a further insult or a way to take on the virtues of the foe. The Maya, Hurons, and other groups also consumed blood and flesh from victims, but they first inflicted more aggravated forms of torture and death (e.g. fire, beating, mutilation). Showing that elements of Roman spectacles of death were not unique, such comparisons help frame the question of options of disposal.


NOTES
1
Toynbee's essential work (1971), including 'Funerary Rites', 43-61, esp. 43-50, notes class distinctions; cf. types of tombs from columbaria (113-16) and catacombs (234-44) to the monumental tomb of the Cornelii Scipiones (103-4, 113). Other useful works: Hopkins (1983), 'Death in Rome', 201-56; Hinard (1987a); H.von Hesberg and P. Zanker, eds., Römische Gräberstraßen (Munich: Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1987), including N. Purcell, 'Tomb and Suburb', 25-41; Morris (1992); A.C. Rush, Death and Burial in Christian Antiquity (Washington, DC: Catholic U. of America, 1941); Franz Cumont, Lux Perpetua (Paris: Geunther, 1949); Franz Cumont, After Life in Roman Paganism (New Haven: Yale University, 1922); C.W. Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (New York: Columbia U., 1995) 51-8. Good, brief introductions include: Glenys Davies, 'Burial in Italy up to Augustus', 13-19, in R. Reece, Burial in the Roman World (London: Council for British Archaeology, 1977); Balsdon (1979) 252-7; Susan Walker, Memorials to the Roman Dead (London: British Museum, 1985). Tacitus, Ann. 16.16, on his duty to record deaths, comments that the illustrious dead deserve to be mentioned in history just as they are distinguished from the common dead in their burial rites ('ut quo modo exsequiis a promisca sepultura separantur'). Purcell (1987), 26-8, 31-2, shows that elaborate tombs, including the mausoleums of Augustus and Hadrian and the tombs of the Scipios and the Caecillii Metelli, were placed strategically to be seen from the Tiber or from major streets.
2
At Pompeii the famous tomb of Umbricius Scaurus had a stucco relief with gladiatorial fights and a venatio to commemorate games that he had given. An inscription names the lanista and says that the gladiators came from an imperial school at Capua; see Mau (1899) 410-12; Ville (1981) 201-12; Wiedemann (1992) 17.
3
As Purcell (1987), 33, notes, funerary architecture and style were related to 'status, honor, display, and benefaction'. Even in columbaria the size and decor of urns showed status, and catacombs (before Christian egalitarianism) also show grades of status. Even humble burials and burial clubs involved some resources: Purcell, 38-40. On burials of the poor: Toynbee (1971) 101-3; J. Le Gall, 'La Sépulture des pauvres à Rome', BSAF (1980-1) 148-52. Hopkins (1983),

-140-

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