L. Cilliers, F.P. Retief


Funerary practices and death pollution in ancient Rome: Procedures and paradoxes
The Romans’ attitude towards the dead at the end of the Republic and high tide of the Empire was mainly determined by religious views on the (im)mortality of the soul and the concept of “death pollution”. Pollution through contact with the dead was thought to affect interpersonal relationships, hamper official duties and obstruct contact with the gods. However, hygienic considerations arising from possible physical pollution from the dead also played a role. Traditions regarding the correct preparation of the body and subsequent funerary procedures leading up to inhumation or incineration, are reviewed, with reference to the impact of social status. Obvious paradoxes in the Romans’ attitude towards the dead are discussed, e.g. the contrast between respect for the recently departed on the one hand and condonation of brutal executions and public blood sport on the other. These paradoxes can to a large extent be explained as the very practical policy of law-makers and priests who were more interested in accommodating hygienic considerations than cultural-religious views.

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ISSN 2079-2883 (online); ISSN 0303-1896 (print)

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