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Death in Rome

Life expectancy for the people of Rome was low. Babies often caught diseases that the Romans did not have enough medical knowledge to cure. Children were not named till the eighth or ninth day due in part to the high mortality rate of infants.

Romans practiced cremation (burning) of their dead. The ashes would be placed in a small clay jar know as an urn and placed in a tomb. Cremation was the usual custom until about A.D. 100. The influence of the Christian religion moved the handling of the dead to burial, especially for those of the Christian faith. Many tombs in later Rome were along side the roads leading out of the city. Only the very rich could afford a tomb within the city. Poor people often could not afford a tomb and would be buried in a public pit on Esquiline Hill.


Traditional Roman Beliefs about Death

The Romans believed that the soul of the dead would go underground to the river Styx. The soul had to cross the river. A coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay Charon, the boatman of the underworld, for the passage across. If the body was not properly buried and did not have a coin, the soul was forced to stay for one hundred years before being allowed to cross the river Styx. This was seen in the mythological story of Aeneas, when he met up with a shipmate who was swept off the ship by a wave. The shipmate swam a long distance to shore and was killed by barbarians who left his body unburied.



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