Daily Life in Ancient Rome IV

Naming a Roman Baby

Far more important to the Romans than the day of birth of a child, the dies lustricus, they day when the baby was to be named, was a joyous occasion. The custom of handing down names to children was of great importance to Romans and their families.

The praenomen was the given first name. In 100 BC there were only about 18 known to be commonly used. The gentile second name, or nomen, referred to the gens, or clan, of the child's family. The cognomen was the third name given the newborn, referring to the family branch. This was originally utilized as a nickname (e.g., Scipio Africanus, in reference to his conquest of Hannibal at Zama).

On the day of dies lustricus, crepundia, or tiny metal trinkets, were strung around the baby's neck by the present guests. The clinking noise they made amused the child, similar to a rattle. In addition, on this day the child, male or female, was given a bulla. This was an elaborate locket made of gold for the wealthy and leather for the poor. It contained charms to ward off the power of the evil numina, and was presented to the child on the day of birth. A boy removed his bulla only after he received his toga virilis, signifying his Roman citizenship. A girl only removed hers on her wedding day.


Roman marriage was monogamous. Both parties involved must have been citizens or granted the right of conubium (the right to wed). The minimal legal age was 12 for females and 14 for males, but in reality most of the time people were slightly older.

In early Rome a formal betrothal (sponsalia) was made prior to the wedding. Some children were betrothed by their fathers. Until 455 BC, patricians could not web plebeians, and a free person could not wed a former slave. Later, Augustus legalized that practice as well, except for the senators.

Roman marriage was private, resting on the consent of the two partners. Two people simply lived together with hopes for a lasting union. In fact, while there was a ceremony, there was no prescribed formula or contract, except maybe for the dowry. The wedding ceremony itself held no legal value but to indicate a marriage. The law was primarily concerned with the legitimacy of children, however, and therefore a marriage needed to be made known. Even the dowry was a moral - not legal - indication of the union.

In Early Rome a woman passed into her husbands control and marriage was in manu mariti. However, by the end of the republic, a woman usually remained in her father's power as long as she lived, remaining unintegrated into her husband's family. During the empire, marriage become unpopular and birth rates fell, so Augustus granted special privileges to parents of three or more children.

Confarratio was the oldest and most sacred form of marriage, from which divorce was impossible. It was limited to certain priesthoods, and at the ceremony the Flamen Dialis and Pontifex Maximus were present. A grain cake also had some significance. However, the vast majority of marriage rituals occurred in June and did include special customs, such as sacrifices and wedding feasts.

There was no ban or social stigma on divorce, except for that only a the husband could divorce the wife for adultery - not vice versa. The right of men to slaves and mistresses was taken for granted. It was also acceptable to divorce someone because of infertility. By the late republic, anyone could divorce without giving a reason, so long as he or she shouted "I divorce you!" three times at his or her spouse and there was a witness present.


There was a range of views concerning the existence of an afterlife in Ancient Rome, as well as concerning what it was like. Such feelings often went with the time period, and are reflected, for example, in a major shift from cremation to inhumation (burial) as the chief method of burial around the 3rd century, possibly reflecting a heightened belief in the afterlife as a result of Oriental cults and Neoplatonism, or simply a desire to build gaudy burial monuments associated with some inhumations.

There was no generally accepted view of the afterlife, but many felt that the dead, living in their tombs, could influence the fortunes of the living in vague, undefined ways. Therefore, just to be safe, gifts and offerings were made to the deceased, and celebrations were held at tombs. There was a wide range of superstitious practice associated with burial. Evidence has been found of tombs being weighted down and bodies being decapitated for the purpose of preventing them from haunting the world of the living. Souls were thought to go the underworld (not Heaven or Hell) unless denied entrance by the gods and being forced to wander in limbo for eternity.

Funerals were generally organized by professional undertakers who provided mourning women, musicians, and sometimes dancers and mimes. For the poor, funerals were usually simple, but for the wealthy and especially the illustrious, the funeral was fantastic. Marked a procession through the streets of Rome, mourners paused in front of the forum for a ceremony of laudatio, where the deceased was displayed, normally upright, and a eulogy was read (the laudatio funebris). During the republic and earlier empire part of the procession was made up of the deceased's family, all wearing masks of his ancestors. Those wearing masks rode in chariots as a prominent part of the procession. This right, however, was restricted to those families who had held curule magistracies. The procession continued outside the city to the site of the burial or cremation.

Romans either buried (inhumation) or cremated their dead. Cremation had replaced inhumation as the chief burial rite until about the mid 3rd century, when inhumation took over again. Burials took place outside of towns, often roads, except in the case of young children. They were buried near their houses.

If cremation was the preferred method, the dead was cremated on a pyre, either at a special part of the cemetery (ustrinum) or at their already-dug grave, the bustum. Gifts and personal belongings were also often burned with the dead, after which the ashes were placed in some sort of container (an urn, a cloth bag, a gold casket, marble chest, some sort of pottery, glass, or metal). Jews and Christian objected to cremation, which died out in the fifth century.

In the case of inhumation, bodies were somehow protected, whether by a sack or shroud for the poor or by a wood, lead, stone, or otherwise manufactured coffin for the wealthy. Embalming bodies with gypsum plaster was also a common practice. Christian burials were usually oriented east-west.

Many graves were marked by tombstones, although these varied enormously. Many of them had inscriptions, while many more were marked with wood and quickly degenerated. Tombs of various shapes and sizes have been found, some containing the remains of several deceased. Some Romans also constructed hug mausoleums for themselves, such as the emperor Hadrian and the pyramid shaped tomb of Cestius.

Sometimes, although not often, the deceased seemed to have been granted a sort of "hero" status, almost being treated like a god after death. The deceased would occupy a temple, tomb, or mausoleum where the public could enter - seemingly a forerunning tradition to the Christian beliefs in the powers and sanctity of martyr's tombs.

Rock-cut tombs and catacombs have been found in Rome, Sicily, Malta, and North Africa.
Roman funeral clubs often deposited cremated remains in a collective tomb, called a columbarium, or "dove cote," each urn receiving a respective nidus, or "pigeon hole."

Pagan burials often included goods which might come in handy in the afterlife. The type of good was generally dependent on the wealth of the deceased's family. For the rich, vessels of food and drink, a gold ring, and various perfumes, such as frankincense and myrrh, could all be buried with the departed. A great number of burials have a gold coin in the mouth, the legendary fee of the underworld ferryman Charon. Other burial goods which have been found include boots, shoes, and lamps. It is thought these items were meant to help the departed on his or her journey through the underworld.


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