Marius: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

President-elect Obama and his sister have just scattered their grand-mother's ashes off the coast of her native Hawaii. [Photo]

The Romans in the late Republic overwhelmingly favored cremation on a funerary pyre over inhumation.
Because they used wood, which burnt to a much lower temperature than modern crematoria, they ended up with bones as well as ashes. These would be buried, and as part of the funerary ritual the family would eat a meal by them, then return later to pour offerings.

Artemisia II of Caria chose to drink Mausolus' ashes, washed down with an amphora of Chian wine, but this was not the norm nor encouraged, and she was a Persian anyway.

One notable Roman exception were the Cornelii, famous for their fondness for inhumation, due to which the most prominent branch built the fabulous Tomb of the Scipios on the Via Appia, just outside the Aurelian Porta San Sebastiano.

The sarcophagus of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus is the only complete sarcophagus from the tomb (Vatican). His name was painted at the top, and below the inscription reads:

For those whose Old Latin is a little rusty:
Cornelius Lucius Scipio Barbatus, sprung from Gnaeus his father, a man strong and wise, whose appearance was most in keeping with his virtue, who was consul [298 BC], censor [280 BC], and aedile among you - He captured Taurasia, Cisauna, Samnium - He subdued the whole of Lucania and brought back hostages.

The tomb elogia are interesting as they allow one to compare these - which were presumably based in the tituli of imagines - with the preserved literary record. And there are sometimes some large discrepancies.

The inscription from the tomb of Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus is highly fragmentary, but that of his son and quaestor survives:

Also a Sciopio who was Flamen Dialis (like the young Caesar):

And Paula a Scipionic bride.

According to Cicero the mausoleum continued in use well into the first century BC. The main section of the complex was full soon after the burial of Ennius (d. c. 269 BC); Cato had brought Ennius to Rome after the Second Punic War, but he had soon become a favorite poet of Africanus and Scipio Aemilianus. Scipio Aemilianus is believed to have expanded the tomb complex and added the Hellenistic rock-cut facade of statues and columns.

The Cornelii Scipiones, despite a whole series of adoptions, died out during the first century BC; Fulvia was their heiress.

The tomb seems to have passed to other branches of the Cornelii, and ended up with the Cornelii Lentuli by the Imperial period. The last certain use of the tomb was for the daugher and niece of Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Gaetulicus. Since Cornelia had previously been engaged to Sejanus' son, it's a miracle she survived until the reign of Claudius or Nero.

Marius, as the sitting consul and the Third Founder of Rome, would probably have had the right to a tomb within the city walls. This was a right reserved for the Founders and re-founders of cities - everyone else was burried outside the walls, for hygiene reasons. Yet he chose to be buried like his peers, in a tomb outside Rome - though to be inhumed rather than cremated.

Sulla, since his full name was Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and he died the most powerful and feared man in Rome, could have chosen to be inhumed in the Tomb of the Scipiones - or to have been inhumed into a tomb that he himself built. So why, one might wonder, did Sulla chose cremation not inhumation? Fear that his enemies might ranksack his tomb, chop up his body and throw it into the Tiber? For that is exactly what Sulla did to Marius, throwing his body in the Anio, and why we know about Marius' form of burial. So Sulla chose cremation and a monument [Plutarch, Sulla 38]:
Many now joined themselves eagerly to Lepidus, purposing to deprive Sulla's body of the usual burial honours; but Pompey, although offended at Sulla (for he alone, of all his friends, was not mentioned in his will), diverted some from their purpose by his kindly influence and entreaties, and others by his threats, and then conveyed the body to Rome, and secured for it an honourable as well as a safe interment.
And it is said that the women contributed such a vast quantity of spices for it, that, apart from what was carried on two hundred and ten litters, a large image of Sulla himself, and another image of a lictor, was moulded out of costly frankincense and cinnamon. The day was cloudy in the morning, and the expectation was that it would rain, but at last, at the ninth hour, the corpse was placed upon the funeral pyre.
Then a strong wind smote the pyre, and roused a mighty flame, and there was just time to collect the bones for burial, while the pyre was smouldering and the fire was going out, when a heavy rain began to fall, which continued till night. Therefore his good fortune would seem to have lasted to the very end, and taken part in his funeral rites.
At any rate, his monument in the Campus Martius, and the inscription on it, they say, is one which he wrote for it himself, and the substance of it is, that no friend ever surpassed him in kindness, and no enemy in mischief.

The gods almost had the last laugh, as Sulla's funeral pyre was drenched in rain ...

No comments:

Post a Comment

I do not moderate comments, but I remove spam, overt self-promotion ("read [link] my much better post on this") and what I consider hate speech (racism, homophobia etc).

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.