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Ancient Roman Epitaphs Posted by on Jun 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

The epitaphs of the ancient Romans reveal much about the character and cultural times in which the ancient Romans lived. Take a look an excerpt of this epitaph:

NVMERIVS QVINCTIVS ↃↃ LIBERTVS COMICVS SIBI ET QVINCTIAE PRIMILLAE COLLIBERTAE ET CONIVGI SVAE…

Numerius Quinctius, a former slave freed by women, an actor: for myself and for Quinctia Primilla who was freed with me and was my wife…

 

Here, a former slave makes an extra effort to point out that he was freed by more than one woman. Since Roman society was a male dominated society, it was unusual for a woman to own property, which at the time included slaves. It’s difficult to say what motivated this man to carve out this epitaph. Perhaps he wanted his future descendants to know about his origins or perhaps he wanted to thank his former masters by mentioning them on his epitaph. It’s also quite possible that he wanted to write something about an event that was the most important in his life, which could have been his manumission from slavery.

Although I sometimes feel a little eerie about reading gravestones, I wouldn’t mind reading this gravestone:

HOC EST FACTVM MONVMENTVM MAARCO CAICILIO HOSPES GRATVM EST QVOM APVD MEAS RESTITISTEI SEEDES BENE REM GERAS ET VALEAS DORMIAS SINE QVRA

This is the monument made to Marcus Caecilius. Guest, it is pleasing that you stopped at my place: May you run your affairs well and enjoy good health; may you sleep without a care.

 

This Marcus guy left a nice message for those walking by his tombstone. What a considerate man! Other than wanting to bless people who visited his tombstone, there could be an ulterior motive for his nice message. Perhaps he wanted people to visit his tombstone often, and was trying to give people an incentive to visit regularly.

This next tombstone may have been set up for similar reasons as the Marcus guy:

L VENNIVS SABINVS CVM 
EFFICACE FIL FONTEM ET 
CONCEPTVM AQVAE SVIS TERMINIS VSQ ADKAPVT 
FORMAE PVBLICAE 
TIFERNATIBVS TIBERINIS 
D D

There are some cracks in the epitaph, but we can still logically guess what the missing letters are:

Lucius Vennius Sabinus, with 
his son Efficax, 
gave as a gift to the people of Tifernum Tiberinum fountain and the water collection system, 
from their property line up to the intake, 
for the enhancement of the community.

 

Apparently Lucius was worried that he would be forgotten when he died.  So he took care to build something for the benefit of many people in hopes that he would not be forgotten.

So if there’s anything that the ancient Romans cared about it was that they be remembered. They wanted people to know who they were, and although they died they did not want people to forget their existence.

 

 

 

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Comments:

  1. Greg:

    Is it possible to find a location or description as to where this source is, to use as a reference in my dissertation?

  2. lois:

    Dear Sir,
    Reading about inscription of tomb of very early saint from Provencal, I am stumbling at the alleged inscription: here lies the body of…

    Somehow I am troubled by those words, as I think it is of more recent (past several hundred years) use on tombstones or other forms of burials.

    As a Latin scholar ? I felt you would be a good person to ask.

    Should you take the trouble to reply, I would apprecitae it.

    Lois