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Death, disposal and the destitute : the burial of the urban poor in Italy in the late Republic and early Empire.

Graham, Emma-Jayne (2005) Death, disposal and the destitute : the burial of the urban poor in Italy in the late Republic and early Empire. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

Recent studies of Roman funerary practices have demonstrated that these activities were a vital component of urban social and religious processes. These investigations have, however, largely privileged the importance of these activities to the upper levels of society. Attempts to examine the responses of the lower classes to death, and its consequent demands for disposal and commemoration, have focused on the activities of freedmen and slaves anxious to establish or maintain their social position. The free poor, living on the edge of subsistence, are often disregarded and believed to have been unceremoniously discarded within anonymous mass graves (puticuli) such as those discovered at Rome by Lanciani in the late nineteenth century. This thesis re-examines the archaeological and historical evidence for the funerary practices of the urban poor in Italy within their appropriate social, legal and religious context. The thesis attempts to demonstrate that the desire for commemoration and the need to provide legitimate burial were strong at all social levels and linked to several factors common to all social strata. Existing definitions of the poor are revealed to be inadequate and a more precise definition, formulated on the basis of economic resources, is proposed. The evidence for mass graves at Rome and the previously unquestioned conclusions of Lanciani are critically re-examined and shown to be both unreliable and heavily dependent on ambiguous textual references. Evidence for alternative forms of burial and memorialising activities in the cemeteries of Italy is examined and discussed. It is concluded that the poor did not, under normal circumstances, make use of mass graves. They responded to the same social, religious, legal and practical demands imposed by death as the rest of the urban community. This is reflected in both grave typology and the ways in which they were commemorated by living relatives. The physical manifestations of these practices are notably more modest than those of the elite but, significantly, the desire to properly bury and remember the dead was not absent.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Archaeology (Sheffield)
The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Science (Sheffield) > Archaeology (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.420782
Depositing User: EThOS Import Sheffield
Date Deposited: 30 Sep 2019 09:53
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2019 09:53
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/24971

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