Daily Life


This marble container was used to hold the bones and ashes of a deceased person in ancient Rome. Called "cineraria," the urns were usually placed in underground chambers with niches in the walls for the individual urns. These chambers might belong to an extended family or to a burial society, which charged people a fee to bury them and maintain their burial. This cinerary urn from the Carlos Museum is unfinished on the back suggesting that it was placed in a niche.

Roman cinerary urns were mass-produced and personalized with an inscription. The inscription on this urn reads:

To the Spirits of the Dead. For Gaius Pompeius Ireneus. Erected by his heir and foster-son. Martinus made this, well deserved.

If you look at the letters of the inscription, there doesn't seem to be enough for the inscription translated above. That's because there are lots of abbreviations in the inscription. Can you think of some abbreviations that we inscribe on our tombstones? What about RIP?

The decorations carved on the front of the urn relate to its funerary function. The Medusa head in the center served to guard the urn and to ward off anyone who would disturb it. Do you see the garland of flowers and fruit that hangs from the Ram's horns and goes under Medusa? It is probably meant to represent the garlands that were part of the funeral procession.

© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
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