The ancient Romans held complex beliefs in the afterlife, reflected in their religious rites, pantheon of Gods, and ideas expressed in folklore and seasonal festivals.
A superb explainer of concepts commonly overlooked by students of antiquity, Franz Cumont seeks to demystify and clarify how important religion was to the Roman people. The life of the populace revolved around the celebration of yearly festivals; the Gods were considered to bring both favor and misfortune upon the society, and keeping the deities pleased occupied the minds of many citizens. This is no truer than in the burial and funerary process: complex traditions, use of certain tools and rituals for the dead were crucial for the cohesion of Roman communities.
Roman society was heavily influenced by Greece, yet the author is keen to distinguish between Greek-inspired practices and those introduced by Romans or from other traditions farther afield. Cumont discusses how the funeral banquet – a feast whereby the dead person is commemorated – originated from Egyptian tradition; the sacred meal taken to honor the dead and to help their journey to the next world. The notion of the soul’s transit to an afterlife is explained in intimate detail, with surviving sources by Roman scholars, plus archaeological findings, supporting Cumont’s accounts.
In all, the reader can gain herein a unique impression of the interplay of ancient religious traditions as reflected in Roman life.