Of Burials and the Dead

A few days ago, on the occasion of Tomb sweeping day in China (when people pay respect to their ancestors by visiting their tombs), the BBC ran this report on how people were finding it extremely difficult to find burial space for their loved ones in Hong Kong. From what I understood it was burial space for the ashes rather than burial space for inhumation.

This immediately took me back to ancient Roman times when a lot of people faced the same problem. Technically Romans did not allow any burial within the city walls- there was a strict division between the realms of the living and the realms of the dead (even if you were the Consul or in later times the emperor). So tombs lined the main roads leading into the walls of the city. You can see great examples of this phenomenon along Via Appia leading to Rome, the road leading into Ostia and also in Pompeii.

Private Tomb with Reclining Statue- Ostia
Private Tomb with Reclining Statue- Ostia

But most of the prime real estate was expensive and therefore taken up by the rich and the super rich- lavish tombs close to the city walls could be afforded only by the rich. There were also the family tombs where several members of the same family were buried together in the same structure- with their profiles often being carved into the niches.


Family Tomb in Pompeii
Family Tomb in Pompeii

So what did the poor do? Most of them belonged to the so called burial societies where they became members (by paying a subscription fee) to a group wherein the expenses of their funeral and the space for burial were taken care of by the group. Burials often took place in a columbarium which is a structure that has many niches to contain urns of several people. These niches could then be marked by inscriptions or marked by portraits (in the case of the slightly better off).

In some ways life never changes I guess.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Nirmala says:

    True somethings never change. Politically important people get prime slots on the beach today!!

    1. Lav says:

      Its $$$$$ – that’s what this world runs on…
      There will always be unknown common people who cannot dream the dream of the rich

      1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

        I guess today’s world offers more opportunities to those without money to get rich (at least in some parts of the world.

    2. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Ha ha! Yes and then you will have people squabbling over symbolisms

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