‘Too Young to Die’: Grief and Mourning in Ancient Rome


  • Diana Gorostidi Pi Institut Català d'Arquelogia Clàssica Universitat Rovira i Virgili




Expressions of grief and mourning are characteristic of Roman funerary inscriptions. Roman epitaphs express sorrow for the deceased and reveal familiar emotional responses to memories of the dead person. In our ancient sources, death is usually depicted as something unknowable. Like in contemporary societies, only philosophy and faith seem to offer any measure of relief when faced with the horrors of death, particularly in the case of deceased youth (mors im-matura), unfortunately a very common occurrence in classical antiquity. Ancient texts and inscriptions provide us with a wealth of expressions of grief and bereavement for children and young people who died prematurely. Common people lamented the inexorability of fate by immortalizing their loved ones in epitaphs carved in durable stone. Latin texts supplement our understanding of Roman attitudes towards death in various ways, going beyond contemporary religious beliefs, ritual practices and traditional values. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal was to preserve the memory of the dead person, often by recalling specific traits of their nature. Lastly, the pain caused by the death of one’s own children led to loneliness and a sense of abandonment, as shown in the epitaphs chosen by those who lived on.