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Vasque - urn

The large body of the urn stands on an unadorned circular foot and is provided with two unpierced handles. The rim and upper body are decorated with a rope pattern, rather thick on the body and finer on the rim. A large molded lid covers the urn.

Until the fifth century B.C. both inhumation and cremation were practiced as Roman funerary rites. From about 400 B.C. cremation became the most common type of burial in the Roman republic. During the reign of Hadrian (117 - 138 A.D.), the practice of cremation was gradually replaced by inhumation, a process that had won its way throughout the provinces by the middle of the third century A.D.

An ancient Roman rite of cremation started with a procession in which the body of the deceased was moved from its house to a place outside the city, where a funeral pyre was built. The body was then burnt on the pyre until it was reduced to bones and ashes. It is estimated that a cremation by standard Roman methods would take 7 to 8 hours.

The cremated remains might be buried where they had been burnt, but more often were transferred to a tomb in another place. The bones and ashes therefore had to be collected and placed in a container or urn, usually one that was specifically made for the occasion and which would be placed in the tomb.

To the ancient Romans the rite of cremation was of the utmost importance, as it was considered the definitive moment when the deceased was separated from the living. If the body was not sufficiently burnt, the remains could not be gathered in the urn and interred in a tomb, required if the funerary rites were to be fully effective in this respect.


- NOY D., 'Half-Burnt on an Emergency Pyre: Roman Cremations Which Went Wrong', Greece & Rome, vol. 47, no. 2, 2000, pp. 186-196.

- TOYNBEE J.M.C., Death and Burial in the Roman World, Baltimore 1996.

Object information

Date and place:
Western European Roman Empire, 1st - 2nd century AD
41 x 28 x 25 cm
Private collection, Los Angeles, acquired early 1970s.

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