Life at Sea, Death on Land: the Funerary Commemoration of the Sailors of Roman Misenum

Hope, Valerie (2020). Life at Sea, Death on Land: the Funerary Commemoration of the Sailors of Roman Misenum. In: Bargfeldt, Niels and Hjarl Petersen, Jane eds. Reflections: Harbour City Deathscapes in Roman Italy and Beyond. Rome: Quasar, pp. 79–98.

Abstract

The men of the Roman navy have often been characterised as the most socially inferior members of Rome’s fighting force. Life at sea was tough and brutal, while death by drowning or shipwreck was one of the most dreaded of Roman fates. Sailors were seen as rough and ready, little admired and recruited from the extreme poor. This chapter investigates the validity of this characterisation by evaluating the surviving epitaphs set up to sailors of the Roman Imperial fleet, based at Misenum. Who were these men and how were they commemorated? Analysis of the epitaphs suggests that at death these men were presented as having multi-faceted and complex identities, that sought to both integrate them with military and Roman life, and simultaneously preserve their individuality and difference.

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