A humorous examination of Roman thought on mortality Author Peter Jones Publisher Atlantic Books Released Out now Price £12.99
The Romans loom large in popular imagination in the form of battling gladiators, emperors good, bad and worse, and armies of legionaries waging war across seas and continents. But when it comes to knowing the everyday details of life for the men, women and children of the empire, it’s likely the reader would be stumped.
Happily for those curious about the Romans’ thoughts and practices around old age and mortality, Peter Jones’s Memento Mori (‘Remember You Die’) serves as a succinct yet nugget-filled guide. Jones sets the scene with an examination of mortality then and now. We learn that half of all Roman children were dead by the age of five and eight per cent of the population reached the age of over 60. Teenagers made up half the population (as Jones quips, it’s a sobering thought for some today).
We then move into the main action, which explores topics as diverse as ‘legacy hunters’ (those seeking to get written into wills to make money), Roman ideals of the vitality of youth, and the image of the honourable death.
An emotional connection to these distant ancestors comes in a section exploring physical dedications to the dead, which illustrates the insights a source such as this can provide. It is also pleasing to see Jones acknowledging the class differences on mortality practices – the poor could not afford expensive tombs for example.
The result of all this is an often amusing, always illuminating, guide which offers an intriguing vantage point at which to examine Roman life.