Undying Relationships: Enacting the Dead in the Roman Empire

The paper focuses on social interaction with the dead and on the dead as socially-invested and socially-relevant agents. It explores what appears to be the absence of religious competition in the sphere of mortuary ritual practices in the Roman Empire. Recent research (e.g. Rebillard, MacMullen and Denzey-Lewis) suggests that religious systems had very little or no influence on mortuary practices in the Roman Empire in the first centuries CE. Mortuary practices were governed by local, pragmatic, social- and family-oriented concerns and not by overriding religious traditions. Therefore, mortuary ritual practices are strikingly similar across the Roman Empire, or rather they are basically similar because of their common focus on continued social interaction with the dead in spite of creeds and afterlife beliefs etc., and they are similar because of their enormous internal diversity. In the presentation, I use selected tombs and necropoleis as case-studies for investigating mortuary ritual in the Roman Empire. The analysis applies the Cognitive Science of Religion (“CSR”)-based 'action perspective' (Barrett and Lawson 2001; McCauley and Lawson 2007; Uro 2016) to mortuary ritual practices. Furthermore, a material semiotics perspective (Law 2009) is applied to these relations in order to describe them in terms of actor networks (Law and Hassard 1999), in which the relationality of the living, the invisible dead and the materiality of the dead is repeatedly performed and negotiated.