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The Familia Urbana during the Early Empire

A Study of Columbaria Inscriptions

Kinuko Hasegawa
Publication Year:
125pp. Includes 28 figures, maps, plans, drawings, photographs. Appendix of inscriptions and Concordance
ISBN 10:
BAR number:


This book investigates the lives of servile dependants, and their role in the large households of the elite Romans. In parallel to the public and political lives of the aristocracy under constant public gaze, there had been other lives led that were totally different but closely connected to them as if the other side of the coin - the usually unseen world of servile dependants. An uneasy proximity created by the cohabitation of the two opposite status groups (aristocratic masters and slaves) brought conflicts and contradiction. In attempting a new inquiry into such historically anonymous individuals and their res publica, the domus, this present work confines itself to analysis of a particular group of inscriptions from Rome (1st/2nd centuries AD), commonly referred to as the columbaria inscriptions. The 'columbarium', a dovecote-like burial structure, was designed to accommodate a number of epitaphs and urns of ashes and became particularly popular during the Julio-Claudian period. Such a communal burial structure appears to have been shared by people with a common background, in many cases the slaves and freedmen staff of a noble family. In other words, the set of epitaphs from a given columbarium is arguably representative of the familia urbana of a certain noble family. Once the group of individuals is thus given an identity, it opens the way to systematic examination of their lives and status from multiple angles. These inscriptions, relatively unexplored until recent decades, offer researchers unique insights into otherwise anonymous people.