Episode 11: Dining with the Dead in Imperial Rome

We’re back with a whole new season of feasting! Join us for a very special Halloween episode that takes us back to February in ancient Rome. Tag along with a Roman family as they prepare for the annual festival of Parentalia, where the best parties in town are happening down at the graveyard. Find out how to appease an angry Roman ghost with a lovely bouquet of roses and some…black beans? See how the Romans engineered their tombs to be homes away from home, complete with dining tables, bars, even kitchens. Grab a seat at an epic feast, held in the finest tomb money could buy. 

Written & Produced by Laura Carlson

Technical Direction by Mike Portt

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Engineering in Ancient Rome

Just south of Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport, you can find the old port cities of the ancient Roman Empire, Portus & Ostia. These ports helped keep ancient Rome supplied and emperors created a number of artificial canals and harbors to allow more ships to dock easily. These canals created the artificial island, known as "Isola Sacra" (Holy Island), the location of a major Roman necropolis or cemetery.

Archaeologists are still excavating these ancient major port cities. Find out more about ongoing research at:

The Portus Project at the University of Southampton

Jason Urbanus, "Rome's Imperial Port" Archaeology (February 10, 2015)

The Necropolis of Isola Sacra

The various family or collegia (society) tombs of the necropolis, organized in a grid or street pattern.

(Image via Flickr/isafmt, CC BY 2.0)

(Image via Flickr/isafmtCC BY 2.0)

Fiumicino - Isola sacra - Necropoli di Porto, Image by Massimop CC BY-SA 3.0

Fiumicino - Isola sacra - Necropoli di Porto, Image by Massimop CC BY-SA 3.0

Images of a blacksmith's trade outside family tomb (Image via Flickr/isafmt, CC BY 2.0)

Images of a blacksmith's trade outside family tomb (Image via Flickr/isafmtCC BY 2.0)

 
 

To find out more about Parentalia & Roman funerary customs, check out: 

Patrick Faas, Around the Roman Table

Mark Grant, Roman Cookery: Ancient Recipes for Modern Kitchens (2008)

Episode Soundtrack

Songs Featured on This Week's Episode

"Cylinder Five" by Chris Zabriskie (Cylinder Five by Chris Zabriskie is licensed under a Attribution License)

"As the Crow Flies" by Axletree (As The Crow Flies by Axletree is licensed under a Attribution License)

"Vervain" by Axletree (Vervain by Axletree is licensed under a Attribution License)

"February" by Kai Engel (February by Kai Engel is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License)

"Shinedown PON V" by Kai Engel (Shinedown (PON V) by Kai Engel is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License)

"River" by Kai Engel (River by Kai Engel is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial License)

"Snowmen" by Kai Engel (Snowmen by Kai Engel is licensed under a Attribution License)

"Nothing (Bonus Track)" by Kai Engel (Nothing (Bonus Track) by Kai Engel is licensed under a Attribution License).

 

Episode Sources & Additional Resources

Joan P. Alcock, "The Funerary Meal in the Cult of the Dead in Classical Roman Religion" in The Meal: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery (2001). 

Eve D'Ambra, "A Myth for a Smith: A Meleager Sarcophagus from a Tomb in Ostia" American Journal of Anthropology 92, No. 1 (Jan., 1998), pp. 85-99, http://www.jstor.org/stable/505872

Fanny Dolansky, "Honouring the Family Dead on the Parentalia: Ceremony, Spectacle, and Memory" Phoenix 65 (Spring 2011), pp. 125-209.

Charles William King, "The Living and the Dead: Ancient Roman Conceptions of the Afterlife" PhD Thesis, University of Chicago (June 1998). 

Christopher Michael McDonough, "Carna, Procea, and the Strix on the Kalends of June", Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-) 127 (1997), pp. 315-344, http://www.jstor.org/stable/284396