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The Ancient Roman Afterlife

The Ancient Roman Afterlife
Di Manes, Belief, and the Cult of the Dead

Restoring the manes, or deified dead of Rome, to their dominant place in the Roman afterlife, this book offers a comprehensive study of the manes, their worship, and their place in Roman conceptions of their society.

Series: Ashley and Peter Larkin Endowment In Greek and Roman Culture

April 2020
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304 pages | 6 x 9 |

In ancient Rome, it was believed some humans were transformed into special, empowered beings after death. These deified dead, known as the manes, watched over and protected their surviving family members, possibly even extending those relatives’ lives. But unlike the Greek hero-cult, the worship of dead emperors, or the Christian saints, the manes were incredibly inclusive—enrolling even those without social clout, such as women and the poor, among Rome's deities. The Roman afterlife promised posthumous power in the world of the living.

While the manes have often been glossed over in studies of Roman religion, this book brings their compelling story to the forefront, exploring their myriad forms and how their worship played out in the context of Roman religion’s daily practice. Exploring the place of the manes in Roman society, Charles King delves into Roman beliefs about their powers to sustain life and bring death to individuals or armies, examines the rituals the Romans performed to honor them, and reclaims the vital role the manes played in the ancient Roman afterlife.

  • Abbreviations of Ancient Authors
  • Abbreviations of Journals and Modern Editions
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
    • A) The Afterlife: Interpretive Issues
    • B) The Primacy of the Manes
  • 1: Di Manes: The Godhood of the Dead
    • A) Manes: A General Definition
    • B) The Term Di Manes
    • C) The Manes and Roman Categories of “Gods”
  • 2: Di Manes: The Number of the Gods
    • A) The Plural Form Manes
    • B) The Worship of Individuals
    • C) The Chronology of Worshipping Individuals
    • D) The Manes of Dis Manibus
  • 3: Who Worshipped Whom?
    • A) The Complex Legacy of Fustel de Coulanges
    • B) Inheritance
      • 1. Scaevola’s Rules
      • 2. Coruncanius’ Rules
      • 3. The Digest
    • C) Inheritance Rules and the Diversity of Worship
    • D) Pietas, Affection, and Loyalty
      • 1. Familial Relationships
      • 2. Extensions of One’s Family
      • 3. The Political “Family”
    • E) Contemporary Focus (and Elite Exceptions)
    • F) Inclusiveness
  • 4: The Manes in the Context of Roman Religion: Beliefs and Variations
    • A) Variation: A Challenge to Interpretation
    • B) The Debate over Defining the Word “Belief”
    • C) Roman Implications of Nondogmatic Belief
      • 1. Polymorphism
      • 2. Pietas: Collective and Individual Relationships
      • 3. Orthopraxy
    • D) An Interpretive Model: Belief Clusters
  • 5: The Powers of the Dead
    • A) Power over Life and Death
      • 1. Guardians of the Living—Benefits for Individuals
        • a. The Extension of Life
        • b. Clusters within Clusters
      • 2) Guardians of the Living—Benefits for the Community
        • a. The Mundus
        • b. The Lupercalia
      • 3) Bringers of Death
        • a. Instruments of Vengeance
        • b. Destroyers of Armies and Cities
    • B) The Power to Monitor the Living
      • 1. Guardians of Oaths
      • 2. Voices from Beyond
    • C) Protectors after Death
    • D) Powers and Worshippers
  • 6: The Manes in the Context of the Funeral
    • A) Ritual Conservatism and the Potential for Generalization
    • B) The Funerary Ritual: Early Stages through the Cremation
    • C) The Afterlife in the Early Stages
    • D) At the Grave: Rites of Worship
      • 1. Dis Manibus Sacrum: A Point of Terminology
      • 2. Creating Sacred Space and Offerings to the Manes
      • 3. The Liberation of the Dead
      • 4. After the Sacrifices
    • E) The Manes at the Funeral
  • 7: Festivals, Ceremonies, and Home Shrines
    • A) The Parentalia
      • 1. Ovid as a Source
      • 2. The Ceremony
    • B) The Lemuria
      • 1. The Ritual Form
      • 2. Belief Cluster: Manes and Lemures
    • C) Personal Observances
      • 1. Home Shrines
      • 2. Further Offerings at the Tomb
      • 3. Lifestyle and Nonritual Offerings
    • D) Rituals: Conclusions
  • 8: Conclusion
  • Appendix 1: The Larvae
  • Appendix 2: The Decline of the Lemuria
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • General Index
  • Index Locorum

Charles W. King
Omaha, Nebraska

Charles King is an associate professor of history at the University of Nebraska–Omaha with a PhD in Roman history from the University of Chicago.


“[A] groundbreaking monograph...It will be an invaluable resource for scholars of religion, funerary practice and afterlife in ancient Rome and more generally...King aims to use his model of variability in Roman belief to show the cult of the dead as inclusive of all Romans, living and deceased. Through extensive literary evidence and select cross-cultural comparisons, he largely succeeds. This stands to become a foundational text.”

“[An] excellent monograph…This book is absolutely essential reading for anyone working on ancient afterlife belief or on Roman funerary custom and the cult of the dead...A truly excellent piece of scholarship.”
The Classical Review

“King presents many attractive impressions of Roman society in his study...King’s major thesis – that Romans regarded their dead as gods, thought about them, communicated with them, attended to them, and intended to join them – is conclusively presented.”
Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“Charles King sets out to demonstrate that the Roman di manes, the deified dead, were taken seriously by the Romans and should be also by us. This is a remarkably simple thesis which, remarkably, still requires demonstration, since most modern scholars, by dismissing the Roman belief in the manes as simply a curious superstition, fail to recognize and understand the fundamental role that the manes played in the Roman belief system and ideology of commemoration. To take on the question of belief in the Roman religious system, King proposes the analytical utility of considering 'belief clusters' rather than individual beliefs, since the former capture more clearly the overlapping, 'fuzzy' nature of the Roman system. This is a bold and original argument that makes a significant contribution to a current debate of real importance for our understanding of Roman religion.”
John Bodel, coeditor of Household and Family Religion in Antiquity

“King ranges widely across literary genres, law, epigraphy, and archaeology. He provides a thorough, rigorous, and well-documented study of an aspect of Roman religion and culture that, despite its importance, has so far not received due attention.”
James B. Rives, author of Religion in the Roman Empire


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This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca