Mirabilia Urbis: Rome Walking Tours

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Death and Burial in Ancient Rome: the Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas (and friends!)

On the Via Latina, nearby the Sepulcher of the Scipios, is the Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas. A columbarium gets its name from the Latin columba, which means “dove.”   A columbarium was literally a dovecot, where birds were raised for the eggs they produced and food.   When cremation burials became common, ash-urns were deposited in small niches that were carved into tombs, like the one on the right.  The niches produced a dovecot effect, which gave this type of tomb its name, columbarium.  

Tombs with multiple ash-urn niches represent an ancient Roman business strategy: it was a way of lowering the costs of burial.  In other words, people from the same family, multiple families, or burial clubs would share expenses in order to purchase as a group what they could not afford alone. Columbarium (unlike the dovecots they were named after) are usually underground.  This was another financial strategy: underground real-estate, being less desirable / useful, still costs less today!  Columbarium, in general, and Pomponius Hylas' especially, reflect Rome's working class' desire for a decent burial.  They are also forerunners of the catacombs that many people have heard of but, whose history, few people understand.

 

While the Sepulcher of the Scipios and the Columbarium of Pomponius Hylas pair up nicely with each other and other underground attractions (like San Clemente, Vicus Caprarius, and / or the Nymphaeum of Annibaldi), visitors are welcomed to pair them up with any other tours they think appropriate.

Visiting the site requires a special permission and a timed (private) entrance. Besides a 4 euro / per person ticket, there is a one-time euro 20 reservation surcharge. For more information, please see "the costs" section of this webpage.

Both attractions are slightly out of town. Using a taxi to travel to and from them is comfortable and easy. If one or more of these attractions are paired up with the Via Appia, the nearby hill-towns of Frascati, or other attractions outside of the historic center, it may make sense to rely on a private driver. Please ask for more information!