Professional Mourners Were The Life Of Ancient Funerals

Found in Rome, Egypt, and more, professional mourners made any ancient funeral into a spectacle.
Professional Mourners Were The Life Of Ancient Funerals

There might be a shortage of a lot of things right now, but there has not been a shortage of chances to practice your crying skills. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to put that crying repertoire to good use. If you lived a few thousand years ago, though, you could turn your tears into the currency of the day as a professional mourner.

Hired funeral-goers were common throughout the ancient world. They could be found in Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, and more. In some instances, they played roles in religious rites. In others, mourners were signs of wealth.

In Egypt, funerary rituals would not be complete without two professional mourners to play the roles of the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. These hired mourners were not related to the dead, and their role would be to stand at opposite ends of the deceased’s body. Egyptian mourners were required to be women who did not have children. Meanwhile, Ancient Greek mourners were known as moirologists. In true Greek fashion, it was a position that added a dramatic flair to funerary practices. Moirologists gave performances that represented the life of the deceased, and they led chants with cries and wails to honor the dead. 

These professional mourners were important steps in the funerals of their respective civilizations, but for something truly over-the-top, you need to hop over to Rome. In Rome, mourners were not there to help provide solace to the family of the deceased or to help souls transition to the afterlife; they were there to show how rich and awesome the dead guy was. 

McLeod/Wiki Commons

Also, rich Romans could get things like this to make themselves look much cooler than they probably were

Roman funerals could be lavish affairs processions that resembled parades with musicians and actors, and the spectacle got more grandiose depending on how wealthy the dead Roman was. To truly display wealth, you needed professional mourners. These funeral procession attendees did not chant or represent deities. Instead, they were there to bawl their eyes out and literally rip their hair out. The idea was that they were supposed to appear truly devastated that someone of such status was dead. Sorry, men, but you wouldn’t have been allowed to be a Roman mourner, as men weren’t supposed to show that level of emotion.

While the peak of professional mourning died with the ancient world, there are still some around the globe keeping it alive. They may not be a common sight, but if you want to give your funeral some extra energy, surely someone out there would be ready to revive the moirologist tradition.

Top Image: British Museum/Wiki Commons


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