Ancient Roman cemetery to be opened by the Vatican next year
The Vatican will be opening an ancient Roman cemetery to the public early next year. The ancient burial site, which was discovered under a Vatican City car park 60 years ago, contains the remains of hundreds of individual tombs and tiny stone mausoleums. It is interesting that the Vatican has chosen to make the discovery available to the public considering that it is not a Christian burial ground.
They date back to the period between the 1st Century AD, during the reign of the Emperor Augustus, and the 4th Century AD, when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.
Archaeologists did not discover any symbols that are typical of Christian burials in the cemetery, such as: the cross, anchor, or dove, which are commonly seen in the Roman Catacombs, the network of subterranean crypts which run underneath Rome and which are visited by thousands of Catholic pilgrims every year.
Within the cemetery, a few skeletons lie in open graves, but most of the people buried there were cremated and their remains placed inside terracotta jars and urns. However, tomb inscriptions in Latin or occasional portraits carved in stone brings to life the stories of many of those who are buried there.
One of the most poignant graves found within the burial site is that of a nameless slave boy, whose grave is adorned with a sculpture showing a small boy lying asleep, a lantern by his side, waiting to accompany his master. He was a servus lanternarus, one of the lantern carriers employed by many wealthy families to light their way when they went out at night.
Sadly, many of the tombs are of children who died in infancy, including boy nicknamed Venustus (“pretty boy”), who died at the age of 4 years, 4 months and whose portrait depicts a sad and beautiful face.