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Archive Photograph KM 61.7.396. This photograph depicts an ancient Roman columbarium, a type of burial stucture.

Many Romans belonged to funeral societies, called collegia, to ensure proper burial. They would pay monthly dues, which would be employed to cover the cost of funerals for members. Collegia members (provided they were in good standing) were guaranteed a niche in a columbarium. Columbaria were large underground vaults where peoples' cremated remains were placed within small wall niches. Individual niches were frequently marked by memorial plaques and portrait sculptures.

Archive Photograph KM 61.7.1098. Detail of the columbarium.

The Romans believed that a proper burial was essential for passage to the afterlife. Columbaria were an inexpensive way to guarantee this transition, and collegia allowed all classes of society to reach the underworld. Some emperors even provided funeral allowances to those so very poor they could not even afford to belong to a collegia.

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