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Publisher's Summary

An inexplicable draft of wind dances across the dirt floors of the narrow passageway, which seems to stretch on with no end. The flickering flames of the torches mounted onto the rough, sandpaper-like walls of stone create eerie shadows on the dirt floors. One can hear the disembodied whispers intermingling with the chill of the musty air, prompting the hair on many people's arms to raise. Logically speaking, this is nothing more than the trick of the mind, but the whispers unquestionably feel tangible and real, especially considering the visitor is in the company of thousands upon thousands of corpses stacked onto the walls from floor to ceiling.

This kind of imagery is often what springs to mind at the mention of the Roman catacombs, but there was so much more to these underground cemeteries. As Roman law forbade its citizens from burying their dead within the city walls, the roads of the Appian Way became dotted with, and later completely flanked by tombs of all sizes. Those from the upper echelons of society constructed extravagant tombs and magnificent mausoleums for their families and future descendants. There were tombs and sepulchers of every sort, from tumulus constellations, which were round mounds that rose from the ground, to boxy temples, and clusters of miniature pyramids. Next to every tomb was a milestone marker with the distance to the nearest town engraved on the stone slab.

Some of these tombs - or what is left of them - continue to stand in their original sites today. One of the more renowned tombs was that of noblewoman Cecilia Metella, whose mausoleum was later converted to a fortress that featured an enormous cylindrical tower with double-winged crenellations. Another was the resting place of the Rabirii family, which is located close to the fifth Roman mile of the Appian Way.

©2017 Charles River Editors (P)2017 Charles River Editors

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