Thomas Browne.

Religio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend online

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implying Iceni, Durotriges, Tascia, or Trinobantes, we
leave to higher conjecture. Vulgar chronology will
have Norwich Castle as old as Julius Caesar; but his
distance from these parts, and its Gothick form of
structure, abridgeth such antiquity. The British coins
afford conjecture of early habitation in these parts,

* "Hominum infinita multitudo est creberrimaque; aedi-

ficia fere Gallicis consimilia." - Caesar de Bello. Gal., lib. v.
though the city of Norwich arose from the ruins of
Venta; and though, perhaps, not without some habi-
tation before, was enlarged, builded, and nominated by
the Saxons. In what bulk or populosity it stood in the
old East-Angle monarchy tradition and history are
silent. Considerable it was in the Danish eruptions,
when Sueno burnt Thetford and Norwich, and Ulfketel,
the governor thereof, was able to make some resistance,
and after endeavoured to burn the Danish navy.

How the Romans left so many coins in countries of
their conquests seems of hard resolution; except we
consider how they buried them under ground when,
upon barbarous invasions, they were fain to desert their
habitations in most part of their empire, and the strict-
ness of their laws forbidding to transfer them to any
other uses: wherein the Spartans were singular, who,
to make their copper money useless, contempered it with
vinegar. That the Britons left any, some wonder, since
their money was iron and iron rings before Caesar; and
those of after-stamp by permission, and but small in
bulk and bigness. That so few of the Saxons remain,
because, overcome by succeeding conquerors upon the
place, their coins, by degrees, passed into other stamps
and the marks of after-ages.

Than the time of these urns deposited, or precise
antiquity of these relicks, nothing of more uncertainty;
for since the lieutenant of Claudius seems to have made
the first progress into these parts, since Boadicea was
overthrown by the forces of Nero, and Agricola put a
full end to these conquests, it is not probable the country
was fully garrisoned or planted before; and, therefore,
however these urns might be of later date, not likely of
higher antiquity.

And the succeeding emperors desisted not from their
conquests in these and other parts, as testified by history
and medal-inscription yet extant: the province of
Britain, in so divided a distance from Rome, beholding
the faces of many imperial persons, and in large account;
no fewer than Caesar, Claudius, Britannicus, Vespasian,
Titus, Adrian, Severus, Commodus, Geta, and Cara-

A great obscurity herein, because no medal or em-
peror's coin enclosed, which might denote the date of
their interments; observable in many urns, and found
in those of Spitalfields, by London, which contained the
coins of Claudius, Vespasian, Commodus, Antoninus,
attended with lacrymatories, lamps, bottles of liquor,
and other appurtenances of affectionate superstition,
which in these rural interments were wanting.

Some uncertainty there is from the period or term of
burning, or the cessation of that practice. Macrobius
affirmeth it was disused in his days; but most agree,
though without authentic record, that it ceased with the
Antonini, - most safely to be understood after the reign
of those emperors which assumed the name of Antoninus,
extending unto Heliogabalus. Not strictly after Marcus;
for about fifty years later, we find the magnificent burn-
ing and consecration of Servus; and, if we so fix this
period or cessation, these urns will challenge above
thirteen hundred years.

But whether this practice was only then left by em-
perors and great persons, or generally about Rome, and
not in other provinces, we hold no authentic account;
for after Tertullian, in the days of Minucius, it was
obviously objected upon Christians, that they con-
demned the practice of burning.* And we find a pass-

* "Execrantur rogos, et damnant ignium sepulturam." - Min.
in Oct.

age in Sidonius, which asserteth that practice in France
unto a lower account. And, perhaps, not fully disused
till Christianity fully established, which gave the final
extinction to these sepulchral bonfires.

Whether they were the bones of men, or women, or
children, no authentic decision from ancient custom in
distinct places of burial. Although not improbably
conjectured, that the double sepulture, or burying-place
of Abraham, had in it such intention. But from exility
of bones, thinness of skulls, smallness of teeth, ribs, and
thigh-bones, not improbable that many thereof were
persons of minor age, or woman. Confirmable also from
things contained in them. In most were found sub-
stances resembling combs, plates like boxes, fastened
with iron pins, and handsomely overwrought like the
necks or bridges of musical instruments; long brass
plates overwrought like the handles of neat implements;
brazen nippers, to pull away hair; and in one a kind
of opal, yet maintaining a bluish colour.

Now that they accustomed to burn or bury with them,
things wherein they excelled, delighted, or which were
dear unto them, either as farewells unto all pleasure, or
vain apprehension that they might use them in the
other world, is testified by all antiquity, observable
from the gem or beryl ring upon the finger of Cynthia,
the mistress of Propertius, when after her funeral pyre
her ghost appeared unto him; and notably illustrated
from the contents of that Roman urn preserved by
Cardinal Farnese, wherein besides great number of
gems with heads of gods and goddesses, were found an
ape of agath, a grasshopper, an elephant of amber, a
crystal ball, three glasses, two spoons, and six nuts of
crystal; and beyond the content of urns, in the monu-
ment of Childerek the first, and fourth king from
Pharamond, casually discovered three years past at
Tournay, restoring unto the world much gold richly
adorning his sword, two hundred rubies, many hundred
imperial coins, three hundred golden bees, the bones
and horse-shoes of his horse interred with him, accord-
ing to the barbarous magnificence of those days in
their sepulchral obsequies. Although, if we steer by
the conjecture of many a Septuagint expression, some
trace thereof may be found even with the ancient
Hebrews, not only from the sepulchral treasure of David,
but the circumcision knives which Joshua also buried.

Some men, considering the contents of these urns,
lasting pieces and toys included in them, and the custom
of burning with many other nations, might somewhat
doubt whether all urns found among us, were properly
Roman relicks, or some not belonging unto our British,
Saxon, or Danish forefathers.

In the form of burial among the ancient Britons, the
large discourses of Caesar, Tacitus, and Strabo are silent.
For the discovery whereof, with other particulars, we
much deplore the loss of that letter which Cicero ex-
pected or received from his brother Quintus, as a resolu-
tion of British customs; or the account which might
have been made by Scribonius Largus, the physician,
accompanying the Emperor Claudius, who might have
also discovered that frugal bit of the old Britons, which
in the bigness of a bean could satisfy their thirst and

But that the Druids and ruling priests used to burn
and bury, is expressed by Pomponius; that Bellinus,
the brother of Brennus, and King of the Britons, was
burnt, is acknowledged by Polydorus, as also by Am-
andus Zierexensis in Historia and Pineda in his Universa
Historia (Spanish). That they held that practice in
Gallia, Caesar expressly delivereth. Whether the Britons
(probably descended from them, of like religion, lan-
guage, and manners) did not sometimes make use of
burning, or whether at least such as were after civilized
unto the Roman life and manners, conformed not unto
this practice, we have no historical assertion or denial.
But since, from the account of Tacitus, the Romans
early wrought so much civility upon the British stock,
that they brought them to build temples, to wear the
gown, and study the Roman laws and language, that
they conformed also unto their religious rites and cus-
toms in burials, seems no improbable conjecture.

That burning the dead was used in Sarmatia is affirmed
by Gaguinus; that the Sueons and Gathlanders used to
burn their princes and great persons, is delivered by
Saxo and Olaus; that this was the old German practice,
is also asserted by Tacitus. And though we are bare in
historical particulars of such obsequies in this island, or
that the Saxons, Jutes, and Angles burnt their dead,
yet came they from parts where 'twas of ancient practice;
the Germans using it, from whom they were descended.
And even in Jutland and Sleswick in Anglia Cymbrica,
urns with bones were found not many years before us.

But the Danish and northern nations have raised an
era or point of compute from their custom of burning
their dead: some deriving it from Unguinus, some from
Frotho the great, who ordained by law, that princes and
chief commanders should be committed unto the fire,
though the common sort had the common grave inter-
ment. So Starkatterus, that old hero, was burnt, and
Ringo royally burnt the body of Harold the king slain
by him.

What time this custom generally expired in that na-
tion, we discern no assured period; whether it ceased
before Christianity, or upon their conversion, by Aus-
gurius the Gaul, in the time of Ludovicus Pius, the son
of Charles the Great, according to good computes; or
whether it might not be used by some persons, while
for an hundred and eighty years Paganism and Christi-
anity were promiscuously embraced among them, there
is no assured conclusion. About which times the Danes
were busy in England, and particularly infested this
country; where many castles and strongholds were
built by them, or against them, and great number of
names and families still derived from them. But since
this custom was probably disused before their invasion
or conquest, and the Romans confessedly practised the
same since their possession of this island, the most
assured account will fall upon the Romans, or Britons

However, certain it is, that urns conceived of no
Roman original, are often digged up both in Norway
and Denmark, handsomely described, and graphically
represented by the learned physician Wormius. And
in some parts of Denmark in no ordinary number, as
stands delivered by authors exactly describing those
countries. And they contained not only bones, but
many other substances in them, as knives, pieces of
iron, brass, and wood, and one of Norway a brass gilded

Nor were they confused or careless in disposing the
noblest sort, while they placed large stones in circle
about the urns or bodies which they interred: somewhat
answerable unto the monument of Rollrich stones in
England, or sepulchral monument probably erected by
Rollo, who after conquered Normandy; where 'tis not
improbable somewhat might be discovered. Meanwhile
to what nation or person belonged that large urn found
at Ashbury,* containing mighty bones, and a buckler;
what those large urns found at Little Massingham;+
or why the Anglesea urns are placed with their mouths
downward, remains yet undiscovered.


PLAISTERED and whited sepulchres were anciently
affected in cadaverous and corrupted burials; and the
rigid Jews were wont to garnish the sepulchres of the
righteous.# Ulysses, in Hecuba, cared not how meanly
he lived, so he might find a noble tomb after death.$
Great princes affected great monuments; and the fair
and larger urns contained no vulgar ashes, which makes
that disparity in those which time discovereth among
us. The present urns were not of one capacity, the
largest containing above a gallon, some not much above
half that measure; nor all of one figure, wherein there
is no strict conformity in the same or different countries;
observable from those represented by Casalius, Bosio,
and others, though all found in Italy; while many
have handles, ears, and long necks, but most imitate a
circular figure, in a spherical and round composure;
whether from any mystery, best duration or capacity,
were but a conjecture. But the common form with
necks was a proper figure, making our last bed like our
first; nor much unlike the urns of our nativity while
we lay in the nether part of the earth,|| and inward
vault of our microcosm. Many urns are red, these but
of a black colour somewhat smooth, and dully sounding,

* In Cheshire. + In Norfolk. # St Matt. xxiii.
$ Euripides. || Psal. lxiii.

which begat some doubt, whether they were burnt, or
only baked in oven or sun, according to the ancient way,
in many bricks, tiles, pots, and testaceous works; and,
as the word testa is properly to be taken, when occur-
ring without addition and chiefly intended by Pliny,
when he commendeth bricks and tiles of two years old,
and to make them in the spring. Nor only these con-
cealed pieces, but the open magnificence of antiquity,
ran much in the artifice of clay. Hereof the house of
Mausolus was built, thus old Jupiter stood in the Capitol,
and the statua of Hercules, made in the reign of Tar-
quinius Priscus, was extant in Pliny's days. And such
as declined burning or funeral urns, affected coffins of
clay, according to the mode of Pythagoras, a way pre-
ferred by Varro. But the spirit of great ones was above
these circumscriptions, affecting copper, silver, gold, and
porphyry urns, wherein Severus lay, after a serious
view and sentence on that which should contain him.*
Some of these urns were thought to have been silvered
over, from sparklings in several pots, with small tinsel
parcels; uncertain whether from the earth, or the first
mixture in them.

Among these urns we could obtain no good account
of their coverings; only one seemed arched over with
some kind of brickwork. Of those found at Buxton,
some were covered with flints, some, in other parts, with
tiles; those at Yarmouth Caster were closed with Roman
bricks, and some have proper earthen covers adapted
and fitted to them. But in the Homerical urn of
Patroclus, whatever was the solid tegument, we find the
immediate covering to be a purple piece of silk: and
such as had no covers might have the earth closely

* [Greek omitted] -

pressed into them, after which disposure were probably
some of these, wherein we found the bones and ashes
half mortared unto the sand and sides of the urn, and
some long roots of quich, or dog's-grass, wreathed about
the bones.

No Lamps, included liquors, lacrymatories, or tear
bottles, attended these rural urns, either as sacred unto
the manes, or passionate expressions of their surviving
friends. While with rich flames, and hired tears, they
solemnized their obsequies, and in the most lamented
monuments made one part of their inscriptions.* Some
find sepulchral vessels containing liquors, which time
hath incrassated into jellies. For, besides these lacry-
matories, notable lamps, with vessels of oils, and aro-
matical liquors, attended noble ossuaries; and some
yet retaining a vinosity and spirit in them, which, if
any have tasted, they have far exceeded the palates of
antiquity. Liquors not to be computed by years of
annual magistrates, but by great conjunctions and the
fatal periods of kingdoms.+ The draughts of consulary
date were but crude unto these, and Opimian wine but
in the must unto them.#

In sundry graves and sepulchres we meet with rings,
coins, and chalices. Ancient frugality was so severe,
that they allowed no gold to attend the corpse, but only
that they allowed no gold to attend the corpse, but only
that which served to fasten their teeth. Whether the
Opaline stone in this were burnt upon the finger of the
dead, or cast into the fire by some affectionate friend,
it will consist with either custom. But other inciner-
able substances were found so fresh, that they could
feel no singe from fire. These, upon view, were judged

* "Cum lacrymis posuere."
+ About five hundred years.
# "Vinum Opimianum annorum centum." - Petron.

to be wood; but, sinking in water, and tried by the
fire, we found them to be bone or ivory. In their
hardness and yellow colour they most resembled box,
which, in old expressions, found the epithet of eternal,
and perhaps in such conservatories might have passed

That bay leaves were found green in the tomb of S.
Humbert, after an hundred and fifty years, was looked
upon as miraculous. Remarkable it was unto old
spectators, that the cypress of the temple of Diana lasted
so many hundred years. The wood of the ark, and
olive-rod of Aaron, were older at the captivity; but
the cypress of the ark of Noah was the greatest vegetable
of antiquity, if Josephus were not deceived by some
fragments of it in his days: to omit the moor logs
and fir trees found underground in many parts of
England; the undated ruins of winds, floods, or earth-
quakes, and which in Flanders still show from what
quarter they fell, as generally lying in a north-east

But though we found not these pieces to be wood, ac-
cording to first apprehensions, yet we missed not alto-
gether of some woody substance; for the bones were
not so clearly picked but some coals were found amongst
them; a way to make wood perpetual, and a fit associate
for metal, whereon was laid the foundation of the great
Ephesian temple, and which were made the lasting tests
of old boundaries and landmarks. Whilst we look on
these, we admire not observations of coals found fresh
after four hundred years. In a long-deserted habitation
even egg-shells have been found fresh, not tending to

In the monument of King Childerick the iron relicks
were found all rusty and crumbling into pieces; but
our little iron pins, which fastened the ivory works,
held well together, and lost not their magnetical quality,
though wanting a tenacious moisture for the firmer
union of parts; although it be hardly drawn into fusion,
yet that metal soon submitteth unto rust and dissolu-
tion. In the brazen pieces we admired not the duration,
but the freedom from rust, and ill savour, upon the
hardest attrition; but now exposed unto the piercing
atoms of air, in the space of a few months, they begin
to spot and betray their green entrails. We conceive
not these urns to have descended thus naked as they
appear, or to have entered their graves without the old
habit of flowers. The urn of Philopoemen was so laden
with flowers and ribbons, that it afforded no sight of
itself. The rigid Lycurgus allowed olive and myrtle.
The Athenians might fairly except against the practice
of Democritus, to be buried up in honey, as fearing to
embezzle a great commodity of their country, and the
best of that kind in Europe. But Plato seemed too
frugally politick, who allowed no larger monument
than would contain four heroick verses, and designed
the most barren ground for sepulture: though we can-
not commend the goodness of that sepulchral ground
which was set at no higher rate than the mean salary
of Judas. Though the earth had confounded the ashes
of these ossuaries, yet the bones were so smartly burnt,
that some thin plates of brass were found half melted
among them. Whereby we apprehend they were not
of the meanest caresses, perfunctorily fired, as some-
times in military, and commonly in pestilence, burn-
ings; or after the manner of abject corpses, huddled
forth and carelessly burnt, without the Esquiline Port
at Rome; which was an affront continued upon Tiberius,
while they but half burnt his body, and in the amphi-
theatre, according to the custom in notable malefac-
tors;* whereas Nero seemed not so much to fear his
death as that his head should be cut off and his body
not burnt entire.

Some, finding many fragments of skulls in these urns,
suspected a mixture of bones; in none we searched was
there cause of such conjecture, though sometimes they
declined not that practice. - The ashes of Domitian
were mingled with those of Julia; of Achilles with
those of Patroclus. All urns contained not single ashes;
without confused burnings they affectionately com-
pounded their bones; passionately endeavouring to
continue their living unions. And when distance of
death denied such conjunctions, unsatisfied affections
conceived some satisfaction to be neighbours in the
grave, to lie urn by urn, and touch but in their manes.
And many were so curious to continue their living rela-
tions, that they contrived large and family urns, where-
in the ashes of their nearest friends and kindred might
successively be received, at least some parcels thereof,
while their collateral memorials lay in minor vessels
about them.

Antiquity held too light thoughts from objects of
mortality, while some drew provocatives of mirth from
anatomies,+ and jugglers showed tricks with skeletons.
When fiddlers made not so pleasant mirth as fencers,
and men could sit with quiet stomachs, while hanging
was played before them.# Old considerations made few

* "In amphitheatro semiustulandum." - Suetonius Vit.
+ "Sic erimus cuncti, ... ergo dum vivimus vivamus."
# [Greek omitted]. A barbarous pastime at feasts, when
men stood upon a rolling globe, with their necks in a rope and
a knife in their hands, ready to cut it when the stone was

mementos by skulls and bones upon their monuments.
In the Egyptian obelisks and hieroglyphical figures it
is not easy to meet with bones. The sepulchral lamps
speak nothing less than sepulture, and in their literal
draughts prove often obscene and antick pieces. Where
we find D. M.* it is obvious to meet with sacrificing
pateras and vessels of libation upon old sepulchral
monuments. In the Jewish hypogaeum and subter-
ranean cell at Rome, was little observable beside the
variety of lamps and frequent draughts of Anthony and
Jerome we meet with thigh-bones and death's-heads;
but the cemeterial cells of ancient Christians and
martyrs were filled with draughts of Scripture stories;
not declining the flourishes of cypress, palms, and olive,
and the mystical figures of peacocks, doves, and cocks;
but iterately affecting the portraits of Enoch, Lazarus,
Jonas, and the vision of Ezekiel, as hopeful draughts,
and hinting imagery of the resurrection, which is the
life of the grave, and sweetens our habitations in the
land of moles and pismires.

Gentle inscriptions precisely delivered the extent of
men's lives, seldom the manner of their deaths, which
history itself so often leaves obscure in the records of
memorable persons. There is scarce any philosopher but
dies twice or thrice in Laertius; nor almost any life
without two or three deaths in Plutarch; which makes
the tragical ends of noble persons more favourably re-
sented by compassionate readers who find some relief
in the election of such differences.

The certainty of death is attended with uncertainties,
rolled away, wherein, if they failed, they lost their lives, to
the laughter of their spectators.

* Diis manibus.

in time, manner, places. The variety of monuments
hath often obscured true graves; and cenotaphs con-
founded sepulchres. For beside their real tombs, many
have found honorary and empty sepulchres. The
variety of Homer's monuments made him of various
countries. Euripides had his tomb in Africa, but his
sepulture in Macedonia. And Severus found his real
sepulchre in Rome, but his empty grave in Gallia.

He that lay in a golden urn eminently above the earth,
was not like to find the quiet of his bones. Many of
these urns were broke by a vulgar discoverer in hope of
enclosed treasure. The ashes of Marcellus were lost
above ground, upon the like account. Where profit
hath prompted, no age hath wanted such miners. For
which the most barbarous expilators found the most
civil rhetorick. Gold once out of the earth is no more
due unto it; what was unreasonably committed to the
ground, is reasonably resumed from it; let monuments
and rich fabricks, not riches, adorn men's ashes. The
commerce of the living is not to be transferred unto the
dead; it is not injustice to take that which none com-
plains to lose, and no man is wronged where no man is

What virtue yet sleeps in this terra damnata and aged
cinders, were petty magic to experiment. These crumb-
ling relicks and long fired particles superannuate such

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Online LibraryThomas BrowneReligio Medici, Hydriotaphia, and the Letter to a Friend → online text (page 10 of 15)