Mortuary Workers, the Church, and the Funeral Trade in Late Antiquity


Within the city of Constantinople, Constantine organized numerous funeral workers into associations overseen by a bishop, as part of a scheme meant to provide burials for all who needed them within the city. The funeral workers were given special exemptions and clerical status in return for their services. Constantine's model was imitated in other cities within the eastern Mediterranean and, as a result, established new urban patronage networks. The newly elevated funeral professionals were liminal men, between the commercial and clerical worlds and dependent on bishops for their employment and status. Some bishops exploited this dependency by using funeral workers as personal militias. Inscriptions and legal evidence also point to the increasing influence of the church in the funeral trade. Although Constantine envisioned a city that exemplified the Christian belief in provision of burial to all, his scheme had numerous unintended consequences. Investigation of these funeral associations reveals the role of the bishop as a patron, funeral director, and businessman during the Late Roman Empire and better defines the involvement of the church in the funeral trade in Late Antiquity.