Death & burial : funerary rites

Epitaphs and funerary literature

In the 11th and 12th centuries, funerary literature was chiefly a matter of epitaphs, the planctus (lamentation) and the funeral oration. The purpose of these three genres was to preserve the memory of the famous deceased and immortalize his virtues.

For southern Italy, we have the epitaphs of Robert Guiscard, his first wife, Aubrée, his brother Roger the Great Count and his son Bohemund of Taranto. Also, in his Chronica (1243), Ricchard de San Germano has handed down to us a 52-line planctus written at the time of the death of William II in 1189.

The four hexameter epitaph of Robert Guiscard (buried at Holy Trinity in Venosa) comes to us through two sources: William of Malmesbury and Pierre Béchin, canon of Tours.

The epitaph (an elegiac distich) composed for Aubrée of Buonalbergo († 1122?) can be read to this day on her tomb at Venosa. The epitaph written in a similar style for Roger the Great Count († 1101) can be read on his sarcophagus, currently at the Archaeological Museum in Naples. The six hexameter epitaph and the funerary inscriptions (two poems of six lines and two elegiac distiches) for Bohemund of Taranto († 1111) are reported to us by Cardinal Cesare Baronio in his Annales Ecclesiastici (1607).


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