Around 328 BCE, a wealthy Roman man named Marcus Flavius threw a notable funeral event for his recently-deceased mother. Prior to that time, Marcus Flavius’ was not well known, and his reputation mainly consisted of minor run-ins with the law, including an accusation of adultery, for which he was acquitted. This early character distinction, however, would soon be overwritten because of a lavish funeral service that he planned to throw in memory of his mother. Although he intended to honor his mother and give her a prestigious send-off, the event’s fame in Rome was actually due more so to the great amount of meat that was handed out to the public as a part of the funeral celebrations. It is unknown exactly how much meat was distributed, or to how many people the food was actually given, but it must have been significant, simply because of the impact that the curious funeral feast left on Roman history. In fact, according to the Roman historian, Livy (c. 59 BCE-17 CE), the funeral hosted by Marcus Flavius was one of the most memorable events that occurred that year besides the founding of a Roman colony at Fregellae. Curiously, the lavishness of the funeral celebration was later outshone by the impressive way that the funeral boosted Marcus Flavius’ reputation and propelled a future political career. On the funeral, the meat distribution, and the subsequent political ascendance, historian Livy wrote:
“[A] distribution of meat was made to the people by Marcus Flavius at his mother’s funeral. Some saw this as using the honor due to his mother as a pretext for paying off the debt he owed the people, because he had been acquitted when brought to court by the aediles on the charge of seducing a married woman. Though the meat was distributed on account of the favour previously shown him at his trial, it was also the cause of his gaining office; and at the next elections for people’s tribune he was chosen in absence, in preference to those who were canvassing for votes” (Livy, History of Rome, 8.22).
Although the cynical historical tradition claimed that the meat distribution was either something he was forced to do or a political scheme, the move was nevertheless received well by the Roman public, boosting Marcus Flavius’ name recognition and popularity. As a result, he won the election for tribune, beating other individuals who were actively campaigning for the position. If Marcus Flavius’ political victory truly did result from his meat distribution project, then the funeral event must have had quite a magnificent feast.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Cleopatra’s Banquet, by Gerard de Lairesse (c. 1641–1711), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Rijksmuseum).
- The History of Rome (Rome and Italy) by Livy, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1982.