Object: Roman Tombstone

Figure 1    Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

C/2000/1/1
Roman
Unknown Date
Materials: Stone

This ancient Roman stone is from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. It has an interesting epitaph, or inscription, in Latin, which roughly translates as “To the shades of the departed ( or ‘for/to the god Mercury’), Plutianici (Latin-ized Greek name) lived 23 years, 4 months and 3 days. L. Plutius (Latin-ized Greek name) Stephanus made this (stone) for his most sweet (dear) wife.” The inscription identifies it as a Roman tombstone or funerary monument erected by L. Plutius Stephanus for his wife Plutianici, who lived only 23 years, 4 months and 3 days.

Funerary monuments in Roman cemeteries were important symbols to the people of Rome because they served as a way to commemorate the deceased as well as a way to remember them for the years to come. According to Valerie Hope, “monuments were frequently designed to catch the eye of the passer-by: scale, decoration, words, and images all combined to provide a final snapshot of the deceased” (Hope 2007:141).

The tombstones were also a way to show social identity in Ancient Rome. In Hope’s research, she declares that erecting a tombstone inscribed in Latin is a “Roman act” because it symbolizes “the attainment of citizenship or at least a claim that such citizenship was deserved” (Hope 1997:119). These tombstones served as a form of identity for Roman citizens to show that they were a part of the empire and belonged to Roman society when they were alive.

On the epitaph found on the tombstones, the Manes, believed to be the spirits of the dead, were commemorated with the phrase Dis Manibus, which was shortened to DM. This commemoration was exclusive to tombstone inscriptions. The Manes were celebrated in February during Parentalia, a nine-day festival commemorating the ancestors. During this time, the ancestors were honored and appeased with food, offerings, and prayers to show piety towards them by their living descendants and family members (Yasin 2005:439).

After the commemoration of Dis Manibus on Roman tombstones, the first name of the deceased was displayed, then the exact age of the person in years, months, and days. The inscriptions on the stone also usually included the occupation of the deceased and concluded with the name of the person who erected the stone in their honor. All of the information presented in an epitaph showed the identity and social status of the person so that he or she could be remembered for the years to follow. Ultimately, just like tombstones today, the tombstones of Ancient Rome served as a physical monument that gave the living a glimpse into the life of the deceased.

[Sarah Noel Rodriguez]

Further Links:

Latin Inscriptions: http://www.ashmolean.org/ashwpress/latininscriptions/tag/latin-tombstones/

Latin Funerary Inscriptions: http://archaeologicalmuseum.jhu.edu/the-collection/object-stories/latin-funerary-inscriptions/

Roman Inscriptions: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/insc/hd_insc.htm

Sources:

Hope, Valerie M. 2007. Death in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Hope, Valerie M. 1997. Constructing Roman Identity: Funerary Monuments and Social Structure in the Roman World. Morality 2(2):103-121.

Meyer, Elizabeth A. 1990. Exploring the Epigraphic Habit in the Roman Empire: the Evidence of Epitaphs. The Journal of Roman Studies 80:74-96.

Yasin, Ann Marie. 2005. Funerary Monuments and Collective Identity: From Roman Family to Christian Community. The Art Bulletin 87(3):433-457.

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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