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Iconographie funéraire romaine et société

 | 
Martin Galinier
, 
François Baratte

Contextes archéologique et iconographique

Funerary Cult at Sarcophagi, Rome and Vicinity

Katharina Meinecke

Note de l’éditeur

This paper is based on my PhD thesis on “Roman sarcophagi in their original context” completed in 2009 at the Humboldt-University of Berlin with Prof. Wrede. In this study, I collected 129 contexts from the 1st-3rd century AD that contained 239 sarcophagi in Rome and vicinity.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Compare, for example, Koch; Sichtermann, 1982, which does not address the question of the set-up of (...)
  • 2 Stat. silv. 5, 1, 225-231 probably concerns a stone sarcophagus, simply referred to as marmor, in w (...)

1Roman sarcophagi have so far been studied mostly from an iconographical or stylistic point of view1. How the stone chests were actually used as coffins in a funerary context, has not been at the centre of interest therefore. The funerary function of the sarcophagi includes how they were set up in the burial chambers and how they were integrated into the funerary rituals. From ancient literature, inscriptions, and images, we are well informed about the different steps of the funerary ritual. But as far as the actual sarcophagi are concerned, there are only few written sources, and these are seldom explicit about their use2, so that we are completely dependent on the archaeological find contexts of the stone coffins to reconstruct, how they were incorporated into the tomb and the ritual. Because sarcophagi, especially when they are richly ornamented with reliefs, have always been artifacts much in demand by the art market, their find contexts are often not preserved. Therefore, we have only little evidence of their original setting inside the tombs. Of the funerary cult that might have taken place around them, even less traces have been preserved. This paper will concentrate on the funerary rituals celebrated in relation to sarcophagi in Rome and vicinity in the Imperial period. In the first part, evidence of funerary cult found at sarcophagi from the 1st–3rd century AD will be presented, following the sequence of ritual procedures as known from literature and other ancient sources. In the second part, different types of tombs with sarcophagi will be presented to discuss how funerary cult related to the coffins could have been celebrated there.

Ill. 1a - Relief from the tomb of the Haterii, AD 110-120. (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Abteilung Rom, Fotothek, D-DAI-Rom-1981.2858 Schwanke).

  • 3 Saladino, 2004, 71; Lukian. de luctu 11; Herodian. 4, 2, 4.
  • 4 F. Sinn in: Sinn; Freyberger, 1996, 45-51 No. 5. PI. 8-9; Toynbee, 1971, 44-45; Bodel, 1999, 267; S (...)
  • 5 Gatti, 1889; Pfeiler, 1970, 75-78; Crepereia Tryphaena 1983; Chioffi 1998, 81-84 No. II. 1-42.
  • 6 Ghini et al., 2005, 246-257; Ambrogi et al., 2008, 182-184 No. 101-102.
  • 7 See page 39.

2Before the actual burial, the deceased’s body was displayed in the family’s house for up to seven days.3 This so-called lyingin-state or collocatio is best depicted on the relief from the tomb of the Haterii family from around AD 110-120 [ill. 1a]4. It shows a deceased young woman placed on a high funerary bed surrounded by mourners. Various elements of this illustration are actually attested in burials in sarcophagi. The girl in the relief is wearing a wreath around her head. A wreath made of real myrtle leaves was found in a sarcophagus from the 2nd half of the 2nd century AD, excavated in the Prati di Castello district in Rome5. The coffin, found in a trench grave together with a second coffin, was labelled by an inscription as the burial of Crepereia Tryphaena. In correspondence to this inscription, it contained the remains of an about 20-year old girl, adorned with a rich grave inventory. Among this was the wreath, placed around the girl’s head. Apart from wreaths, as the relief from the tomb of the Haterii shows, many more flowers adorned the body during the funeral. The relief depicts one of the mourners placing a festoon over the deceased’s body. Real garlands were found in two sarcophagi in the so-called Ipogeo delle Ghirlande in Grottaferrata, constructed not much earlier in the Neronian-Flavian period [ill. 1b]6. This hypogeum, whose architecture shall be discussed in detail later7, was excavated on Via Latina in Grottaferrata in the area “Ad Decimum”. It contained two sarcophagi with the burials of a young man, T. Carvilius Gemellus, and his mother Aebutia Quarta. Inside the stone coffins, both bodies were completely covered with festoons made of real roses, lilies, and violets.

  • 8 All these pieces of jewelry were already antique at the time of the burial; especially the fibula m (...)
  • 9 Of the 129 contexts from the Imperial Age I collected that form the basis of this study (see note 1 (...)
  • 10 Hesberg, 1998, 17.19; Chioffi, 1998, 27. On jewelry as part of the grave inventory see: Griesbach, (...)
  • 11 Griesbach 2001, 108 therefore interprets the rich grave inventories as the symbolic dowry of unmarr (...)

3Apart from the flowers, both Crepereia Tryphaena and Aebutia Quarta were adorned with gold jewellery. Crepereia Tryphaena wore gold earrings, three gold rings decorated with gem stones, a gold necklace with emeralds, and a gold fibula with a large intaglio showing a griffin hunting an ibex8. Aebutia Quarta’s burial contained much less jewelry. She wore a wig that was covered by a hair net made of gold wire, and on her finger she wore a gold ring with the portrait of a man in relief covered by a rock crystal. This jewelry might already have been presented with the bodies during the lying-in-state, as on the Haterii relief, where the young woman is wearing two rings on the fingers of her left hand. This jewellery could represent the gifts to the deceased that later on constituted the grave inventory. Grave goods in general are rather frequent in rich burials from the Imperial period9. The grave inventories follow a rather standardized repertoire, consisting mostly of personal toilet-requisites such as combs, mirrors, hair pins, or glass unguentaria, coins, and often jewelry10. As becomes evident from this repertoire, grave goods are a more common in female burials; in addition, most of the deceased equipped with a rich grave inventory, especially with gold jewelry, died at a relatively young age as children or youths11.

Ill. 1b - Ipogeo delle Ghirlande in Grottaferrata, AD 60-80. (Ghini et al., 2005, 250 fig. 3).

  • 12 The body was washed and rubbed with oil and perfume: Lukian. de luctu 11; Verg. Aen. 6, 219 (concer (...)
  • 13 Chioff, i 1998, 30.

4Apart from being adorned with jewelry and covered with flowers, the body of Aebutia Quarta from the Ipogeo delle Ghirlande showed signs of embalming. These conservational measures probably already served the presentation of the body during the lying-in-state. In many sarcophagi, evidence of embalming has been detected on the mortal remains. In the case of Aebutia Quarta, the body was conserved with myrrh and resin. In general, the embalming observed in Rome did not follow the classical Egyptian ritual of mummification, where the internal organs were removed and the corpse was dried with salts, but in general the bodies were embalmed with resinous, aromatic substances that completely covered the body, often in a layer that was several centimetres thick.12 This custom seems to have been especially popular in the Early Imperial Age,13 when we also find the most attestations in sarcophagi. In the Middle and Later Imperial Age, even though sarcophagi were much more frequent, this practice seems to have been much less common. The embalmed body was not placed in the coffin nude though, but dressed. On Aebutia Quarta’s body, remains of a silk garment and some kind of cotton textile were found. These might have been the clothes the woman was wearing during the lying-in-state. On the relief from the Haterii Tomb [ill. 1], the deceased girl is depicted wearing a simple shroud, her legs covered with a blanket.

  • 14 Pfeiler, 1970, 75; M. Sapelli in: Giuliano, 1979, 318-324 No. 190; Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, 1992, (...)
  • 15 Compare the funerary monument of the Vestal virgin Cossinia with a sarcophagus-like coffin made of (...)
  • 16 See Grassinger, 1999, 222-224.

5Another inhumation burial in a stone sarcophagus including all ritual elements discussed so far, is the tomb of the so-called Mummy of Grottarossa found in Rome on Via Cassia.14 This burial was well preserved, because it was found in a deep trench covered by a thick layer of cement, which was probably used as the foundation for an over ground monument with an altar or grave statue [ill. 2]15. This type of grave implicates, that the sarcophagus was invisible after the burial, no matter if the coffin was richly decorated like the one from Grottarossa. The Grottarossa sarcophagus is adorned with a singular iconography, for which there are no comparisons16. It shows the hunt of Dido and Aeneas, accompanied by young Julus Ascanius, in Africa. The sarcophagus contained the burial of an about 8 year old girl, who had probably died of tuberculosis. Her body, which was perfectly conserved at the time of the discovery, preserved traces of different resins, which were obviously used to conserve it. Furthermore, it was wrapped in different layers of cloth. Like in the case of Aebutia Quarta from Grottaferrata, the bottom layer was a tunic or shroud made of Chinese silk; this was maybe what the girl was dressed in during the lying-in-state, in analogy to the depiction on the relief from the Tomb of the Haterii. Above the tunic, the body of the girl from Grottarossa was wrapped in a linen cloth or garment, which was then fixed on the body with linen bandages. Furthermore, the burial was equipped with an elaborate grave inventory: the girl wore a necklace made of gold and sapphires, simple gold earrings, and a gold ring with a gem stone. A doll made of dark ivory, with a hair dress similar to that of Faustina the Younger, and its accessories made of amber also lay inside the coffin.

Ill. 2 - Tomb of the Mummy of Grottarossa, Via Cassia, Rome. (Chioffi, 1998, pl. 1 fig. 2).

  • 17 Pol. 6, 53; App. civ. 1, 105-106; Toynbee 1971, 47-48; Bettini 1992, 261-264.
  • 18 Fless, 2004, 50.
  • 19 Herodian. 4, 2, 4-11; Cass. Dio 75, 4, 2-5. On the pompa funebris of the Emperor see: Toynbee 1971, (...)
  • 20 Hesberg, 1994, 374; Hesberg, 1998, 26.

6After the lying-in-state, the body of the deceased had to be brought to the actual grave or tomb, where it was supposed to be buried. From the time of the Republic, descriptions of the funerary procession, the pompa funebris, by Polybius and Appian record that family members would wear the wax masks of the ancestors, and that fasces and other insignia according to the office of the deceased were borne in the procession17. As concerns the Imperial Age though, we are hardly informed about this step in the ritual18. Herodian and Cassius Dio, in their accounts of the burials of the emperors Septimius Severus and Pertinax, both describe a wax model of the emperor’s body that was presented instead of the real corpse, first at the imperial palace and then on the Forum Romanum19. A procession of men dressed up as illustrious figures from Roman history and former emperors then passed by in front of the lectus, reminiscent of the Republican pompa funebris. Apart from these records on the emperors’ funerals, we have no evidence whatsoever for the pompa funebris taking place in the Imperial period though. In addition, the descriptions of the emperors’funerals do not concern the transport of the body –or in this case the ashes– to the actual tomb, but only the procession on the Forum where the body was displayed before the cremation. Therefore it seems, as if the pompa funebris or the actual transport of the corpse to the grave was not celebrated anymore or at least with considerably reduced effort in the Imperial Age20.

  • 21 Ulp. reg. 22, 4-5.24, 18; Gai. inst. 2, 238. Bodel, 1999, 262.
  • 22 Petron. 41, 6.71, 1-4. Bodel, 1999, 262; Bradley, 1984, 87.89-91.

7If there was no remarkable procession as part of the funeral, this already indicates that the climax of the ceremony must have shifted towards another step in the ritual. This could have been either the lying-instate in the family’s house or the actual burial. The actual burial ceremony must have been of considerable importance in the Imperial Period, as it seems to have been desirable that a great amount of guests attended your funeral. This becomes evident from legal compendia of the 2nd and 3rd century AD that record verdicts against testaments appointing as the deceased’s heir the person who arrives first at the funeral or promising a share of the deceased’s fortune to anyone who attended the celebration21. Clauses like these were probably meant to attract as many guests as possible. The same is true for the custom to free slaves at their owner’s death22. In correspondence to this practice, the relief with the lying-in-state from the Haterii Tomb (ill. 1a) shows several newly freed men with pillei on their heads sitting around the funerary bed.

Ill. 3 - Tomb in Vallerano on Via Cassia, Rome. (Bedini, 1995, 32).

  • 23 Bedini et al., 1995; Bedini, 1995, 31-33; Chioffi, 1998, 85-86 No. II. 2-44; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, (...)
  • 24 Plin. nat. 12, 82-83 records that at the funeral of Poppaea, an inhumation, great amounts of incens (...)
  • 25 Simon; Sarian, 2004, 262-263; Fless, 1995, 17-19.
  • 26 Saladino 2004, 71; Huet; Siebert, 2004, 214; Simon, 2004, 237. For more information on libations at (...)

8In relation to a sarcophagus, we are in the happy position to have evidence of the actual burial ceremony in one context. In Vallerano on Via Cassia in Rome, a necropolis with around 100 graves, mostly simple trenches dated to the Hadrianic period through the 3rd century, which presumably belonged to a nearby Roman villa, was found. Only one of the tombs, set aside from the nucleus of the cemetery in a group of five larger graves, contained a stone sarcophagus [ill. 3]. Inside the plain coffin without reliefs, a 16-18 year old girl was buried with a rich grave inventory. Her sarcophagus was set in a shallow trench that was then sealed with cement, similar to the tomb of the Mummy of Grottarossa [ill 2]23. Outside the coffin, several objects related to the cult taking place during the actual burial ceremony were found in the trench: a pot with a handle, a vessel for burning incense, an oil lamp with a triumphal quadriga dated by an Antonine stamp, and the bronze and silver hinges of two wooden boxes. The vessel for burning incense illustrates that fumigations were part of the burial ceremony. These fumigations are often mentioned in antique literature, though in most cases as part of cremations, when the incense was burned on the pyre24. Fumigations are also shown on the relief from the tomb of the Haterii though [ill. 1a], where similar vessels as the one from Vallerano, incense burning in them, are depicted next to the bed of the deceased. The wooden boxes placed in the trench might also have been linked to the fumigations, as reliefs showing such rituals–though not in the context of a burial–often show boxes, the so-called accerae, in which the incense was kept25. The pot with the handle might be an indication for libations, offerings of liquids, at the grave during the burial ceremony26.

Ill. 4 - Tomb 29, Isola Sacra, Ostia. (Calza, 1940, 77 fig. 27).

  • 27 Lindsey, 1998, 73; Saladino 2004, 71-72; Schrumpf, 2006, 95-101; Zanker, 2004, 33-34; Estienne et a (...)

9After the funeral, there were several occasions to gather at the grave, and most were connected with a ritual meal. The first of these meals, the so-called cena novemdialis, took place nine days after the actual burial, at the end of the purification-ceremonies following the funeral. Independent from the actual funeral, there were annual festivities in honour of the dead that included a ritual meal, the parentalia in February with a banquet at the grave on their last day, the feralia, the Feast of the Violets in March and the more common Feast of the Roses, the rosalia, in May or June. Furthermore, there were individual annual commemorative gatherings, for example on the birthday of the deceased27.

  • 28 Tomb 34, Isola Sacra (see note 44); Tomb 86, Isola Sacra (Calza, 1940, 343-344; Baldassarre et al.,(...)
  • 29 Zanker, 2000, 5-7.
  • 30 The altar in the middle of the court yard seen on older pictures was not found here, but is an addi (...)
  • 31 Mielsch; von Hesberg, 1995, 79; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 128-129. Compare Mausoleum H under S. Seb (...)

10In and around Rome, six tombs with sarcophagi were equipped with a well and/or an oven to prepare these commemorative meals28. Most attestations are from the necropolis on Isola Sacra, where generally a lot of permanent installations for funerary cult such as klinai in front of the tombs have been observed29. In tombs with sarcophagi, these installations begin in the middle of the 2nd century and continue until the 3rd century AD. The most elaborate installations can be found in Tomb 86 in the necropolis on Isola Sacra30. Its courtyard, added around 150 AD to a pre-existing two-storey tomb from the Hadrianic period not only comprised an oven and a well, but also benches along its walls for the celebrants to sit on. The original tomb contained both inhumation and cremation burials, neatly separated in between the two storeys with cremations in the upper chamber and inhumations in sarcophagi in the semi-hypogeum. From the court yard, it was impossible to look directly into the lower chamber with the sarcophagi, which meant that they were well out of sight during the commemorative gatherings. The same seems to be the case for other tombs with sarcophagi and permanent installations for ritual meals. In Mausoleum H of the Valerii family in the Vatican Necropolis from around 160 AD or in Tomb 34 from the 3rd century in the Isola Sacra Necropolis [ill. 5], for example, the commemorative gatherings seem to have taken place on a roof terrace, the solarium31.

Ill. 5 - Tomb 34, Isola Sacra, Ostia. (Baldassarre, 1996, 307 fig. 1).

  • 32 Jastrzebowska, 1981, 130. See two examples from Via Cassia: A. Ambrogi in: Giuliano, 1984, 280-282 (...)
  • 33 Carroll, 2006, 71; Jastrzebowska, 1981, 129; Wolski; Berciu, 1973. Examples from the necropoleis on (...)
  • 34 Compare the terracotta coffin with the burial of a young woman, 18‑20 years old, from the 2nd quart (...)

11This physical distance of the celebrants to the stone coffins seems to have been deliberate, since in general there is no evidence for rituals taking place directly at the sarcophagi after the actual burial. Especially for one of the most immediate rituals, libations, there are no indications at stone sarcophagi. Installations for these offerings are evident on cremation burials, for example when the niches with cinerary urns in the columbaria were covered with sieve-like perforated marble slabs32. In the form of libation tubes, permanent installations are also frequent on inhumation burials contemporary to the stone sarcophagi, though mostly in simple trench graves, tombe a cappuccina or tombe a cassone33. Libation pipes are even attested on contemporary terracotta coffins buried in trench graves similar to those from Grottarossa or Vallerano discussed above [ill. 2 & 3]34. In general, installations for libations are attested mostly on burials from the 1st through middle of the 2nd century AD, i.e. before or only at the beginning of the increased production of stone sarcophagi. Still, on stone sarcophagi, libation pipes have not been documented in and around the city of Rome. On the contrary, the lids of the coffins are usually firmly closed, often using lead cramps, and, in contrast to the lids of terracotta urns, they are generally too heavy to have been removed easily for such a ritual.

  • 35 In the so-called Tomba Aldobrandini in Ostia Pianabella, a pipe for libations was incorporated into (...)
  • 36 Calza, 1940, 303; D’Ambra, 1988; Baldassarre, 1978, 497-498; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 138-142; Bra (...)
  • 37 Calza 1940, 304 mentions four pipes, Baldassarre et al., 1996, 142 mentions only two pipes next to (...)

12Installations for libations have actually been found only in two tombs with sarcophagi in and around Rome.35 In both cases, these installations were not connected to the stone coffins, and only in one case, in Tomb 29 from the Necropolis on Isola Sacra, these installations were even contemporary with the sarcophagus set up inside. This tomb was originally erected in the Early Antonine period. Already around 170 AD, another large burial chamber and a second floor were added to the original small tomb [ill. 4]36. The upper floor of this addition included a terrace, in whose mosaic floor pipes for libations made of the necks of amphorae were integrated in the corners37. The sarcophagus, which was set up in the new burial chamber on the ground floor, was not positioned beneath the openings of the libation pipes though, but instead stood in the rear part of the chamber at quite a distance to the tubes. Therefore it seems, as if there was no cult related to a particular deceased in form of libations at sarcophagi in Rome and its vicinity in the Imperial period.

  • 38 See note 7.
  • 39 Gasparri, 1967; Gasparri, 1968; Gasparri, 1973, 130 No. 2; Brandenburg 1978, 284-287. 293; Chioffi, (...)

13The analysis of the preserved contexts with sarcophagi supports the hypothesis that cult related to a specific burial generally did not take place immediately at the stone coffins. Already in the 1st century AD, burial chambers could be permanently sealed after the funeral. One example for such a permanently closed tomb is the Ipogeo delle Ghirlande, already mentioned above [ill. 1b]38. This plain hypogeal chamber was constructed entirely out of neatly cut travertine blocks, but it did not show any interior decoration. The only décor were the two garland sarcophagi with the burials discussed above. Even though the chamber was rather small, the coffins were set up against the walls, in such a way that their reliefs were visible, but also that there was enough empty space left in the room where visitors could have entered. Yet the chamber’s door was permanently blocked, probably soon after the burial, by a neatly carved block of travertine that was kept in place by iron cramps. Therefore, already shortly after the funeral, no one could enter the chamber and see the richly decorated coffins. A parallel context is the Augustan tumulus excavated in Centocelle in Rome39. Inside the tumulus’ burial chamber, a single marble coffin was placed in the centre of the room. This coffin, decorated only with simple slim mouldings on the lid, as is typical for the Early Imperial period, contained, just as in the Ipogeo delle Ghirlande, the elaborately embalmed body of a man. No matter the prominent position of the sarcophagus in the chamber, the door to the cella was sealed with opus reticulatum, again probably shortly after the burial.

  • 40 On this topic see Meinecke, 2012.
  • 41 See above p. 2, 3, 5.
  • 42 Tombs from the 1st century AD: Mausoleo I Sud found during the construction of the audience hall so (...)
  • 43 See note 42.
  • 44 See note 31.
  • 45 Baldassarre, 1996, 315-319; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 133; Ewald, 1999, 156-157 No. C 10; Dresken-W (...)

14Apart from closing burial chambers, there were other methods to permanently conceal sarcophagi40. This is already demonstrated by the fossa graves, of which several examples were discussed above41. Sarcophagi could also be permanently hidden from sight inside the burial chamber, while this remained accessible. One possibility, attested in thirteen tombs from the 1st through 3rd century AD in and around Rome, was to bury the sarcophagi underneath the floor. This practice was rather uncommon in the 1st and 2nd centuries, but increased in the 3rd century42. In the 1st and 2nd century, the coffins buried underneath the floor were undecorated and without reliefs43. In the 3rd century though, sarcophagi decorated with elaborate reliefs were hidden from sight underneath the floor in the burial chamber. A very significant example is Tomb 34 from the Isola Sacra Necropolis [ill. 5]44. This tomb, constructed in the 1st half of the 3rd century, originally consisted of a small burial chamber with a large precinct. The precinct enclosed arcosolia in the walls and trench graves underneath the floor, amounting to over 150 places for burials altogether. In a later phase, part of the trench graves in the precinct, which had obviously already been used for burials, were destroyed to create a hypogeal chamber, where three sarcophagi were buried in the floor. They were integrated into the pavement, which was made of marble slabs, in such a way that their lids were still visible above the ground. Since all three coffins can be dated to the late 3rd century, the hypogeum was probably constructed in this time. All three sarcophagi are decorated with reliefs–one shows hunting scenes, and two are strigillated–, and in all three cases, the decoration contains a portrait. One of the strigillated sarcophagi even seems to be an especially commissioned work, since it shows the typical iconography of a reading man in the centre with portraits of husband and wife at the corners reworked into a female portrait in the centre with two Muses at the corners45. Even these very individual images were concealed after the funeral by burying the coffin underneath the chamber’s floor.

  • 46 Zevi, 1970; Calza 1972; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 331 No. A 91.

15In other burial chambers, it was simply impossible to reach the single sarcophagi, because the tombs were so full with burials of all kinds, especially if some time had passed since the coffins had been set up. This situation must have been rather widespread in the 3rd century, when empty space in the necropoleis around Rome was becoming scarce, and less new tombs were erected. The context, which best illustrates this development, is the so-called Tomba Aldobrandini in Ostia Pianabella [ill. 6]46. This building, consisting of an L-shaped corridor with a square burial chamber, was erected in the 1st half of the 1st century AD. Originally, the chamber was almost empty, the only burials being some urns placed in niches in the back wall of the tomb and two trench graves containing secondary burials underneath the floor. In the course of the centuries, burials were continuously added, not only in the burial chamber, but also in the corridor. Among these graves in the chamber was an early strigillated sarcophagus from the 1st half of the 2nd century. It was set up on a little basis along the right side wall of the chamber, yet it was already positioned in such a way that the coffin’s neatly worked left side decorated with the image of a lion-griffin could not be seen, as it was placed against an earlier masonry grave. In the following decades, new burials were continuously added, until the burial chamber was totally stuffed with graves. One masonry grave was even built directly in front of the sarcophagus, touching and thus partly concealing the bottom part of its front. In the end, only a tiny space at the entrance of the burial chamber remained empty, allowing not more than one person at a time to enter.

Ill. 6 - Tomba Aldobrandini, Ostia Pianabella. (Calza, 1972, 438 fig. 7).

  • 47 Jastrzebowska, 1981, 14-19. 67-81. especially 75-78. 132.
  • 48 Lindsey, 1998, 73. Apul. flor. 19, 6.

16Among the ceramics found in the Tomba Aldobrandini was a set of used cooking pots from the middle of the 3rd century. These might be evidence of ritual meals at the graves, although it is hard to imagine, how these could have taken place in a tomb so completely filled up with burials and with no actual empty space for the celebrants. This might indicate that commemorative rituals such as meals could have been transferred to another place outside the actual tomb, maybe to a common area as was excavated in the necropolis of San Sebastiano in Rome47. There, common triclia were erected as early as the Antonine period and around the middle of the 3rd century. The pots from the actual burial chamber might then be evidence that only a share of the meals was brought to the graves for the deceased48.

Ill. 7-Tomb of the Pancratii, Via Latina, Rome. (Petersen, 1861, pl. 1).

  • 49 Fortunati, 1859, 56-61; Herdejürgen, 2000, 220-234; Egidi; Rea, 2001, 290-292; Dresken-Weiland, 200 (...)

17The Tomba Aldobrandini also illustrates another important development in relation to older burials, i.e. that the visibility of the ancestors’ sarcophagi inside the burial chamber no longer seems to have been important in the 3rd century. Another extreme example of this development is the so-called Tomb of the Pancratii on Via Latina [ill. 7]49. This hypogeum consisting of two rooms, a vestibule and a burial chamber, was originally built in the Flavian period to house just one stone sarcophagus in its cella. Around 210 and 270 AD, bases for further sarcophagi were added along the walls of the vestibule. This does not mark the last stage in the tomb’s history though. When the tomb was excavated in 1858, fourteen sarcophagi were found inside. Apart from the large coffin set up in the centre of the burial chamber, seven older coffins were found in that room, carelessly dumped into it, blocking the passage from the vestibule, so that no one could enter. Keeping in mind that these sarcophagi had contained burials, this act demonstrates an obvious lack of piety towards these older graves. These sarcophagi probably stood in the vestibule and were removed to make place for new coffins. In the vestibule, four sarcophagi were set up on the bases along the walls, and two coffins stood on the floor, so that the small chamber must have been completely full. These tombs presented so far all illustrate that, at least in the 3rd century, it was obviously less important to see the sarcophagi, their reliefs, and inscriptions and to spend time inside the burial chambers or to reach the sarcophagi for any kind of cult that was celebrated physically at the coffin.

  • 50 Annibaldi, 1941; Wrede, 1977, 399.

18The original lay-out of the Tomb of the Pancratii [ill. 7] from the Flavian period with just one single coffin, prominently placed in the centre of the burial chamber, already represents a different treatment of tombs and sarcophagi than has been presented so far. In contrast to many of the tombs analysed above, there are tombs from the 1st-3rd century that were built specifically to house sarcophagi. They were rather spacious, and the sarcophagi were set up visibly. Furthermore, these tombs were obviously planned to be used and therefore frequented over a certain period of time. An example from the 1st century AD for this kind of lay-out is the chamber tomb of Tiberius Claudius Nicanor, a freedman of the emperor Claudius [ill. 8a, ill. 8b]50. He erected the tomb on Via Nomentana for himself, his wife, and his son. The burial chamber is richly decorated with stucco and wall painting. It contained only two burials in two plain stone sarcophagi along the back wall and the right side wall. A third coffin was most probably intended along the left side wall, but, for unknown reasons, was never set up. Nicanor’s tomb is exceptional among the tombs of the 1st century, as it already presents permanent installations for the set-up of the coffins, a feature that is not generally attested until the Hadrianic period. There are two niches on the sides and a base running along the walls that is enlarged to form a small podium in front of the back wall for the coffin of a small boy, probably Nicanor’s son.

Ill. 8a - Tomb of Tiberius Claudius Nicanor, Rome. (Annibaldi, 1941, 190 fig. 3).

Ill. 8b - Tomb of Tiberius Claudius Nicanor, Rome. (Annibaldi, 1941, 189 fig. 2).

  • 51 Bielfeldt, 2003; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 302 No. A 20.

19Similarly well-organised tombs, whose lay-out is completely focussed on the sarcophagi inside, are also attested from the 2nd century AD. A significant example is the so-called Tomba della Medusa between Via Tiburtina and Via Nomentana, today on the property of the Policlinico Umberto I in Rome51. This late-Hadrianic chamber tomb has a symmetrical ground plan with three niches in the back and the side walls, each containing a sarcophagus. The two sarcophagi in the side niches are both decorated with mythological reliefs, one depicting the destruction of the Niobids, the other the myth of Orestes. They form a pair not only stylistically, but they also stood on identical marble supports decorated with small atlantes. The central niche was occupied by a garland sarcophagus. As in the tomb of Nicanor, this chamber contained no burials except those in the sarcophagi. In contrast to the earlier tomb, each coffin contained remains of several individuals. In addition, the sarcophagi –except for the Orestes-sarcophagus which was closed by lead cramps– were not permanently sealed, but the lids simply lay on the chests, as if secondary burials were intended.

  • 52 Bendinelli, 1922, 428-444; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 342-343 No. A 116.
  • 53 Hesberg, 1992, 52; Purcell, 1987, 32-33.

20Very similar to the Tomba della Medusa is the hypogeum of the Octavii family on Via Triumphalis, erected at the turn of the 2nd to the 3rd century AD [ill. 9]52. It shows a comparable symmetrical ground plan. The two side niches again contained sarcophagi designed as a pair, in this case with marine monsters and Nereids. They were meant for the burials of two female family members, as the portraits on their fronts show. In the central niche stood the sarcophagus of Octavia Paulina, who, according to the inscription on the lid, died at the age of six years. It was set up by her father Octavius Felix. Her death seems to have been the reason for building the tomb, as all the interior decoration alludes to her death: wall paintings show cupids and psyches, and the fresco above the central niche with Paulina’s coffin depicts Eros in the iconographic scheme of the Rape of Proserpina, standing on a wagon pulled by doves and holding a small girl in his arms. Octavius Felix, who probably arranged the construction of the tomb, was the last family member to be buried in the chamber. Since the three niches were already full, his sarcophagus was positioned in front of the right niche concealing the older marine sarcophagus already set up there. As in the two earlier tombs described, this burial chamber contained no other burials apart from those in the sarcophagi, and the layout of the tomb clearly intended the set-up of coffins. In the later 3rd century though, when due to lack of space in Rome’s necropoleis only few new tombs erected53, the construction of well-organised tombs with sarcophagi like these almost ceased as well.

Ill. 9 - Hypogeum of the Octavii family, Via Triumphalis, Rome. (Bendinelli, 1922, pl. 1).

21The very contrasting evidence of the different tombs presented poses the question, if there was more funerary cult taking place in the tidy, well-organised burial chambers, where the sarcophagi remained visible, and if there were more visits to the graves than at the permanently closed or untidy and cramped burial chambers. Just as in the tombs presented first, in these tidier chambers, there is neither any evidence for libations or other rituals taking place immediately at the coffins, nor are there more permanent installations for commemorative meals. What becomes evident though is that the different ways of treating the graves attest diverse funerary traditions and that there was no homogeneous mode for burials in sarcophagi. Yet all tombs with sarcophagi in and around Rome have one common characteristic, i. e. that there apparently was no tradition of funerary commemoration directly at the stone coffins. In the 3rd century, it seems as if there was an increase of concealed sarcophagi, as well as of untidier and stuffed burial chambers, and, in accordance, there was probably less interest in visits to the tombs or in rituals for a specific deceased taking place immediately at the coffin.

22Yet the burial in a stone sarcophagus must have remained a prestigious statement, considering only the value of the material and labour, especially if the coffin was decorated with reliefs. Therefore the question remains, when the sarcophagi would have made their greatest impression and their decoration could be admired, if not during commemorative rituals at the grave. Different occasions in the course of the funerary ritual when the sarcophagus could be displayed were the lying-in-state, the transport to the grave, and the burial ceremony. The most convincing opportunity to present the coffin may have been during the lying-in-state. In this occasion, not only the deceased was displayed, but also the gifts later constituting the grave inventory. The stone sarcophagus could have been among these gifts, presented as yet another sign of the family’s affection and appreciation for the deceased. This way, the lying-in-state in the family’s house became an alternative occasion for representing the family, alternative to the burial chambers that from the 3rd century onward were often cramped and unattractive.

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Notes

1 Compare, for example, Koch; Sichtermann, 1982, which does not address the question of the set-up of the sarcophagi in the tomb, or the ASR, which is organized according to iconographic and stylistic characteristics of the sarcophagi. In recent times, there has been an increased interest in necropoleis in general and with this in the context of sarcophagi. Zanker 2000 and Zanker; Ewald, 2004 discuss the set-up of sarcophagi and their integration into the funerary cult, on the basis of some prominent tombs in Rome. A broader catalogue of sarcophagi from the Imperial Age found in situ in the western part of the Roman Empire is provided by Dresken-Weiland 2003.

2 Stat. silv. 5, 1, 225-231 probably concerns a stone sarcophagus, simply referred to as marmor, in which Priscilla, the wife of Abascantus, a freedman of Domitian, was buried, although an actual coffin is not mentioned. Dig. XI 7,7,1 deals with the punishment of those who bury their dead in a stone sarcophagus (arca lapidea) not their own.

3 Saladino, 2004, 71; Lukian. de luctu 11; Herodian. 4, 2, 4.

4 F. Sinn in: Sinn; Freyberger, 1996, 45-51 No. 5. PI. 8-9; Toynbee, 1971, 44-45; Bodel, 1999, 267; Schrumpf, 2006, 32-33.

5 Gatti, 1889; Pfeiler, 1970, 75-78; Crepereia Tryphaena 1983; Chioffi 1998, 81-84 No. II. 1-42.

6 Ghini et al., 2005, 246-257; Ambrogi et al., 2008, 182-184 No. 101-102.

7 See page 39.

8 All these pieces of jewelry were already antique at the time of the burial; especially the fibula might even be dated to the 1st century BC (L. Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli in: Crepereia Tryphaena, 1983, 42-44 No. 6).

9 Of the 129 contexts from the Imperial Age I collected that form the basis of this study (see note 1), 37 contained grave goods.

10 Hesberg, 1998, 17.19; Chioffi, 1998, 27. On jewelry as part of the grave inventory see: Griesbach, 2001; Martin-Kilcher, 2000.

11 Griesbach 2001, 108 therefore interprets the rich grave inventories as the symbolic dowry of unmarried women.

12 The body was washed and rubbed with oil and perfume: Lukian. de luctu 11; Verg. Aen. 6, 219 (concerning the funeral of Misenos); Schrumpf, 2006, 24-25. On embalming in general see: Chioffi, 1998.

13 Chioff, i 1998, 30.

14 Pfeiler, 1970, 75; M. Sapelli in: Giuliano, 1979, 318-324 No. 190; Pirzio Biroli Stefanelli, 1992, 250 No. 134; Huskinson, 1996, 26-27 No. 2.4; Chioffi, 1998, 47-50 No. 1.2-10; Grassinger, 1999, 91-98.222 No. 68; Griesbach, 2001, 111 No. 6; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 343-344 No. A 119.

15 Compare the funerary monument of the Vestal virgin Cossinia with a sarcophagus-like coffin made of stone slabs on Via Valeria in Tivoli: Mancini, 1930, 353-369; Bordenache Battaglia, 1983, 124-138 No. XIII; Bedini, 1995, 84-87; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 305-306 No. A 31.

16 See Grassinger, 1999, 222-224.

17 Pol. 6, 53; App. civ. 1, 105-106; Toynbee 1971, 47-48; Bettini 1992, 261-264.

18 Fless, 2004, 50.

19 Herodian. 4, 2, 4-11; Cass. Dio 75, 4, 2-5. On the pompa funebris of the Emperor see: Toynbee 1971, 56-61; Zanker, 2004.

20 Hesberg, 1994, 374; Hesberg, 1998, 26.

21 Ulp. reg. 22, 4-5.24, 18; Gai. inst. 2, 238. Bodel, 1999, 262.

22 Petron. 41, 6.71, 1-4. Bodel, 1999, 262; Bradley, 1984, 87.89-91.

23 Bedini et al., 1995; Bedini, 1995, 31-33; Chioffi, 1998, 85-86 No. II. 2-44; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 325-326 No. A 83. The altar shown in the drawings of the tomb (fig. 3) is a hypothetical reconstruction.

24 Plin. nat. 12, 82-83 records that at the funeral of Poppaea, an inhumation, great amounts of incense were burned. Incense in connection with cremations: Tac. ann. 3, 2; Cass. Dio 56, 31, 2-3; Lucan. 9, 1091-1093; Plut. Sulla 38, 2; Stat. silv. 2, 1, 159-162.2, 6, 86-89; Stat. Theb. 6, 55-64; Mart. 10, 97.11, 54; Herodian. 4, 2, 8-9; Saladino, 2004, 76.

25 Simon; Sarian, 2004, 262-263; Fless, 1995, 17-19.

26 Saladino 2004, 71; Huet; Siebert, 2004, 214; Simon, 2004, 237. For more information on libations at sarcophagi see below, note 35.

27 Lindsey, 1998, 73; Saladino 2004, 71-72; Schrumpf, 2006, 95-101; Zanker, 2004, 33-34; Estienne et al., 2004, 290. The rosalia and violaria are recorded mostly in inscriptions, see: Radke, 1975, 1457; Gärtner, 1979, 1154.

28 Tomb 34, Isola Sacra (see note 44); Tomb 86, Isola Sacra (Calza, 1940, 343-344; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 75-77); Tomb 89, Isola Sacra (Calza, 1940, 350; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 66-69), Tomba della Mietitura, Isola Sacra (Baldassarre, 1990, 169-172; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 154-161), Mauseoleum H, Vatican Necropolis under St. Peter (Mielsch; Hesberg, 1995, 143-207; Dresken-Weiland 2003, 339-340 No. A 110), Tomb D on Via Portuense (Cianfriglia; Catalano, 1986-1987; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 334 No. A 101).

29 Zanker, 2000, 5-7.

30 The altar in the middle of the court yard seen on older pictures was not found here, but is an addition by the excavators.

31 Mielsch; von Hesberg, 1995, 79; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 128-129. Compare Mausoleum H under S. Sebastiano (without sarcophagi): Jastrzebowska, 1981, 50.74. 132.

32 Jastrzebowska, 1981, 130. See two examples from Via Cassia: A. Ambrogi in: Giuliano, 1984, 280-282 No. IX, 40. IX, 41.

33 Carroll, 2006, 71; Jastrzebowska, 1981, 129; Wolski; Berciu, 1973. Examples from the necropoleis on Via Triumphalis under the Vatican from the 1st and 2nd century: Liverani; Spinola, 2006, 27 fig. 20. 28. 40-41. 44 fig. 40. 52. 54. 77-79. 81. 102.

34 Compare the terracotta coffin with the burial of a young woman, 18‑20 years old, from the 2nd quarter of the 2nd century AD, found on Via della Bufalotta in Rome: Favorito, 2001.

35 In the so-called Tomba Aldobrandini in Ostia Pianabella, a pipe for libations was incorporated into a cremation burial from the Flavian period in the tomb’s corridor; the sarcophagus found in the burial chamber can be dated to around 120 AD: Calza, 1972; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 331 No. A 91; see below page 10. For Tomb 29 on Isola Sacra see note 39.

36 Calza, 1940, 303; D’Ambra, 1988; Baldassarre, 1978, 497-498; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 138-142; Bragantini, 1997; Galinier, 2008, 277-279.

37 Calza 1940, 304 mentions four pipes, Baldassarre et al., 1996, 142 mentions only two pipes next to the entrance to the burial chamber.

38 See note 7.

39 Gasparri, 1967; Gasparri, 1968; Gasparri, 1973, 130 No. 2; Brandenburg 1978, 284-287. 293; Chioffi, 1998, 53-55 No. 1.2‑13; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 310 No. A 45.

40 On this topic see Meinecke, 2012.

41 See above p. 2, 3, 5.

42 Tombs from the 1st century AD: Mausoleo I Sud found during the construction of the audience hall south of St. Peter (Magi, 1966; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 337 No. A 106) and the Columbarium in Via della Marranella (Mancini, 1920, 31. 33-41). From the 2nd century: Tomba della Mietitura on Isola Sacra (Baldassarre, 1990, 169-172; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 154-161), Mausoleum H under St. Peter (Mielsch; Hesberg, 1995, 143-145). From the 3rd century: Frattocchie (Pietrogrande, 1933, 32 No. 4; Dresken-Weiland 2003, 321 No. A 70), Ostia Pianabella, Mausoleum L1 (Gallina, 1993; Grassinger, 1999, 44-48. 204-205 No. 27; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 331 No. A 92), Vigna Jacobini, Via Portusense (Lanciani, 1882), Tomb 34 on Isola Sacra (Calza, 1940, 307-308; Baldassarre, 1978, 502-504; Baldassarre, 1984, 148-149; Baldassarre, 1996, 128-134; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 129; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 332-333 No. A 95). Dating generally to the Imperial period: Via delle Vigne Nuove (G. Adinolfi; R. Carmagnola in: Quilici; Quilici Gigli, 1986, 278-281 No. 185), Cave di Aguzzano (Quilici; Quilici Gigli, 1993, 381 No. 500), Guidonia (Mari, 1983, 164-166 No. 154; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 305 No. A 30), Via Prenestina, Fosso del Quarticciolo (Quilici, 1974, 266. 270 No. 166A. 271 fig. 550), Via Prenestina/Via G. Candiani (Quilici, 1974, 273 No. 166F). On this topic see also Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 101.186-187.

43 See note 42.

44 See note 31.

45 Baldassarre, 1996, 315-319; Baldassarre et al., 1996, 133; Ewald, 1999, 156-157 No. C 10; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 332-333.

46 Zevi, 1970; Calza 1972; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 331 No. A 91.

47 Jastrzebowska, 1981, 14-19. 67-81. especially 75-78. 132.

48 Lindsey, 1998, 73. Apul. flor. 19, 6.

49 Fortunati, 1859, 56-61; Herdejürgen, 2000, 220-234; Egidi; Rea, 2001, 290-292; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 313-314 No. A 55; Zanker; Ewald, 2004, 36-37 fig. 27. 290-292 No. 5. 326-328 No. 16. The drawing of the tomb in fig. 27 in Zanker; Ewald, 2004, 37 does not show the situation the tomb was found in, but the set-up of the sarcophagi by the excavators for visitors in the 19th century.

50 Annibaldi, 1941; Wrede, 1977, 399.

51 Bielfeldt, 2003; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 302 No. A 20.

52 Bendinelli, 1922, 428-444; Dresken-Weiland, 2003, 342-343 No. A 116.

53 Hesberg, 1992, 52; Purcell, 1987, 32-33.

Table des illustrations

Légende Ill. 1a - Relief from the tomb of the Haterii, AD 110-120. (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Abteilung Rom, Fotothek, D-DAI-Rom-1981.2858 Schwanke).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 140k
Légende Ill. 1b - Ipogeo delle Ghirlande in Grottaferrata, AD 60-80. (Ghini et al., 2005, 250 fig. 3).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 188k
Légende Ill. 2 - Tomb of the Mummy of Grottarossa, Via Cassia, Rome. (Chioffi, 1998, pl. 1 fig. 2).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 216k
Légende Ill. 3 - Tomb in Vallerano on Via Cassia, Rome. (Bedini, 1995, 32).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 156k
Légende Ill. 4 - Tomb 29, Isola Sacra, Ostia. (Calza, 1940, 77 fig. 27).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 204k
Légende Ill. 5 - Tomb 34, Isola Sacra, Ostia. (Baldassarre, 1996, 307 fig. 1).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 144k
Légende Ill. 6 - Tomba Aldobrandini, Ostia Pianabella. (Calza, 1972, 438 fig. 7).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 216k
Légende Ill. 7-Tomb of the Pancratii, Via Latina, Rome. (Petersen, 1861, pl. 1).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 160k
Légende Ill. 8a - Tomb of Tiberius Claudius Nicanor, Rome. (Annibaldi, 1941, 190 fig. 3).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k
Légende Ill. 8b - Tomb of Tiberius Claudius Nicanor, Rome. (Annibaldi, 1941, 189 fig. 2).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 112k
Légende Ill. 9 - Hypogeum of the Octavii family, Via Triumphalis, Rome. (Bendinelli, 1922, pl. 1).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pupvd/docannexe/image/7078/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 343k

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Technische Universität Berlin

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