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ROOM M

The funeral inscriptions

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Human beings have always sought to leave immortal signs of their existence and have passed down through stone the memory of themselves and their loved ones. The marble slabs displayed in this room are almost two thousand years old and the words engraved on them are still readable today.

Slabs

The slab was placed against a wall, inside or outside funerary monuments, on podia (the benches that contained the urns with the ashes of the dead), or on the floor. It might be decorated in relief or with portraits of the deceased. The inscription was usually longer than that featured on tablets and contained more information on the life of the deceased.

Tabellae

The tabellae are small, rectangular-shaped stone slabs, not very thick, used in Columbaria to close the  burial niches containing the urns with the ashes of the dead. The inscription on the tabellae was generally very short and, in most cases, only mentioned the name of the deceased.

Stele

The stele is a stone slab or large block  that was used to mark a burial place. It was rectangular and was erected vertically, stuck in the ground or inserted in a base. On the front was generally an inscription. The top might be decorated with cornices, pediments, reliefs or portraits of the deceased.

Sarcophagus

The sarcophagus is a stone, metal, clay or wood coffin whose purpose is to contain the body of the deceased, according to the entombment custom. They might be placed in buildings or funerary monuments, interred or outdoors. Their shape, cover and depiction is very diverse. Sometimes they might bear an inscription memorialising the deceased, in a specially designated area, usually on the front.

Funerary ara

A funerary ara or altar is a square-shaped block of stone that was used either to contain the remains of the deceased or to mark the burial place. The funeral ritual was carried out next to the ara. At the top was the focus, where the flame for carrying out the rite was lit, and the holes (infundibula) for pouring ritual libations. The sides featured reliefs with the symbols of the rite: the patera (a short and wide bowl to pour the liquid on the altar) and the urceus (a jug containing the liquid). The front featured the inscription and any decorations carved in relief.

Funerary urns

The urns were containers of different shapes and materials for the ashes of the deceased who had been cremated with the rite of incineration. They could be placed in loculi or funerary monuments, either buried or kept outdoors. If an inscription was featured, it was on the front of the urn.

Mensa podiale

The mensa podiale is a rectangular, square or circular stone slab placed on the floor or on the benches of Columbaria to close the urns containing the ashes of the dead. Its main feature is the presence of one or more holes that were used for pouring wine, milk and honey during the funeral feast. It was believed that in this way, the deceased would be able to take part in the banquet too. The inscription was featured in the portion of the slab surface around the hole.

The marble slabs displayed in this room, which used to be clustered along the main consular roads near the entrances to the city, are nearly two thousand years old and the words engraved on them can still be read today. The ancient Romans used stone inscriptions to mark their graves, and entrusted epigraphs with the memory of their identity and their life experiences. Funeral epigraphs not only include inscriptions indicating the burial place of the deceased, but also epitaphs – which memorialised their name – and accessory inscriptions, such as those on the boundary stones that marked burial grounds or the entrance to collective burials.

Epitaphs offer an immense wealth of information on the ancient world and the composition of the social fabric of the time. Moreover, relief portraits of the deceased or depictions of crafts and tools of work or daily life were often carved on funerary monuments next to inscriptions.