DEATH AND BURIAL IN ANCIENT ROME: EPITAPHS
Linda Maria Gigante
University of Louisville
In 1929 Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston, a prominent citizen of Louisville, donated a large collection of Roman funerary monuments to the city’s Speed Museum. He had purchased them in Rome in 1911 from the Carmelite Church and Monastery of Santa Teresa D’Avila near the via Salaria, and in 1912 twenty eight wooden crates containing the antiquities arrived in Louisville. Some years before, in the late 1890s, these artifacts – marble and terracotta ash-urns, terracotta lamps and offering vessels, and inscribed stone epitaphs – were extracted from modest columbaria which had been discovered during the construction of the church and monastery. The tombs, which contained the cremated remains of slaves, freed men and women and members of their families, were probably constructed in the late first century BCE and were in use well into the second century and perhaps into the third. The antiquities purchased in Rome by Ballard Thruston comprise the largest collection of its kind, with a documented provenance, in the United States. A collaborative research project is underway to publish an online catalogue of the more than one hundred fifty epitaphs in this collection.
Death and Burial in Ancient Rome: Epitaphs from the Speed Art Museum, a selection of ten funerary inscriptions from the Ballard Thruston Collection, will be on display at the University of Kentucky Art Museum at the time of the CAMWS meeting in Lexington. This exhibition, which marks the first public display outside Louisville of artifacts from this collection, is intended to shed light on various aspects of Roman culture. In addition to epitaphs which identify slaves and their occupations, there are inscriptions dedicated to children by their parents and epitaphs commemorating spouses, siblings, and a soldier in the urban cohort. Accompanying the epitaphs will be illustrations, plans, and text panels providing information about the via Salaria necropolis, Roman burial practices, family life and the history of the collection.
I will begin my paper with a general overview of the Ballard Thruston Collection, including the story of its acquisition and its contents. I will then discuss the epitaphs which have been catalogued thus far and the research on this material which is currently being conducted by faculty and students at the University of Louisville and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I will conclude with a description of the specific pieces in the exhibition and the methodology employed in their selection, and recognize the contributions of museum curators, faculty and students in making this exhibition a reality.
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