Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.03.37
Jonathan Edmondson, Trinidad Nogales Basarrate, Walter Trillmich, Imagen y Memoria: monumentos funerarios con retratos en la Colonia Augusta Emerita. Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia/Museo Nacional de Arte Romano, 2001. Pp. 253. ISBN 84-89512-92-2.
Reviewed by A.T. Fear, University of Manchester
Word count: 921 words
This collaborative volume falls into two roughly equal parts: namely a detailed catalogue of a particular style of funerary monument found at Merida in Extremadura (written in English) and several articles discussing various issues raised by them (all written in Spanish). The monuments concerned are funerary altars complete with foci and pulvini, but also displaying a bust(s) of the deceased. Their genesis and development is discussed by Trillmich. The style originally appeared in Rome, became fashionable in the Flavian period, and appears to have been particularly favoured by freedmen. The earliest example found in Merida is that of Hegemon which, as Edmundson points out in his catalogue, is influenced by official portraits of Hadrian and should therefore date to the 120s-140s AD. Trillmich notes that despite this style of monument falling from grace in Rome in the later second century AD, it continued in favour at Merida well into the late third century. He also notes that its stylistic evolution in Merida was altogether independent of that found in Rome. Over time the focus of the altar shrank to a mere vestigial flattening at the top of the monument and the pulvini mutated into genuine acroteria on the "roof" of the aediculum in which the bust was found. Trillmich also believes that the high incidence of carved garlands of flowers found on the rear of these pieces and the presence of points to attach garlands of real flowers on their sides is significant, seeing these as proof of the importance of floral tributes in the funerary rituals practiced in the town. Another form of distinct evolution found in Merida is the growth in popularity of these monuments higher up the social scale than found in Rome - the town's duoviri as well as libertini were happy to be commemorated by such monuments. Several essays note that these monuments are found only in Merida and its close environs, not being present elsewhere in Lusitania nor in the other two provincial capitals in Spain, Cordoba and Tarragona.
Trillmich's piece is built on by Nogales Basarrate who notes that immigrants to the town were happy to be buried with such monuments, suggesting that this could have been an attempt by the families concerned to integrate themselves with the local population. She also postulates that a far larger number of poorer versions of this style of monument could have been lost over time. As evidence for this she focuses on the stele of Avitianus. This dates from the late third century. The quality of its epigraphy is very poor and the aediculumhas entirely vanished. The bust is far more schematic than is the case with earlier examples. Nogales sees the monument as marking the decline and fall of the monument type, and, while she gestures towards the influence of native aesthetics on its style (the head shows markedly Celtic features), she does not explore this in depth. This is a pity since, if such a shift occurred (or such an undercurrent was always present), it would be yet another facet of the cultural history of these monuments worth considering. It might also have been of use here to look at the anthropomorphic funerary stelae found in the Asturias (e.g. at Ribadsella and Avilás, see M. Pastor Muñoz, La Religion de los Astures (Granada 1981) as a point of comparison. Nogales' point also has an impact on Edmondson's discussion of the social impact of these monuments. He sees them as a product of the noveaux riches wishing to assert their place in society and their Romanness. If Nogales is right, not all these monuments may have been as emphatic as those which have survived. Another element lacking from the discussions is an analysis of how prominent these monuments were in the funerary architecture of Merida. Edmondson notes the other types of monuments present in this period, but there is no analysis of how their numbers compared nor whether the groups who purchased them differed significantly from those who commissioned the group of monuments being discussed. Such an analysis, while perhaps overstretching the limits of this monograph, would have allowed the reader to look at the monuments in a more holistic context.
A chapter on the re-use of the monuments shows some unusual fates - one piece was transformed into Christian sculpture in the Visigothic period after having its bust removed. Another (probably taken from Merida) retaining a bust reworked as a Madonna and Child, is still used as a Marian shrine in the church at Jarandilla de la Vera. A further short chapter looks at the discussion of these pieces from the sixteenth century onwards.
The book itself is lavishly produced, with plates of a high standard, and a copious bibliography. The catalogue entries are of an equally high standard, providing a transcription of the inscription found on each monument with relevant epigraphic notes, a translation of it, the dimensions of the stone, its date, and relevant secondary bibliography.
The monograph provides a sensitive and thorough study of these monuments (one hopes that other forms of common monuments in the town, for example, the cupae tombs, will receive similar treatment in the future). But the value of the volume is not limited to art or local history. These clearly Roman, yet distinctly colonial, monuments pose several important questions about the interaction between Rome itself, her provincial colonial foundations, and the wider provincial Roman world. Far from being of narrow interest therefore this book is a worthwhile read for all those studying the dynamics of Roman provincial culture.