Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.01.57 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.01.57

Javier Andreu, David Espinosa, Simone Pastor (ed.), Mors omnibus instat: aspectos arqueológicos, epigráficos y rituales de la muerte en el Occidente Romano. Colección Estudios.   Madrid:  Ediciones Liceus, 2011.  Pp. 607.  ISBN 9788498229332.  €40.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Fábio Duarte Joly, Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto (

[The Table of Contents is given at the end of the review.]

This book is the result of a conference held in Spain in 2009, sponsored by the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, in Tudela, and by Bellatrix, a research network for the study of Antiquity. Its overall objective is to address the funerary phenomenon in the Roman West focusing upon its material, sociological and ideological dimensions.

The first part of the book – “Ideological, social, and ritual approaches to death in Rome” – is composed of articles that analyze the funerary practices and conceptions of death in Rome. Maureen Carroll interprets the funerary monuments as illustrating the aspects of preservation and destruction of memory, integration and competition in society, and social and economic mobility. Donato Fasolini deals with one particular case of social integration in Rome: the mentions of tribal affiliation in inscriptions related to deceased children, a fact that reveals a concern in portraying them as potential citizens. Francisco Marco Simón reveals another face of death in Rome, one related to real and symbolic violence, as exemplified by the violent deaths of “bad emperors”, like Nero and Vitellius, by the use of torture and mutilation, and by magical-religious practices aimed at a symbolic murder, as expressed in the tabellae defixionum. Barbara Borg criticizes the thesis that changes in the patterns of building tombs after Augustus represented only a reaction to the political and social context of the Principate, which would have induced a retreat to the private and familial sphere, in spite of the public exhibition of power and prestige. Freedmen as well as members of a social and economic elite continued to promote themselves through funerary monuments, while adapting themselves to the decorum imposed by the princeps. Ana Rodríguez Mayorgas studies aristocratic funerals as a form of oral gentilicial memory, and indicates how this social practice prevailed over the building of tombs in the fourth and third centuries BC.

The three remaining articles of this part discuss the ideology of imperial power. Pierre Assenmaker analyzes how Octavian represented Caesar’s apotheosis following the conception of catasterism current in the Hellenistic monarchies. The author also advances the idea that Octavian has appropriated the theme of pietas concerning his relation to Caesar as a reaction to its use by Sex. Pompeius to honor the memory of his father, Cn. Pompeius. Alessandra Bravi also focuses on Caesar’s apotheosis as promoted by Octavian, but compares it with that of Titus, as expressed in his triumphal arch. While the former was rooted in a tradition well established in the Republican political culture – the association of Venus with military victories and with the notion of felicitas –, the latter transmitted the image of a victorious peace that has even absorbed the religious identity of the enemy, as symbolized by the Jewish menorah. Finally, Takashi Fujii takes into account Greek inscriptions from Cyprus to explain how the emperors, living and dead, were incorporated into the system of the Roman imperial cult in the East.

The second part of the book, “Archaeology of death in the Roman West,” is devoted to case studies, mostly focusing on Hispania and reviewing the thesis that the process of Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula was largely responsible for the diffusion of burial practices. Desiderio Gil illustrates funerary habits in Roman Hispania, pointing out the influences from Narbonensis as an intermediate area between the Italic and Iberian peninsulas, but also suggesting the possible preponderance of local components to explain the various forms of burials. Isabel Rodà de Llanza examines the Italic component in the funerary practices in Barcino and Tarraco, stressing the influence of the city of Narbo. This aspect is also developed by Ana Elena Garrido in her article on the Roman funerary architecture of Barcino. Ana Ruiz Osuna draws attention to the hybrid character of chamber tombs in Baetica, arguing that it is not very helpful to classify them according to homogenizing labels such as “Roman” or “Punic” types, and Charlotte Tupman advocates a method of analyzing the cupae of the Iberian Peninsula that considers their specific local contexts, rather than taking them as a priori Roman-inspired. Also considering the pressing need for new methodological approaches, Judit Prast proposes the concept of “funerary unity” to interpret the necropolis located at the eastern suburb of Tarraco.

The third part, “Death and epigraphic habit,” looks at inscriptions, mainly from Roman Spain and Italy, to emphasize the diversity of such evidence and its similarities and differences with the more usual patterns in the Roman Empire. From a more general point of view, Angela Donati briefly treats the language of funerary inscriptions, which reveals elements such as names, length of life, and tomb dimensions. Judit Végh examines aspects of the epigraphic habit in Hispania in Late Antiquity, underlining the continuities and ruptures with the epigraphic habit prior to the third century AD, and Ángel Jordán Lorenzo uses the epigraphic evidence of Hispania Citerior in the first century AD to analyze the strategies employed by those who dedicated inscriptions to promote themselves through the description of the deceased.

More specific studies in this part of the book include that of Joaquín Gómez-Pantoja, José-Vidal Madruga, and Antonio González Cordero, who examine a particular type of funerary monument, the U-shaped or symmetrically halved monolith, which is mainly located in the Spanish province of Cáceres. Lucio Benedetti and Maria Carla Spadoni study the penetration and diffusion of Latin in and around Perugia to argue that linguistic Latinization in this region occurred before the Roman conquest and thus it had been advanced by local social groups rather than imposed by the conqueror. Simone Pastor examines funerary inscriptions of gladiators that have been found in excavations in the northern area of the ancient amphitheater at Salona (Split, in Croatia), evidence hardly found outside the Italic context. Javier Andreu Pintado discusses the epigraphic habit in the territory of Vascones, stressing the necessity of an historical, archaeological, linguistic and ethnic approach to understand the diversity of the evidence found in this area. Finally, Diana Pi studies late Christian inscriptions of Tarraco, and shows how this evidence reveals the process of consolidation of Christianity among the middle and upper strata of the population.

In general, this book offers to the reader a selection of consistent approaches that aim to analyze the Roman conception of death as well as the archaeological and epigraphic evidence related to funerary practices in Rome and the Western provinces. On the one hand, the book stresses that continuities and ruptures between Republic and Empire should be taken into account regarding the conception of death and its political and private dimensions in Rome. On the other hand, in the field of epigraphic and archaeological studies of the Roman provinces, the book reinforces the shortcomings of the traditional meaning of Romanization as the imposition of Roman culture on another. It must be remarked that all articles point out that both the ideology of death and the funerary phenomena have to be understood as dynamic, multifaceted, and therefore difficult to study through interpretative models that presuppose uniform and linear evolutions of practices and beliefs.

Table of Contents

A. Arnaldi, ‘Ricordo di Lidio Gasperini’
J. A. Pintado, D. Espinosa, and S. Pastor, ‘Introducción’

I. Aproximaciones ideológicas, sociales y rituals a la muerte en Roma
1. M. Carroll, ‘Death and Society: Social and economic aspects of death in the Roman world’
2. B. E. Borg, ‘What’s in a tomb: Roman death public and private’
3. A. R. Mayorgas, ‘Individuo y familia en la memoria aristocrática de la República Romana’
4. P. Assenmaker, ‘Les défunts Pompée et César dans les propagandes de leur héritiers: L’exploitation politique des conceptions philosophiques et religieuses liées à la mort à la fin de la République’
5. D. Fasolini, ‘Designaturs rei publicae ciuis: L’ascrizione tribale dei menori’
6. A. Bravi, ‘Immaginario dell’ apoteosi e politiche imperiali a Roma tra Cesare e i Flavi’
7. T. Fujii, ‘Imperial cult and imperial death in the Roman East: Emperors represented in Cypriot inscriptions’
8. F. M. Simon, ‘Consideraciones sobre ‘la mala muerte’ en Roma’

II. Arqueología de la muerte en el Occidente Romano
1. D. V. Gil, ‘Espacios, usos y hábitos funerarios en la Hispania Romana: Reflexiones y últimas novedades’
2. I. R. de Llanza, ‘Imago mortis: El componente itálico en el mundo funerario de Tarraco y Barcino’
3. A. B. R. Osuna, ‘Cuevas, tumbas-pozo, hipogeos y tumbas a nivel de superficie: A la búsqueda de una nueva ordenación tipológica de los enterramientos de cámara en Baetica’
4. C. Tupman, ‘Interpreting the cupae of the Iberian Peninsula: A question of local identities’
5. J. C. Prast, ‘Prácticas y rituales en las áreas funerarias del suburbio oriental de Tarraco’
6. A. G. Elena, ‘Aproximación a la arquitectura funeraria romana de Barcino (Barcelona) en época alto- imperial’

III. Muerte y hábito epigráfico
1. A. Donati, ‘Il linguaggio delle iscrizioni sepolcrale’
2. J. L. G.-P. Fernández-Salguero, J. V. Madruga, A. G. Cordero, ‘¿Un raro tipo de monumento sepulcral?’
3. L. Benedetti, M. C. S. Cerroni, ‘Morte e usi epigrafici: Su alcune iscrizioni dalla Regio VII’
4. S. Pastor, ‘Vita e morte dei gladiatori Salonitani: Urne gladiatorie da Spalato, analisi e nuove interpretazioni’
5. A. A. J. Lorenzo, ‘Estrategias de auto-representación en la epigrafía funeraria de Hispania Citerior en el siglo I d. C.’
6. J. A. Pintado, ‘Mors Vasconibus instat: Aspectos del hábito epigráfico funerario en territorio de Vascones’
7. D. G. Pi, ‘El paisaje epigráfico tarraconense en época tardoantigua: Las inscripciones paleocristianas’
8. J. Végh, ‘Vita, mores et aetas: Aspectos del hábito epigráfico funerario en la Hispania tardoantigua’

Índices analíticos
a) de fuentes
b) Índice onomástico
c) Índice topográfico
d) Índice de materias
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