BMCR 2022.07.18

Das Sepulkralwesen im Rauen Kilikien am Ende der Antike. Funerärarchäologie und Grabepigraphik einer spätantiken Landschaft

, Das Sepulkralwesen im Rauen Kilikien am Ende der Antike. Funerärarchäologie und Grabepigraphik einer spätantiken Landschaft. Forschungsstelle Asia Minor im Seminar für alte Geschichte der Westfälischen Wilhelms-Universität Münster. Asia Minor Studien Band 98. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH, 2021. Pp. xvii, 226; 91 illustrations. ISBN 9783774942806 €85,00.

Cubas Díaz’s study, based on his 2018 Heidelberg dissertation, focuses on a fascinating area of Asia Minor, the central part of Rough Cilicia between the rivers Kalykadnos and Lamos, where countless often well-preserved tombs (and other monuments) have left and continue to leave a lasting impact on early and modern travelers alike. While the epigraphic material of the area was comprehensively collected by Keil and Wilhelm about a hundred years ago[1], and a few cemeteries (and their monuments) received a likewise pioneering study by Machatschek some decades later[2], Cubas Díaz’s book connects these two fields of research for the Roman Imperial and the Early Byzantine periods, and he is to be lauded for that. His study opens new perspectives on a region which still seems to have much to offer.

The book opens with a short English summary, translated from the German summary at the end of the book. The general introduction gives a very short history of research and identifies the interrelation between inscriptions and their carriers, that is the funerary monuments, and their locations as the most overlooked aspects of Roman Imperial and Late Antique (Central) Rough Cilicia. Cubas Díaz intends to correlate the texts and the monuments, focus on the location and the perception of the inscriptions and thus open new perspectives on Late Antique changes in the sepulchral sphere in this region; he is concerned neither with a typology of monuments, nor with the epigraphic habit, but with the funerary habit, that is the combination of both. A short geographical and historical introduction of the region sets the stage for what follows.

The second chapter presents Cubas Díaz’s case studies: Diokaisareia, Elaiussa Sebaste, Kanytelleis, Karakabaklı and Işıkkale, Korasion, and Korykos. The subchapters on the individual sites shortly introduce the geography, history and history of research, describe the layout and the most important buildings of the settlement (sometimes in considerable depth), the disposition and composition of burial sites and the distribution and content of funerary inscriptions, and finally summarize the findings briefly. These sections rarely contain new thoughts but usefully introduce the sites to readers not already familiar with them from the respective primary publications.

The third chapter provides an epigraphic analysis. It is based on a new catalogue of 884 funerary inscriptions from the area (including sites beyond Cubas Díaz’s case studies) created by the author, which is not part of the book (a digital publication “is envisaged”, p. 74). Cubas Díaz only provides a catalogue-like list of 15 texts (pp. 75–79) which are “first taken into account” (although all of them have been shortly commented on in MAMA III and Cubas Díaz provides no new readings, but only more information on the contexts). The chronological classification of the texts is problematic, and paleographic differences cannot be chronologically interpreted, because fixed dates are lacking. Spelling was not standardized. The more consistent textual contexts are analyzed according to terms denoting the grave, onomastics, geographic origin and mobility, occupations, offices and institutions, religious affiliation, temporal indications, and legal aspects. In his observations on characteristics of the local epigraphic habit, Cubas Díaz notes a sharp increase of the number of known texts, but also a standardization of the formulae in Late Antiquity.

The fourth chapter deals with the actual monuments and is organized according to typological criteria (to a large extent based on Machatschek). It shortly classifies built tombs (towers, temple-like graves, grave houses, arcosolium-like built tombs, simple grave buildings), rock-cut tombs (rock-cut niches, including arcosolia, rock-cut chamber tombs), sarcophagus-like graves (freestanding and rock-cut sarcophagi and chamosoria), cist graves as well as grave altars and columns and their decoration. Although their respective distribution in Cubas Díaz’s area of research is briefly noted, no systematic compilation is given (evidence from sites within Cubas Díaz’s area but beyond his case studies is mostly excluded, although this would have added quite some variation to Cubas Díaz’s picture), and monuments from adjoining areas of Cilicia or even other regions in Asia Minor are not considered. This is somewhat unfortunate, because such an approach could have shed some light on the often-problematic chronology. The systematic robbing of tombs since antiquity explains why the only grave goods illustrated stem from a 1st century BCE/CE grave excavated in Elaiussa Sebaste (pl. 76b). But there would have been alternatives: Cubas Díaz notes Machatschek’s pioneering approach to use the proportions of sarcophagi as an indication on their date but does not expand on it (p. 117). He also does not analyse the distribution of formal or typological characteristics within the respective necropoleis. The monuments themselves obviously were not of prime interest to Cubas Díaz, and this slightly undermines his general approach. His indications on chronologically distinct phenomena can often separate the 2nd/3rd century CE from the succeeding centuries (most probably from the 5th and 6th centuries, with the interesting possibility of a break in between), but he does not try to go into more detail.

The fifth chapter is the central one which aims to connect the monuments and their inscriptions and first tries to contextualize both. It recapitulates that sarcophagi were most consistently inscribed, but that the carriers of the texts did not influence the content of the inscriptions to a high degree. In the Roman Imperial period, visibility from afar and/or from roads was an important factor influencing the placement of burials, while in the Early Byzantine period, the churches emerged as new focal points (although this is rarely verifiable, because few churches have been excavated). In small settlements, the graves were sometimes placed near houses (most notably Karakabaklı). In these contexts, the integration of inscriptions was not necessary, because the owner of the neighboring house was known to all (it would have been interesting if this applies to more of the multiple smaller sites the region comprises). But differing spatial concepts could also be used concurrently. Even though some inscriptions were plainly visible (sarcophagi next to streets) and others only meant to be seen by few (within rock-cut tombs), this seems not to have systematically influenced what was said in the respective texts. A result the reader may only find between the lines is that the local epigraphic habit cannot always be explained with common sense. The second part of the chapter focuses on the visualization of status and commemorative practices. Cubas Díaz observes that the family seems to have lost its significance as the collective group towards which funerary activity and representation were directed; the congregation got more important, and while commemoration of the dead took place at the grave in the Roman Imperial period, the church now assumed this function. As far as funerary representation is concerned, public offices were of minor significance, and the inscriptions of Jews and Christians are alike, as are their places of burial. The indication of professions was remarkably important at Korykos and Korasion, and Cubas Díaz notes that those conducting the same trade (and part of the same guild?) were often interred close to each other (although Cubas Díaz unfortunately argues only based on the individual necropoleis and does not deal with the specific placement of graves within them).

A short summary recaps the approaches and the results of the book. The appendix includes a bibliography, a geographical, an epigraphical and a general index, a list of monuments with multiple funerary inscriptions, tables summarizing the information on professions from funerary inscriptions and lists of the forms of tabulae ansatae and crosses chosen. The book’s illustrations include 91 plates with (mostly black-and-white) photographs, maps, charts, plans and drawings, which do not only give an overview over the actual funerary monuments, but also accompany Cubas Díaz’s general introduction of the sites in chapter 2. Noteworthy is a set of helpful plans of the individual sites (and sometimes sections of their necropoleis), redrawn by the author, on which the funerary monuments are (roughly) marked in red color (the plans for Korykos and Diokaisareia are foldable maps). Unfortunately, references to individual plates within the book are sometimes incorrect.

Overall, Cubas Díaz’s approach to combine funerary archaeology and the respective inscriptions seems rewarding, although it may not have been fully utilized. The summary identifies topological and praxeological approaches and Rezeptionsästhetik as central, but while the degree to which the last two approaches can be used is limited by the mostly brief texts and similarly uncharacteristic monuments—even though Cubas Díaz makes the most of it—, the topological approach seems not exhausted. This is due to the fact that data from the many sites beyond Cubas Díaz’s (cleverly chosen) case studies are used only to a limited extent, and to the fact that Cubas Díaz rarely tries to understand the composition of the individual necropoleis. To a certain degree, this may be explained with the problem that these cemeteries have only very rarely been mapped in their entirety in previous research (Machatschek’s description of his necropoleis was rather impressionistic, as has been justly criticized long ago[3]). But still, this opens many questions: In which way do tombs used by Jews, or by followers of the same professions, cluster within the individual cemeteries? Is there any way to relate smaller groups of tombs within the individual necropoleis to each other because of their inscriptions, or, maybe more plausibly, by their position and orientation? And how may we interpret such patterns? How do the other smallish inland village sites compare to Karakabaklı and Işıkkale? Can we notice any meaningful patterns in the distribution of the various types of monuments if we compare multiple sites or various types of sites? And how can we interpret these? Can we identify general patterns of funerary representation valid beyond the individual site? This list of questions is not exhaustive, of course—but it may suggest that there remains much to do. Cubas Díaz’s book offers some convincing results, but it also raises new questions, it opens new perspectives. In any case, it usefully introduces an underappreciated region to readers unfamiliar with this special part of Asia Minor.


[1] J. Keil – A. Wilhelm, Denkmäler aus dem Rauhen Kilikien, MAMA III (Manchester 1931).

[2] A. Machatschek, Die Nekropolen und Grabdenkmäler im Gebiet von Elaiussa Sebaste und Korykos im rauhen Kilikien, ETAM 2 (Wien 1967).

[3] See G. Koch, Review of Machatschek 1967 (see above n. 2), GGA 224, 1972, 240–248.