Tombs as Places of Cult and Imagination

9th International Spring School (9th - 13th March 2008)


Death is certainly not only the biological end of one»s life, but moreover the very starting signal for a whole sequence of ritual practices connected to the preparatory aspects of the burial, the burial itself and various activities aiming at the remembrance or continuation of the deceased. Nonetheless, archaeological remains of burial practices are often our only path for understanding local communities and their social structures and this demonstrates how deeply connected to materiality death actually is. The so-called history and archaeology of death can offer invaluable information on aspects as diverse as family interrelations, sanitary and alimentary habits, economic and social status, and demography. As regards the intense interconnection between death and religion, burial practices are an undisputable manifestation of a society's respect or disrespect towards its immediate past. Their inherent fixation towards the past is perhaps one of the reasons for the burial practices being so astonishingly neutral to major religious changes (for example the spread of Christianity). Beyond this, tombs can function as an important sign underlining one»s and his family»s social and even ethnic identity (the tomb of Eurysaces the baker in Rome or the conscious use of funeral cippi by Phoenicians in Late Geometric and Archaic Greece), but they can also create an imaginary, artificial picture of the deceased (Cestius' pyramid in Rome).

The 9th International Spring School will focus on the Ancient Mediterranean. Based on the literary, archaeological, and epigraphic evidence, our goal is the understanding of the religious and social issues involved in burial practices and rituals at the tomb. This will constitute a point of departure in order to investigate the mythical, philosophical, and theological conceptualisation of the life to death transition, of the »ontology« of the dead. Lectures and seminars will offer insights into different periods and contexts, from Archaic Greece down to texts by Lucian and the martyrological discourse of the Second Sophistic or Christian practices of Late Antiquity.


Based on her experience of participation in field surveys Martina Andreoli demonstrates in a case-study of a rural area situated in south-eastern Turkey the various aspects of funerary contexts outside the common mentioned areas.
Annemarie Catania's paper will follow a combination of visual, historical and mythological threads of the triumphal tradition in order to examine the depiction of Dionysos in triumph in a funerary context.
Mareike Heinritz developes a new approach towards the interpretation of the use of Greek myths in funeral contexts of the Bosporan kingdom, on the example of the myth of the Niobids. Mareike Heinritz argues in her paper that the myth of the Niobids in the Bosporan context is used in a much more abbreviated form and within the rules of a local funerary tradition.
Evangelium Petri concerns a preaching of Jesus, which he gave during the time between His death and His resurrection to those who were sleeping. To understand the sources and to figure out the cultural background and meaning of the pseudo-Peter’s writing Pia De Simone compares this narration with two references to the descent of Jesus into hell which are to be found in the 1st letter of Peter.
Lucia Marrucci's paper examines the polysemic role of the stone in ancient Greece, focussing especially on its relationships with ritual practices and with myths concerning the death. Its aim is to apply to the 'image' of the stone the analysis of Greek myth based on the idea of Polyvalence des Images, shaped by the founder of the Historical Anthropology of the Ancient World, Louis Gernet, in order to investigate some Greek attitudes toward the death.
Previous research on sarcophagi has focussed primarily on the stylistic and iconographical evaluation of their figured decoration, treating them as autonomous works of art and separating them from their original context, the graves. Katharina Meinecke instead aims to reunite coffin and context by evaluating the original setting of the sarcophagi, their position in the tombs and the funerary cult taking place around them.