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HOME : Classical Antiquities : Archive : Roman Marble Cinerary Urn
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Roman Marble Cinerary Urn - PF.5840b
Origin: Mediterranean
Circa: 100 AD to 200 AD
Dimensions: 7.5" (19.1cm) high
Collection: Classical
Medium: Marble

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: United States
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This marble container was used to hold the bones and ashes of a deceased person in ancient Rome. Called "cineraria," the urns were usually placed in underground chambers with niches in the walls for the individual urns. These chambers might belong to an extended family or to a burial society, which charged people a fee to bury them and maintain their burial. This cinerary urn is unfinished on the back suggesting that it was placed in a niche.

Roman cinerary urns like this one were mass- produced and personalized with an inscription. The inscription on this urn reads:


It can be translated as:

“To the departed spirit of Claudia Tryphana, who lived forty-five years, Marcus Antonius the Elder made this for his well deserved wife.”

Unfortunately, there is no relation between this Marcus Antonius and the legendary lover of Cleopatra. However, this inscription gives us an indication of Roman funerary practices. In fact, an inscription on a modern tombstone might be almost identical save for the invocation of the spirits of the dead. Overall, the similarity in funerary customs reveals how little humanity has progressed in relation to our comprehension of death and the great beyond.

Artistically, this cinerary urn as well invokes the rites of the funeral. The garland of flowers and fruits that drapes from the rams’ horns is probably meant to represent the similar garlands that were part of the funerary procession. Two birds stand atop the garland, underneath the inscription panel, and pick at the fruit. Perhaps these birds are a symbol of rebirth as they feed off the symbolic memorial of death. Overall, this urn is not so much a receptacle for the bodily remains of the deceased as it is a memorial to a life, commissioned by her loving husband.
- (PF.5840b)


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