Significance of dining in Late Roman and Early Christian funerary rites and tomb decoration
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Ingle, Gabriela Elzbieta
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The presented thesis examines dining practices associated with ancient funerary rites, and representations of meals that decorated Roman tombs. Evidence for dining, and its significance in mortuary rites, comes from various sources: from pagan, Christian and Jewish literary examples that describe funerary and commemorative events, and archaeological material of food remains and dining installations at the cemeteries, to pictures of meals depicted on different media: cinerary urns and altars, gravestones, frescoes, mosaics and sarcophagi. The aim of this thesis is to investigate available sources, focusing mainly on pictorial representations of late Roman and early Christian dining in order to assess the purpose of decorating the tombs with convivial images. The thesis begins with a discussion of how the Roman catacombs were used by early Christians, and how they were perceived by the post-sixteenth-century explorers and researchers. As our understanding of the development of the subterranean cemeteries has changed over the past centuries, so has our view of the late ancient societies and their funerary practices. Chapter 1 investigates both written and archaeological evidence for Roman funerary meals (silicernium and novemdiale) and commemorative rites during several festivals for the dead (e.g. parentalia0or0rosalia) performed by families and members of collegia. This Chapter also presents the development of the funerary Eucharist, and discusses evidence for early Christian funerary prayer. Chapter 2 focuses on memorials decorated with diners reclining on klinai, which were intended to represent the status of the deceased. Chapter 3 discusses painted collective meal scenes represented on stibadia, which are differentiated according to their interpretation: Elysian picnic scenes, images representing status of the deceased, or refrigeria (commemorative events) held by family and collegia. This section also includes an investigation into early Christian convivial images, which portray biblical stories and refrigeria. Chapter 4 presents convivial images from the catacomb of SS. Pietro e Marcellino, which provide evidence of a group of foreigners who migrated to Rome. Chapter 5, the final chapter, presents collective meal scenes on sarcophagi, which depict mythological events and picnic scenes reflecting elite villa life style. However, a small group of early Christian examples were also designed to portray honorary meals. In conclusion, the thesis provides evidence for shared funerary practices amongst different religious communities in the Roman world. Additionally, in the majority of cases the dining scenes focus on the representations of the deceased (their status or profession) rather than any particular religious affiliation; while both pagan and Christian images of refrigeria were designed to strengthen, or substituted for, actual commemorative rites.