Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Musee de l'Ancien Eveche | The funerary stele of Gaius Papius Secundus



This funerary stele is dedicated to the memory of one Gaius Papius Secundus, a cavalry officer (decurion) in the city of Vienne, approximately 75km to the north-west of Grenoble. Like the stele of Caius Sollius Marculus, which I discussed in a previous post, this also dates to the second century AD. This example has a triangular pediment containing a carved human head (now very worn) above a garland of some description. Below this, the letters D and M (for ‘Dis Manibus’ ‘To the gods’) are divided on either side of a representation of an ‘ascia’ or adze, a common symbol on steles of this period. The commemorative text is enclosed within a moulded, rectangular frame. Following the museum’s information card, the inscription text is on the left, while the expanded and corrected Latin is on the right:

D M
D(is) M(anibus).
G • PAPIO • SECV
G(aio) Papio Secu-
NDO • DECVRIO
ndo, decurio-
NI • C • V • INTERC TE P
ni c(oloniae) V(iennae), interc{t}ep-
TVS AN • XXXX ET
tus an(norum) XXXX et
SECVNDANO FILLIO
Secundano, fil{l}io,
EREPTVS • AN • X
ereptus an(norum) X
SENIA • MAPCVLA
Senia Marcula,
CONIVGI
coniugi
KARISSIMO
karission,
SVB • ASSCIA
sub as{s}cia
DEDCAV •
ded(i)cau(it).

This can be roughly translated as: “To Gaius Papius Secundus, decurion of the colony of Vienna, carried away [by death] at forty years [of age], and to Secundanus, his son, taken away from his affection at ten years [of age]. Senia Marcula dedicated [this monument] under the ascia [adze] for her dear husband.”


For many archaeologists and historians there’s not much remarkable about this. However, the entirety of my field experience has been in Irish archaeology - notable for a distinct and lamentable lack of Roman funerary monuments. Every time I encounter an inscription like this, I’m simply blown away. I’ve visited this museum on several occasions over the years and have, with assistance, translated the inscription (from the French version, not the Latin, I’m afraid). Much of my training in archaeology emphasised the need for calm objectivity: a reasoned approach, lacking in emotion. I’m not knocking it - It’s the way to get things done! … and yet, when faced with a monument like this, I am still drawn to the very emotional response of imagining this little family lost in time – parents who buried a child; a widow who buried her husband and commissioned a stone commemorating them all. They and their world are long gone, but this stone remains as their sentinel, speaking their names down through the centuries. As romantic and misty-eyed as that makes me sound, I’m still aware that for most of its history this stele was lost and buried – saying nothing to no one – until it was rediscovered in place Notre-Dame (i.e. very close to where it is now on display) in 1804. So, whether you want to take a hard, professional stance or are drawn to a more emotional response, you can experience both with this wonderful monument.

Stele photographed in 2003

Stele photographed in 2003