The Banquet Scene

When one examines the three gravestones of Ulpia Aurelia Valeria, Timocrates and Abaskantos one feature common to these artifacts calls attention immediately: all three feature a banquet scene. The presence of this iconographic motif within a funerary context is not a rarity; rather it is a customary characteristic of Late Antique burial practices and its roots grow deep into the farthest Antiquity. As Katherine Dunbabin puts it, “Reclining banqueters, dining or drinking, are ubiquitous on Greek and Roman funerary monument and in the decoration of tombs. They appear in many forms, from elaborate scenes of convivial banquets with numerous participants to the isolated drinker.” (Dunbabin 104) Robin Jensen also coincides on the ubiquity of this funerary motif and adds a chronological span: “Pictorial representations of the deceased reclining on a couch (kline) and enjoying a banquet are nearly ubiquitous in Greek and Roman funerary sculpture from the fifth century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E.” (Jensen 107-8)

At face value it seems a rather easy task to ascribe a meaning to these funerary artifacts but, as Dunbabin claims, the task is not really as easy: “Occasionally, the monuments themselves contains clues, visual or verbal, to how their owners wanted them to be read, but most of them give little indication whether those who commissioned them believed that they would remain still drinking in the tomb or that they would pass to an eternal banquet in the next world, or whether their attention was entirely fixed on the pleasures of this world, and they had no hope of any such enjoyment in the next.” (Dunbabin 126)