Tombstone of Abaskantos

The funerary stele of Abaskantos presents the particularity that it depicts two scenes in two reliefs. The upper relief portrays the typical banquet scene where a woman is reclining on the couch where a man is sitting on a chair. There are three persons presumably the children of both Abaskantos and his wife Zosime. Besides the couch there is a table with food.

According to Zaharia Covacef, this stela is “unique by its shape –narrow at the bottom and curved at the upper part—and by its contents from the upper part, where a dying woman laid down on the bed, is represented; she is supported by her daughter and her husband sits at the feet of the bed.” (Covacef 202)

In this gravestone the motif of the Thracian rider is also depicted which adds an additional level of significance to the pictorial ensemble of the stele. The rider is mounting a horse looking towards the right, galloping and approaching what seems to be an altar and a snake in a tree. The meaning of the Thracian Rider has been fixed between two big categories: either votive or funerary. In this context the funeral quality of the image may not be doubted.[1]

It is noteworthy that this gravestone actually portrays a scene where someone, presumably the deceased, is actually dying. The female’s gestures seem to lend support to such contention. The question thus remains: why is a scene of someone in pain and dying portrayed within the context of a banquet? Moreover, what is the significance of the Thracian rider in the lower relief?

Before attempting to answer those questions, it is in order to review the Greek inscription. Here is a transcription with a translation:

Ἀβάσκαντος  Σωκράτου

τὴν στήλην ζῶν καὶ φρενῶν

ἐκ τῶν ἰδίων κατεσκευούασεν

ἑαυτῷ καὶ τῇ συνβίῳ  Ζωσίμῃ

ζ̣ησάσῃ ἀμένπτως παρ’ ἐμοί·

χαῖρε παροδῖτα.[2]

Abaskantos, son of Socrates, while he lived and was sound of mind, he built this stele from his own expenses and set it up for his wife Sozime who have lived blamelessly with me. Farewell, passerby!

The conventional and formulaic elements of gravestones are also present in Abaskantos: his ancestry and a final address to the passerby in exactly the same terms as the previous stele, Timocrates’. Also, the person to whom the monument is dedicated, in this case Abaskantos’ wife, Sozime, is mentioned. Given the presence of these elements and the inclusion of the Thracian Rider it is possible to advance the theory that probably the motif of the rider is meant to ennoble Abaskantos’s family as the horse possessed connotations of nobility as has been noted by some scholars.[3]

The stele however assumes sad undertones if Covacef's contention is accepted in the sense that the banquet scene is depicting Sozime in the process of dying. As with the case of Ulpia this gravestone becomes somehow dramatic in its graphic representation of an ailing and fading person.



[1] In discussing the possible origin of the motif of the Thracian Rider in the iconography of many monuments found in Tomis, Covacef states that “The two ethnic groups –Geto-Dacian and Greek-- lived together for a long period of time. That led to a mutual influence regarding religion, fact proven by the assimilation of some local deities by the Greeks. Therefore, one of the most important local gods is transfigured to a Greek heros, portrayed on horseback; it is the case of the Thracian Rider, considered by the Greeks to be either a Heros Propileos, or a funerary symbol." (Covacef 12) For a thorough discussion on the different meanings and contexts of the motif of the Thracian rider see Nora Dimitrova’s Inscriptions and Iconography in the Monuments of the Thracian Rider.

 

[2] Packard Humanities Institute. Greek Inscriptions:

http://epigraphy.packhum.org/text/173394?&bookid=199&location=1132 

 

[3] “[…] the image of the horse was not part of the specific cult associated with a particular hero, but rather a general attribute indicating superior status. In many societies the horse was a symbol of nobility. […] The horse as a signifier of a higher status, whether a member of the social elite or a hero.” (Dimitrova 222)

 

Tombstone of Abaskantos

Tombstone of Abaskantos,

Late 2nd/3th c. CE.

Tombstone of Abaskantos