Greek Grave Stela [Object of the Day #22]

July 17, 2012

Greek Grave Stela from 300 - 350 BCE
Greek Grave Stela from 300 – 350 BCE

The design of this Greek grave relief is common for the Classical period of the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. All three figures are dressed in typical Classical Greek costume: the seated woman wears a chiton* with a mantle or himation* while the men wear only a himation. The woman is older, a matron, as shown by her fuller figure and shorter hair. The longer beard and hair identifies one of the two men as older.

This relief might well have been one that was “ready-made” and purchased by the family; it was then given a distinct identity by the addition of three inscriptions just below the roof. The letters are difficult to read and nearly invisible, but careful analysis has shown that they spell out the names of the three figures:
Krinylla*, daughter of Stratios*
Naukles*, son of Naukrates* of Lamptrai*
Naukrates*, son of Naukles*, of Lamptrai*

Ancient Greeks did not have last names, so names of fathers and hometowns or districts would serve to identify men and women.

On this stele we can say that Krinylla is shaking the hand of her son Naukrates, while her husband Naukles stands by.

The gesture of shaking hands frequently appears on grave reliefs, apparently as the living bid farewell to the deceased. Here it probably means that Naukrates has just died, and his parents are saying good-bye.

Grave reliefs like this were the province of the wealthy. At various times in Athenian history, laws were passed to restrict the construction of elaborate tomb monuments, and by the late 4th century BCE, they were outlawed altogether.

Penn Museum Object #MS5470.

See this and other objects like it in Penn Museum’s Online Collection Database.