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Some Thoughts on the Iconography of Busts Depicted on Anatolian Tomb Steles of the Hellenistic and Roman Periods

Of obscure reasons, it is the general trend trying to establish links with the Hellenistic monumental tombs only in regards to the architecture when studies explore the Anatolian funerary architecture in the Roman period. However, when it comes to the symbolical decorative motifs used on the tombs, the situation is different. The human figures depicted half or as a bust are among the most important of these motifs. Such half-figures encountered often on the Anatolian funerary art of the Hellenistic period, especially on the tomb steles, are naturally studied in the same group as the Hellenistic sculpture. Nevertheless, for the busts on the steles dated to the Roman period, it is stated that 'they must belong to the new trend emerging in the Roman art with the Early Imperial period'. Even some scholars argue that such form of busts was used for the freed slaves in the first half of the 1st century BC in Rome while it was preferred by the wealthy elite in the provinces. However, it has been proven by numerous scholars studying the Roman funerary art that such a hypothesis does not reflect the reality and that half-bust form did not only appeal to the freed slaves. Besides, another hypothesis purporting that 'such a tradition came with the onset of Romanisation of Anatolia in the 1st century AD' does not reflect the reality either because the lacine, balleus and toga with umbo in question were not generally preferred.

The reason underlying the spread of human figures in bust form is the fact that the area on the tombs aesthetically fit the bust form only. Thus, narrow areas on steles were used for the busts while wide areas were spared for all the figures. Yet, there are steles designed as multi-tiered with narrow friezes to accommodate busts only. A similar implementation can also be observed on the altars, ostotheks or sarcophagi with garlands. Another possibility that should be considered is that the bust form, which was very old in origin and brought innovation to typology, could have been preferred just for financial or personal reasons.

Just as with the use of the bust form, there still are problems regarding the meaning of bust depictions on the architecture they are found. Generally, groups of three female busts were studied, thus leading to wrong interpretations. The concept of 'moira' proposed for such busts can be considered a hypothesis only because none of the busts called 'moiras' bear any symbols belonging to moiras nor any inscription mentioning them. In some inscriptions, the word 'moira' is stressed to be the name of the deceased. Besides, there exist steles with depictions of the busts of one woman and one man or two men and one woman. And these steles have nothing to do with moiras.

Consequently, it is not necessary to look for an external factor in the course of evaluating the busts depicted on the Anatolian tomb steles of the Roman period because similar busts are often found on tomb steles, altars and ostotheks of the Hellenistic period. As a Roman influence only the imperial hair style or facial expression observed as of the 1st century AD can be proposed.

*Dr. Taner Korkut. Akdeniz Üniversitesi, Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi, Arkeoloji Bölümü, 07058 Kampüs - Antalya.

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