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Forum Antiquum 24 November - Straddling Borderlines: Divine Associations in Funerary Commemoration

  • Barbara Borg
Thursday 24 November 2016
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden

On Thursday 24 November Professor Barbara Borg (Exeter) will deliver a lecture on divine associations in Roman funerary culture. She specifically focuses on temple tombs and portraits in divine costume.

The speaker

Since 2004 Barbara Borg has been Professor Of Classical Archaeology in the University of Exeter in the UK. In 1990 she obtained her doctoral degree in Göttingen, and she subsequently worked for a long period in Heidelberg. After multiple publications on mummy portraits and early Greek art she now concentrates on the Roman imperial age, paying special attention to the period of the Second Sophistic. In her study of funerary culture she is mainly interested in the ideological value and visual, “rhetorical” elements of tombs and portraits. In 2013 Crisis and ambition: tombs and burial customs in third-century CE Rome (Oxford University Press) appeared, and in 2015 the Blackwell’s Companion to Roman Art, of which she was the editor; in preparation is a book on Roman tombs (provisional title: The art of commemoration in second-century CE Rome).

Time and venue

The lecture takes places in the Heinsius conference room, opposite our usual venue, the Vossius conference room, in de University Library (south hall, second floor). Start at 16:00 (sharp!). Everyone with an interest in the subject is warmly invited! Further discussion will be possible during drinks at the Pakhuis.


This lecture contributes to a longstanding and controversial debate by looking at temple tombs and portraits in divine costume, the two strongest divine associations we find in Roman funerary culture. It aims to disentangle various aspects of divine associations such as metaphorical (verbal or visual) panegyric, a hierarchy of honours, different degrees and kinds of divinity, immortality, and belief in an afterlife. I take issue with some prevailing views in classical archaeology: that divine associations are primarily a matter for the freedmen class; that temple tombs and portraits in divine costume are an indication of ‘internalization’ and retreat into the private sphere; that they must be either mere visual rhetorical panegyric (majority view) or else an indication of apotheosis (normally not further explained). Taking into account a range of different sources including archaeological, epigraphic, and literary, I argue that they rather beg the question of what divinity is, for the Romans, and why it was desirable.

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