Gravestone of Grata
Translation: ‘To the spirits of the departed. Grata, daughter of Dagobitus, aged 40 years. Solinus had this made for his dearest wife.’
From their grave monuments or sarcophagi, at least we know their names: Claudia Martina, Grata, Atia, Marciana. They lived at very different times: Grata perhaps as early as 100 CE, Claudia somewhere between 100 and 200, Marciana around 250, Atia as late as 300-350. In three instances we know how old they were when they died. Grata was 40, Claudia 19, Marciana just ten.
The monuments give us no details about how they lived. But do they tell us how other people felt about them? Marciana’s father hoped the memory of his daughter would survive in perpetuity (‘memoriae perpetuitati’). To Grata’s husband, she was ‘dearest’ (‘karissimae’). In the eyes of the dedicator, perhaps her father, Atia was not only ‘dearest’ (‘carissimae’) but ‘deserving’ (‘meritis eius’).
Images of Atia and Marciana appear on their monuments, both in the form of head-and-shoulders busts. But can they fairly be described as ‘portraits’? Both wear similar tunics. Marciana’s is entirely stylised, while Atia’s is more fully modelled with heavy folds; she draws it across her chest with her right hand, exposing her index and middle fingers. Marciana’s face is crudely delineated, her hair neatly arranged in waves on either side of a central parting – a hair-style made fashionable by empresses of the period 200-250 CE. Of Atia’s features, however, there is nothing. Not as a result of subsequent damage but because her head was never more than roughly blocked out. Why so?