Roman Funerary Reliefs and North African Identity: A Contextual and Comparative Investigation of Tripolitanian Iconography

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


In Tripolitania, Roman-period cemeteries are rich in mausolea decorated with
funerary reliefs and statues that depict ritual, religious, and symbolic scenes, as
well as representations of daily life. However, research on these reliefs has been
predominantly conducted on scenes correlating with Roman or Punic artistic
norms, with the focus being on individual sites or monuments. As a result, many
aspects that influence or determine the choice of relief depictions on funerary
monuments have received very limited attention, despite their potential to elucidate much about localized North African traditions, religion, and rituals.
The argument is presented through a case study comparing the images of the funerary reliefs on the temple-type mausolea of the desert town of Ghadames and of the architecturally similar tombs at Ghirza (800 km to the east). Ghirza’s mausolea were decorated with so-called Roman style funerary reliefs. However, Mattingly (Imperialism, Power and Identity. Experiencing the Roman Empire [Oxford 2011]) notes that their style, art, and symbolism are localized and do not conform to Roman imperial art of the capital of the empire; instead, they show scenes of daily life, ceremony, and religion. The representations in the reliefs of Ghadames are different to those found at Ghirza, such as through the rendering and the choice of scenes depicted. Such scenes show their own traditions, symbolisms, and dress in a very unique way, which are probably influenced by the prime location of Ghadames as a nodal point in the network of trans-Saharan trade.
The reliefs of the two different locations are critically examined and compared
by exploring new ways of interpretation; this is principally accomplished by investigating the iconography of the funerary reliefs and their reflection of local identities and/or ethnicity, rather than simply being a by-product of “Romanization” and “Imperialism.” Furthermore, I investigate the extent to which we can speak of adoption, resistance, or continuation of local traditions within these depictions.
My research demonstrates that, although the funerary reliefs are susceptible to
multiple readings, the different use of images was not accidental but a conscious
selection depending on local power relations, religion, trade connections, and
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 5 Jan 2012
EventArchaeological Institute of America Annual Meeting: 112 TH ANNUAL MEETING - Marriot Hotel, Philadelphia, United States
Duration: 5 Jan 20128 Jan 2012


ConferenceArchaeological Institute of America Annual Meeting
Abbreviated titleAIA
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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