October 2020

Marble funerary relief for Leucius Cornelius Neon

A seated woman is greeted by a man, accompanied by his servant and his horse.

In the background, a female servant is carrying a wooden box, while a snake is curling around a tree trunk. The relief (inv. no. ΜΘ 10773) dates around 50 BC and originates from the western cemetery of ancient Thessaloniki (district of modern Xirokrini).

For both Greeks and Romans, the –forbidden today due to the coronavirus crisis– gesture of handshaking (or “dexiosis”, to follow the ancient Greek term for shaking the right hands) was a gesture fit for farewells, for greeting friends, or for sealing an agreement, while in works of art it is meant to imply a deeper connection between two persons, usually relatives.  

The young man who greets the majestic-looking woman is probably the honored deceased. The snake behind him leaves no doubt about this, since snakes facing the dead frequent such reliefs, as a symbol of death and of hope for rebirth.

A bilingual inscription is present on the flat part of the stele, below the deceased, with the same text repeated in Latin and Greek:

L(eucio) Cornelio L. l(iberto) Neoni 

P(oplius) Tetrinius P. l(ibertus)  Amphio  

Λεύκιωι Κορνήλιωι Νέωνι

Πόπλιος Τερτήνιος Αμφίων

Laconic as it may be, the inscription informs us that this funerary monument was funded and erected by Poplius Tetrinius Amphio for his friend Leucius Cornelius Neon. Bilingual inscriptions are not usual in early Roman Thessaloniki, and this fact, as well as the Roman-type names, is proof of the two men belonging to the city’s Roman community. But the word “libertus” bears witness to their slave origin, having been granted their freedom later by their masters! So they are not Roman citizens with full rights.      

Amphio cared for his friend’s monument as best as he could. In spite of his meagre income, he commissioned this relief to a quite competent artist, who pictured the deceased as a free Roman citizen belonging to the cavalry. The relief must have been crafted in Thessaloniki, in a period that many Roman citizens –and even more freed slaves– were introduced to its population.

The funerary relief is located at the exhibition Thessaloniki Metropolis of Macedonia, hall 2.