Ancient Egyptian Greek and Roman Stele
Just as we use tombstones to mark graves and commemorate our dead, so too did ancient civilizations. One way to do so in the ancient world was through the use of steles. A stele is a stone slab, usually decorated in relief and inscribed, that honored the death of a person. Three of the ancient cultures that had implemented the use of the stele were the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. In comparing an example from each civilization, it is possible to see the evolution of the stele from one period to another and the different influences each civilization had on a single element.
The Egyptians had many ways to honor their dead, including the stele. Wealthy Egyptians, especially officials and priest, often had stele placed near their tombs.
These steles usually told of the name, position/rank, and the epithets of the deceased along with a funerary prayer. (Gee 224) One such example is the Funerary Stele from Dendereh from the First Intermediate Period (ca. 2150 BCE). (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) This stele belongs to a man named Tjaunty, an official during the First Intermediate Period. The stele depicts Tjaunty on the far left of the rectangular slab. The other two-thirds of the stele are reserved for inscriptions of hieroglyphs.
The depiction of Tjaunty is characteristic of the Egyptian style. The purpose of the Egyptian style was to represent the human form in the clearest and most complete way.
The head is shown in profile but with the eye in a frontal position. The reason for this is that the head is more distinct from the profile position; the eyes, on the other hand, are more representative from the frontal view. The shoulders are presented frontally with the waist, hips, legs, and feet in profile. (Gee 18)
In Tjaunty's funerary stele, Tjaunty is presented in this very distinct way. He is also shown with the symbols of his position as an official. This is known because Tjaunty's right hand is holding the same staff as in Hesy-ra's right hand in the Portrait Panel of Hesy-ra. (Janson and Janson 44) As for the inscriptions to the right of Tjaunty, this author is not able to definitively identify the meaning. It is assumed that it tells of Tjaunty's name, rank, and offers a funerary prayer.
The Greeks were also another ancient civilization that implemented the stele. It allowed them a means to commemorate their dead. Greek stele would depict an image of the deceased, often with other family members such as wives/husbands and children. The Greek grave-markers of the 3rd-1st century BCE are almost wholly restricted to the East Greek World. The most common type is tall, with architectural elements, and a big figure of the deceased with small attendants. Another type, a short and broad rectangle, depicts the deceased at a feast - the "Death Feast" or "Totenmahl reliefs." (Rothermel 354)
The Western Asia Minor Funerary Stele is one...