Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Grenoble Archaeological Museum | Gravestone of Populonia

This inscribed slab of carrara marble dates to the late 6th to early 7th century and was discovered in 1920 in the Saint-Ferjus cemetery in La Tronche, Grenoble. The cemetery is only about 1km to the east of Saint-Laurent and the slab is close in date to the carving of the capitals in the Saint-Oyand crypt. Although the decoration here is incised and that of the capitals is executed in false relief, there is a similarity in the decorative choices. Here we see a two-handled vessel, or cantharus, sprouting swags of luxuriant foliage. On each side there is a bird of some description, looking over its shoulder. While the intention must have been to create a symmetrical composition, the vine on the right swoops noticeably lower than the one on the left, sufficient for a leaf to touch one of the birds. The composition, down to the noticeable lack of symmetry, are reminiscent of the 2nd century parakeet mosaic in the Musee del’Ancien Eveche. While the break from perfect symmetry in the mosaic is very minor, I find it deeply annoying, the deviation on this slab is much greater and I actually find it enhances the composition.

The inscription reads:

[In this] tomb rest in peace, well remembered, a servant of god devoted to the lord, the young Populonia [who] in the hope of resurrection, by the mercy of Christ, lived 25 years and died on the Ides of October, in the twelfth [year] of the indiction.


An indiction was a proclamation issued on a 15-year cycle in the later Roman Empire, but continued throughout medieval Europe. It fixed the valuation of property to be used as the basis for taxation. The cycle of indiction was commonly used, as here, for dating events. Unfortunately, as we do not know the exact cycle, we are unable to date either the slab or ‘the young Populonia’ with any accuracy.

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