FWF-Projekt P 20953-G02; Project start: Februrary 1, 2009

Project leaders: P. Amann (applicant, Department of Ancient History, Papyrology and Epigraphy, University of Vienna), P. Ruggendorfer (national cooperation partner, Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture)                                                               

Researchers: Chr. Eder (Institut für Altorientalische Philologie und Vorderasiatische Altertumskunde der Universität Münster), T. Mitterlechner (Department of Ancient History, Papyrology and Epigraphy, University of Vienna), A. Nordmeyer (Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture), E. Rehm (Institut für Altorientalische Philologie und Vorderasiatische Altertumskunde der Universität Münster)

In the ancient world farewell rituals after the death of a person, rites at the grave, death cult and the care of keeping the memory alive played an important role, whereby each culture group developed its own specific approaches and traditions which often represent a fundamental factor in the cultural definition of the respective group. The examination of figurative themes from the sepulchral field resp. in regard to a funerary is therefore a central task of classical studies. Due to the information of the iconographic sources, the banquet motive, i.e. the festive meal and/or drinking of one or more persons, seems to be of major importance in the sepulchral context in many areas of the ancient world.

The project comprises the comprehensive examination – arranged by territory (Italy, Greece and Asia Minor) – of all banquet and revelry scenes which stand in a funerary relation from the 1st millennium BC (focus on the 8th/7th-3rd century BC). Starting point for the idea of the project was the existence of conspicuous similarities in the iconographic embellishment of grave monuments in far apart areas of the ancient world, especially in Asia Minor and Etruria. Therefore the geographic range of the examination is very broad, including the Italic peninsula in the West (researchers P. Amann, T. Mitterlechner), the Greek motherland and the islands and Asia Minor. However, in order to gain a complete overview and to pursue original concepts of the theme and possible development trends, the Ancient Near East and the Levant in the late 2nd and 1st millennium BC are included in the examinations as well (researcher E. Rehm). Correspondent findings in Egypt (especially from the ‘Saite Renaissance’ starting in the 25th dynasty – researcher Chr. Eder) and the Carthagian sphere of influence in the Central and Western Mediterranean are also considered.


The main goal of the project is a supra-regional comparison of all evidence from the entire Mediterranean area, analyzed by uniform, clearly defined premises; a venture that certainly can contribute to the supra-regional understanding of the various cultures established around the Mediterranean Sea.

Greece and Asia Minor: the Research Area of the Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture


Researchers: A. Nordmeyer, P. Ruggendorfer

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While the Homeric epics transmit seated dining, two fragments of sheet bronze from the Cave of Zeus on Mount Ida with depictions of couches from the 8th century BC show that the new custom of reclining was adopted at an early stage by the Cretan aristocracy and was apparently wide spread in the rest of Greece by the 7th century BC (especially documented by the paintings on Corinthian pottery). Several scientific opinions exist, where the tradition of reclining during a banquet or a feast has its origin. Fehr tried to trace this innovation to nomadic customs of Iranian horse-people (Medes, Persians and Scythians) at the borders of the Assyrian empire, which were adopted by the Assyrians into the courtly and luxury-accented sphere and later found their way to the mainland of Greece through the Lydians and Ionians. For Dentzer however, the origin of the custom lies in northern Syria-Phoenicia. 

In regard to the sepulchral context of images in Greek art, especially the so-called Attic ‘Totenmahlreliefs’ have early on been in the centre of attention: The older research made no difference between votive and sepulchral function and assumed a sepulchral character for almost all reliefs, while in recent times a more differentiated view has been applied. This was achieved through the consideration of the sporadic inscriptions, which were included into the interpretation by Thönges-Stringaris for the first time, the attributes of the reclining person, the artefacts, the secondary motives as well as the (infrequent) indications of the origin. Accordingly, the wide sized Attic banquet scenes from the late 5th and 4th centuries BC are votive reliefs for a hero (on rare occasions also for a god), which in regard to their function are to be separated from the ‘Totenmahl’-images – reduced of the attributes of heroes such as polos, ‘emblematic horse’s head’ and snake – that had appeared in sepulchral context on simple steles from the second half of the 4th century onwards.

Compared to other Greek regions, the Attic series of banquet reliefs (which peters out at the end of the 4th century BC) are quantitatively dominating. From the 4th century onwards, the type of the banquet relief spreads out in the entire Greek region: Boeotia, Sparta, Corinth, Tegea (which goes its own way in regard to technology and typology), Corfu, Thasos, Delos and Cos. A funerary function can be clearly proven in only a few cases. However, the oldest Greek funerary relief with a reclining figure during a meal is not from Attica, but is situated on the Boeotian Saugenes-Stele from Tanagra, which dates to the late 5th century BC and depicts a very idiosyncratic type. The majority of reliefs with banquet scenes known from Boeotia can however be assigned to the votive sphere.


From the 4th century BC onwards, the motive of reclining and banqueting gains a certain importance in the grave paintings in Macedonia and Thrace. Examples for this are the “Macedonian” grave III in Agios Athanasios, the palmette-grave in Mieza/Lefkadia or the familiar grave of Kazanlak in Thrace.

A further important tradition of the theme can be found in the monuments of Western Asia Minor. This region is full of cultural contacts and reciprocal influences; here Greek immigrants, native peoples of Western Asia Minor and occasionally Persian sovereigns existed next to each other. Dentzer rightly identifies a courtly-aristocratic context of the Anatolian nobility in the older images on storey and register steles of the Graeco-Persian upper class in the circumference of the seats of the satraps in Sardeis and Daskyleion as well as in the scenes on the friezes and reliefs of the Lycian grave monuments. However, the depictions of banquets in the Lycian sepulchral art, for example, in which the dining furniture is often absent and therefore rather show symposia, are not a homogeneous group of monuments. In the series of younger monuments from 420-300 BC this is made clear by the differing iconographic form of the collective banquets: images with several closely aligned couches, each with two reclining figures, and a great number of servants and cupbearers (e.g. on the Nereid Monument, the sarcophagi in Xanthos or the Heroon of Tyrsa) stand apart from banquets in the familial range, in which the multi-figured images include women, several children, further minor characters and dogs (e.g. the cliff-façade grave no. 53 in the necropolis II in Limyra and the Salas-Monument in Kadyanda). The differing connotation of the images is evident, but Dentzer neither separated them properly in regard to the image typology nor analyzed the sociopolitical background or the intention of the grave owner.

For the Hellenistic period, Fabricius published an important examination relevant to the topic: a fundamental analysis of the ‘Totenmahlrelief’ in the Eastern Greek cities Samos, Rhodos, Byzantion and Kyzikos, in which the socially determined ideals of the inhabitants as well as the legal and economic structures of the respective city are reflected through the differing iconographic accentuation of the image scheme.


The timeliness of the banquet motive in the sepulchral area remains evident way past Hellenistic times up to the Christian catacomb paintings in Rome and therefore also exceeds the temporal frame of the research project.



fig. 1: Mus. Istanbul Inv. Nr. 1947 (nach Thönges-Stringaris, Das griechische Totenmahl, AM 80, 1965, Beil. 5); fig. 2: Mus. Istanbul Inv. Nr. 367 (nach I. Kleemann, Der Satrapensarkophag aus Sidon, IstForsch 20 (1958) Taf. 4); fig. 3: Nat. Mus. Athen Inv. Nr. 1501 (nach N. Thönges-Stringaris, Das griechische Totenmahl, AM 80, 1965, Beil 7,2); fig. 4: Nat. Mus. Athen Inv. Nr. 3873 (nach J.-M. Dentzer, Le motif du banquet couché dans le Proche-Orient et le monde grec du VIIe au IVe siècle avant J.-C. (Rom 1982) Taf. 76 Fig. 453); fig. 5: Nat. Mus. Athen Inv. Nr. 997 (nach A. Scholl, Die attischen Bildfeldstelen des 4. Jhs. v. Chr. Untersuchungen zu den kleinformatigen Grabreliefs im spätklassischen Athen, AM Beih. 17 [Berlin 1996] Taf. 18, 12); fig. 6: (nach M. Tsimbidou Avloniti, Revealing a painted Macedonian tomb near Thessaloniki, in: A. Pontrandolfo (Hrsg.), La pitturale parietale in Macedonia e Magna Grecia, Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi in ricordo di Mario Napoli, Salerno/Paestum, 21.-23.11.1996 (Paestum 2002) Taf. 7, 1; fig. 7: Arch. Mus. Istanbul Inv. Nr. 1502 (nach J.  Fabricius, Die hellenistischen Totenmahlreliefs. Grabrepräsentation und Wertvorstellungen in ostgriechischen Städten (München 1999) Abb. 7; fig. 8: London Brit. Mus. (J.-M. Dentzer, Le motif du banquet couché dans le Proche-Orient et le monde grec du VIIe au IVe siècle avant J.-C. (Rom 1982) Taf. 53 Fig. 292).

Etrusco-Italic area: research is carried out by "Institut für Alte Geschichte und Altertumskunde, Papyrologie und Epigraphik der Universität Wien"



Researchers:P. AmannT. Mitterlechner




Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung