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“Scroll in Hand” An Attempt to Explain a Common Iconographic Motive of Roman Funeral Representations


Roman funeral monuments can be found virtually everywhere in the former territory of the Roman Empire, that is ca. 36 countries today from Britain to Iraq and Germany to Algeria. According to some calculations their number can exceed the half a million.

The ancient Roman tombstones were not only grave-markers. Their main purpose was to keep memory of the deceased alive. To achieve this they indicated everything which—in accordance with their values—recalled the person passed away, signed his standing in the social structure, his profession, his role within the narrower community, as well as denoted his religious affiliation and his relations with the transcendent. The stone monuments, however, do not exclusively confess through their inscriptions about the deceased, but their ornaments and pictorial representations carry important information about the deceased person as well. We can assume that for the contemporary observers the meaning of the frequently used “scroll in hand”-motive on the funeral monuments was obvious, but modern-day scholars—without a comprehensive basic research—only could formulate hypotheses. 

Members of our research group are undertaking to collect all “scroll in hand”-type representations from the former territory of the Roman Empire. Our plan is to build-up an open access on-line database of these epigraphic material (including reliefs and inscriptions belonging to them) with the help of which we could compare the text and pictures. Just to give a few examples: the scroll could be a profession-marker if we would have been informed from the inscription that the deceased was a copyist or librarian; the scroll could considered as a legal document if we knew that the person was a former slave who has been liberated etc. by the end of the research we hope to be able to determine the basic types of meanings of this very common Roman iconographic motive.


Processed monuments
Conference presentations

project members

lead researcher

senior researcher




Ernő Szabó

An unpublished Roman tomb stele fragment with inscription from the Janus Pannonius Museum in Pécs

Grüll, Tibor

Representations of Writing Materials on Roman Funerary Monuments Text, Image, Message

Grüll, Tibor

Papirusztekercs és pásztorbot – Frígia faragott és írott világa

Grüll, Tibor

‘The Book of Fate’: A Distinctive Representation of Matronae/Parcae and the Spread of Literacy in the Northern Provinces of the Roman Empire

Szabó, Ernő

Popular Interpretation of Two Roman Tombstones in Flóris Rómer’s Travel Notes)




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