Roman Cinerary Urns in Coloured Stone: Production and Significance: In Two Volumes

Simona Perna

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

282 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis concerns cinerary urns employed in early Imperial Roman burials and carved from coloured stones: calcareous alabaster, purple porphyry, pink/red granite, olivine basalt. A vase-shape typologically distinguishable into four groups and little surface decoration set these urns aside from other known types of Roman ash containers.
The current number of 116 genuine ancient extant examples suggests that these urns were rarer than others, while their shapes and materials in combination with the type of funerary contexts where they are found bears out indication of high status patronage. This was in part made apparent by previous scholarly debates that, however, carried out formal analyses of these urns mainly highlighting their value as artworks. The primary aim of this research is to shed light on the urns’ production and ritual significance by creating a comprehensive analytical corpus. The methodology through which I carry out my analysis includes a typological and metrological classification of the urns’ shapes; a review of the stone’s characteristics, sources and symbolism; a reconstruction of the urns’ manufacturing techniques to assess labour efforts and artisans’ identity; a contextual survey of the burial evidence to reconstruct the distributional, chronological, ritual and social picture of use of these objects.
The typological framework I created exposes the numeric preponderance of a standard urn-type: the tureen. Egyptian calcareous alabaster is the prevailing stone type. The production sequence for the tureen urns involves the use of sophisticated tools and machineries most likely of Egyptian origin. The occurrence of tureen urns in elite burials primarily in Rome and some western provinces bears claims of status display and conspicuous funerary expenditure. The chronological horizon of use spans from the mid-end of the 1st century BC and the late 2nd century AD with a peak of tureen occurrences in the Julio-Claudian period.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Claridge, Amanda, Supervisor
Award date1 May 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


  • Roman Sculpture
  • Egyptian Coloured Stone
  • Stone Vases
  • Roman Funerary Practices
  • Typology
  • Social Identity
  • Social Status
  • Luxury Display
  • Carving Techniques

Cite this