Rome Journal

Andrew moves to Italy. Hilarity ensues.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

back from the dead!

You KNOW you really haven't posted a blog entry in a while when people start emailing you to ask if you're okay. (I mean, besides your mother. Not that I only keep in contact with my mom via blog. Seriously. Hi mom!) Anyway, I'm fine; I've been overwhelmed with work for the last month or so, but things are clearing up a little bit.

So I'm not dead; but it's a good time to talk about death, and specifically my recent trip to Isola Sacra. Which, I'd like to point out, isn't an island, nor is it especially sacred. What it is, is an area that runs along the ancient road between Ostia (at the mouth of the Tiber and the ancient port of Rome) and Portus (the slightly less ancient port of Rome, built by the emperor Claudius and expanded by Trajan). Romans didn't like to put tombs inside their cities; instead, they'd string them out, along the roads leading out of town. That's what Isola Sacra is: a necropolis, or city of the dead.

Here's a shot from just off the main road, sort of a byway of the necropolis. You can see how the tombs are built like little houses. And like any other city, some neighborhoods are pretty ritzy, others a little more down-at-the-heels. Really poor folks just popped a body in the ground and marked it with an amphora.

This is the family tomb of a guy called Tiberius Claudius Eutychus. It's a decent sized tomb, with lots of niches inside for ashes: as the inscription says, he spent eternity with his wife, kids and slaves. Family togetherness, how nice.

Here's a closeup of one of the reliefs on the tomb. It shows a horse driving a grain mill (why it's crossing its legs, I don't know. Maybe it's just bashful.) There's a guy on the right who looks like he's maybe carrying a whip.

Presumably Eutychus was a miller, or involved somehow in the grain trade. From his name (Greek for "Lucky"), we can presume that he was a freedman, and he must have done at least pretty well for himself; this ain't a bad tomb. But it's nothing compared to this tomb, outside of Porta Maggiore in Rome:

This is the famous "Tomb of the Baker"- Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, another freedman made good, who set up this huge, bizarre-looking tomb on a major road leading into the city. He made his fortune as a baking contractor, and celebrated his life with this tomb, which has a relief showing scenes of people making, delivering, and selling bread. Eurysaces was obviously proud of his life's work, and had the confidence to design this tomb that (while it anticipates the style of Fascist modernism) isn't like anything else out there. Eutychus was a little less successful, and a little less showy. But he obviously wanted passers-by to know what he did for a living.

Unfortunately, he seems not to have done a very good job of undead-proofing his tomb. Moments after we arrived, we witnessed this horrible, horrible scene of a zombie attack. The carnage was really quite dreadful: brains spattered all over the place. (Fortunately, the Centro staff come equipped with shotguns and chainsaws, in case of just such an event. Whew!)