Trophies and tombstones: commemorating the Roman soldier

Hope, Valerie M. (2003). Trophies and tombstones: commemorating the Roman soldier. World Archaeology, 35(1) pp. 79–97.



This paper explores the commemoration of the Roman soldier both in peacetime and in war. Hundreds of tombstones and funeray monuments record the life and death of Roman military personnel, but the vast majority of these monuments appear to commemorate soldiers who died in camp rather than on the battlefield. How were the victims of warfare disposed of and in what ways were the graves marked and the loss of life recorded? In comparison with the Greek world there seems to have been little desire to record the individual sacrifices made in Roman warfare. Triumphs and trophy monuments were methods of recording victories but not the true carnage of battle. Here this public, cleaned-up image of warfare is placed alongside the practicalities of disposing of the dead and the sense of public loss. The paper also evaluates the extent to which individual identity (as celebrated by peacetime military tombstones) was subsumed to the state in times of conflict and then explores the few exceptional occasions when 'war memorials' that commemorated and named the dead were constructed.

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