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Conflict in the Treatment of the Battle-Dead in Classical Antiquity

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  1. Conflict in the Treatment of the Battle-Dead in Classical Antiquity Joanne Ball, University of Liverpool

  2. Treatment of the dead?

  3. Ritual and compromise • Post-battle: lack of time and ability to bury the dead individually = mass graves commonly used • Other options: • Repatriation to civilian or military cemetery • Removal to neutral position e.g. allied territory • Abandonment Towton, AD 1461

  4. The battle-dead in antiquity • Athenian repatriation: Thuc. 2.34 • Other poleis: battlefield disposal or removal to neutral territory multiple battlefield graves (Plataea Hdt. 9.85; Marathon Pau. 1.32.3) • Romans: battlefield disposal cremation (Livy 27.2.9; Tac. Ann. 1.49) inhumation (Livy 23.46.5; Caes. BG. 1.26.5 later burial (Plut. Pomp. 39.1; Tac. Ann. 1.61-62)

  5. Scholarship • ‘[Greek] soldiers fallen in war were buried or cremated at the site of battle’ (Felton 2007: 88) • Pritchett Greek State at War volume 4 (1985) • Low 2003: ‘this Thespian monument... represents an unusual deviation from the regular Greek practice of burying the dead on the battlefield’ (pp. 108) • Low 2006: ‘the nomoi regulating their [the battle-dead’s] subsequent treatment varied from polis to polis’ (pp. 85)

  6. Questions? • What did the Greeks and Romans actually do with their battle-dead? • Were the actions pre-decided and governed by ritual, or pragmatic responses to individual circumstance? • How influential were contemporary mortuary attitudes? • Non-burial taboos and ghosts (e.g. Pau. 1.32.4; Tac. Ann. 1.65)

  7. On the battlefield • Greek : Marathon Chaeronea • Roman : Kalkriese (Varus) • Roman fear of exhumation: Pliny NH 7.54 • ‘And so, six years after the fatal field, a Roman army, present on the ground, buried the bones of the three legions; and no man knew whether he consigned to earth the remains of a stranger or a kinsman, but all thought of all as friends and members of one family’ (Tac. Ann. 1.62)

  8. Repatriation Himera, Sicily • Demographic characteristics: • Males aged 18-35 • Skeletal trauma / embedded projectiles • Communal / spatially-linked burial Spartans in kerameikos

  9. Repatriation • Thespiae: cremation and inhumation polyandrion • Himera: 7 inhumation graves, 65 individuals • Krefeld-Gellep: multiple individual inhumations; Roman and Germanic • Roman tombstones: RIB 3218; RIB 3364; • Maiden Castle: Briton casualties

  10. Conclusion • Archaeological and historical evidence are broadly consistent in identifying battlefield burial • Repatriation did occur outside the Athenian world, but may have been in limited circumstances • Greeks more likely to remove the battle-dead; Roman typically only when the battle occurred in cemetery-proximity