Introduction to grave monuments

The relief gravestones of the Greek world created a mode for commemoration of the dead which has influenced funerary art in the west to the present day. It started, however, in a manner easily paralleled in other cultures, where the desirability of marking a grave was recognised, if for no other reason than to ensure it was not disturbed. This marker, which in 8th-century Greece and thereafter need be no more than a large vase, was more commonly a stone slab. The addition to the slab of the name of the dead and shaping of the stone into human form can be documented in 7th-century Greece though it was not widespread.

Drawing of Gravestone from Thera
  • 7th c. gravestone from Thera, with the name of the dead
Drawing of Gravestone From Kimolos
  • 7th c. gravestone from Kimolos, roughly shaped in human form
Drawing of limestone shapes
  • 7th c. roughly shaped limestone from a cenotaph on Thera.

In the continuing history of gravestones two basic types emerge - figures in the round, notably the archaic kouroi and korai, and relief gravestones (stelai) with one or more figures. These at first represent the dead generically, the identity being given by inscription. Athens and Attica dominate the story but there are important local variations and inventions.

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