Ash Chest



Rectangular ash chest, decorated on the front and the sides and with an inscription mentioning M. Burrius Felix. The inscription has been difficult to read because it is too worn, especially the ends of the lines are difficult to read. Davies (2007 ) read the inscription as following: DIS MANIBUS SACRVM M. BURRIO FELICI PATRON BENE MERCENTI FECIT M BYRRIVS HERMES M BVRRIVS [ //} RIVS ET BURRIA [///] MINI M.BVRRIVS VANNIVS M BVRRIVS ATTICVS M BYRRIVS ABASCANTVS The inscription is very long and cramped in the space, the letters are plain. The general meaning is that five freedmen and one freedwoman dedicated the ash chest to their patron M. Burrius Felix who was a well deserving patron. All the freedmen had taken the patron's nomen and praenomen and their names suggest they were of Greek origin. The patron may have also been a freeman because of the cognomen Felix. The front of the chest has columns with spirally fluted shafts and Corinthian or leaf capitals and low bases. Two sets of garlands hang from the capitals: a fruit and a flower one hang under the inscription and across a double crossed door. Shorter laurel garlands hang vertically down from the capitals between the columns and the inscription panel. The door is made of two leaves with two panels each and have heavily outlined mouldings which makes the panel look in recession. In each panel there is a lion's head with a ring in its mouth. The central doorpost has marks made with drillholes to suggest studs and an architrave and a low pediment with acroteria over the door. By the door there are two beaked (eagle) griffins, seated with their backs facing the door and their heads turning back over their shoulders. At the back corners there are pilasters with very worn capitals and deep moulded bases. The field between the corner column and the pilaster has an eagle on each side with half spread wings and its feet placed on a squirming snake. The eagle on the right side looks like it has another snake wrapped around its beak. A stylised tree possibly a laurel is behind each eagle. The door is a common design in ash chests and grave altars and it was used to either suggest that the ash chest is a miniature of a bigger architectural building or to represent the door to Hades or the barrier between the living and the dead. In the latter part of the first century BC seated griffins were extremely popular. In this ash chest they look like guardians of the door and may have an apotropaic role. Although eagles are common in ash chests their position here and their combination with laurel trees is more unusual. The ash chest is dated in the later part of the 1st century AD because of the motifs used in its decoration and the rather cluttered appearance, the large figures and the deep drilling, the style of the garland and the careless flutting of the columns. The three quarter position of the griffins is unusual. It was acquired from the Villa Cesarina and exported by Ios del Prato.