Ash Chest



A rectangular ash chest, decorated at the front only and dedicated to Etrilia Danae by her husband P. Etrilius Abascantus. The inscription in the framed panel is: P.ETRILIVS.ABASCANTVS ETRILIAE.DANAE.VXORI KARISSIMAE translated to Publius Etrilius Abascanthus to his dearest wife, Etrilia Danae (or possibly Dana). The cognomina Abascantus and Danae suggest that the couple may have been of Greek/Asiatic extraction. The use of the same nomen (Etrilius/Etrilia) suggests that they may have been conliberti (freed slaves from the same household) who married after manumission, because as freed slaves they would both take the name of their master. Another explanation is that Danae was Abascantus' slave whom he subsequently freed and married. The text does not say that they were freed slaves and one of them could have been free born. It is not unusual for the dedicator's name to come before that of the dedicatee and it could well mean that the ash chest was meant to commemorate both of them and not just the wife. The inscription panel is unusually wide but shallow, the mouldings are also narrow and one is in the form of a twisted rope. Above the main scene there are burning torches at the front corners of the chest. In the main scene the woman reclines on a high backed couch, the back and sides of the couch enclosing her. The couch's turned legs and the deep mattress form a cushion for her elbow and shoulder. Although she is reclined she is alert and propped up on her left elbow and looking out towards the viewer. She wears a long dress with short sleeves and her right arm is raised parallel to her body and grasps a piece of drapery. A voluminous drapery wounds around her hips and lower legs. More drapery is wrapped around her left arm at the elbow and passes over her head as a veil. The veil drapery continues behind the woman and it is likely that the artist's intention was for one piece of drapery that wound around the figure's legs, its middle section around her left arm and acting as a veil over her head to her outstretched right arm. The woman holds an object on her left hand but it is unclear what this may be. Michaelis suggested a fillet. Ribbons of thin drapery hang over her mattress and emerge behind her hand but they do not seem to be attached to the object she is holding. The features of her face have been obliterated and the hair surface is damaged. Her hairstyle was of soft waves, framing her face with a central parting. This type of hairstyle is common from the end of the 1st century, beginning of the 2nd century AD. She has bare feet. The reclining deceased woman is a popular motif in funerary monuments of the second half of the 1st century AD and even later. The deceased can be shown with a cup or various utensils but women can also have other attributes, such as slippers kicked off the bed, or pet dogs and many are shown asleep rather than alert. No other attributes to the scene suggest that the alert woman is taking part in a funerary banquet. The image may be a commemorative portrait, showing her in the typical pose but it may also be a case of intending to represent the woman at ease in the afterlife, the torches above her a symbol of continuing existence after death.