Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool, World Museum
Rectangular ash chest of Saburius Ligus, presumably acquired from the Mattei collection. The chest was associated with a lid with two gables separated by a bolster, with acroteria at all four corners (59.148.313b).
Although the lid is illustrated in Blundell's 'Engravings' on top of the ash chest of Lepidia Privata and M. Lepidius Epigonus, it is too big to have been the original lid of that chest and, as Davies observes (2007), the underside shaping does not tally with the ash chest. Davies adds that it fits quite well the ash chest of Saburius Ligus.
Only the front of the ash chest is decorated, the sides are worked smooth but left undecorated and the back is roughly worked. The interior cavity has rounder corners and is rouhgly worked. There are not clamp holes.
The inscription on the front is:
VIX. ANN. XXXXVIII
To the Shades.
Marcus Saburius Ligus of the Falernian tribe, from Ventimiglia, an evocatus Augusti (retained in the army) for six years, lived 38 years, proceeded from the 5th praetorian cohort.
The ash chest was thus made for Marcus Saburius Ligus a Roman citizen from the Falernian tribe from Ventimiglia in N. Italy and the name Ligus is appropriate for his origin area. He was a Praetorian Guard of the fifth cohort and was given the honour of being an evocatus for Augusti, called out for the ranks for special service. He died at the age of 38 and by that time he had been evocatus for at least 6 years on top of his service as a praetorian ranker which was for 16 year. He was therefore 16 when recruited. Evocati were soldiers of any rank still in service after their expiration of their legal contract. The epithet Augusti was only used for Praetorian soldiers. The evocati were highly trained administrators, policemen or surveyors, architects and physical training instructors highly valued for their specialised skills.
The use of the SAL formula alludes to Marcus' military service and the form of the words in the penultimate line is unique and it means that he did his 16 year service in the 5th cohort and then proceeded to the position as evocatus.
The inscription panel takes up most of the front of the ash chest and is set within a fascia and cyma mouldings. A pair of beaked and crested griffins flank the inscription panel. They are seated and face the outer corners but their heads turn back to look over their shoulders towards the panel.Griffins were popular on ash chests on the later 1 and early 2nd century AD and are always used in a heraldic pair flanking some object (sometimes a tripod). They are then the protectors or guardians of the deceased whose name would be placed in between them. The beaked griffins are associated with Apollo.
The design of the chest is simple and elegant but difficult to date. The griffins are in low relief and carved with considerable surface detail especially their wings . Similar griffins can be found in Trajanic and friezes such as the ones from the Basicilica Ulpia of Trajan's Forum in Rome and in early sarcophagi