Unctuous Rome

This week Big Boy T (age  7 and a half) and I are visiting Rome and the Vesuvius area and this blog will turn travelogue. We have left P and Little Boy G behind, as I am on a research trip, and I only had space for one research assistant in my suitcase. I will endeavour to present something that caught my attention every day. Today’s artefact is a stele kept in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, one of the Capitoline museums. The museum has a lovely epigraphic gallery which was a surprise hit with Big Boy T. The stele in question is a tombstone. It carries the following text, which is extremely informative:

OilFrieze: Arphocras (sic) [slave] of Caius Sulpicius Galba, masseur (unctor), while he was alive, bought this burial space for 80 denarii and this ossuary for 175 denarii for himself and for Corinthus.

Left portrait: Arphocras (sic) [slave] of Caius Sulpicius Galbas (sic), masseur.

Right portrait: Corinthus, [slave] of Caius Sulpicius Galbas (sic), lived 25 years.

On the base: Faustus, freedman of Caius Galba donated the urn; Caius Sulpicius Arpocras.

So there are three people involved here: two slaves and a freedman. Both slaves have Greek names: Harpocras and Corinthus. The least one can say is that 175 denarii did not guarantee that your name and that of your master would be spelt correctly! You may ask: how can all this text fit on such a small stele? Well, that is because the Romans use – overuse – abbreviations. It’s quite baffling when you first encounter Roman inscriptions. But you do get used to it after a while.

What made me choose this stele is of course the fact that Harpocras is a masseur. He dealt in scented oils. Hopefully I will find In Rome some inspiration to produce some new cosmetics. I realise it is a long time since I last posted about my kitchen experiments!

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