FUNUS I: Spaces and Funeral Use in Colonia Patricia Corduba

National R&D&I Plan (1998-2001) with support from the ERDF Funds. Ministry of Science and Technology.
Duration: 1999-2001 Reference: 1FD97-0295
Institution: University of Córdoba Center: Faculty of Philosophy and Letters
Departament: History of Art, Archaeology and Music Director: Prof. Dr. Desiderio Vaquerizo Gil

In the context of global archaeological analysis applied to the city of Cordova as a unique site, the study of the necropolis intended to act as an important complement, not only because the layout of a city’s funerary areas – and their distribution in space – usually a first grade indicative to apprehend the urbanistic oscillations of this population, but also because nothing appears more clarifying in relation to the living than the confrontation with their dead; His attitude to death, his rites, the typology of his burials, his schemes, and, ultimately, the ideological component that can be drawn from all of this. Moved by this approach and the urgent need to open a line of research that would generate an adequate framework in which to insert both the information obtained from the old and the results provided daily by the new archaeological urgency interventions in the city of Cordova, we proposed in 1997 an ambitious Project for Research, Space and Funerary Uses in Corduba that obtained the support of the National R&D Plan, financed with 21,500,000 pesetas by Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology, through Digicyt, and by the European Union, through its ERDF Funds (Ref .: 1FD97-0295), covering its development between November 1st 1998 and October 31th 2001. With him we began to define the evolution of the funerary world in the capital of Baetica from the Phase of Material Romanization to the Phase of ritual normalization, contrasting what happens in Corduba with what has already been observed in the most important cities of the Empire, and Incorporating to the Archaeology Area of ​​the University of Córdoba a new trend in research whose results have already attracted the attention of the international scientific community, through the holding of an International Space Congress and funeral uses in the Roman West, in June 2001, and the publication of their respective Acts. As a complement to these, a monograph of an informative character called Funus Cordubensium was also published. Funerary customs of the Roman Cordoba and organized the Archaeological Exhibition of the same name, embryo of a future Center of Interpretation of the funerary world of Corduba.

Among the Romans, as in many other cultures that preceded them or which would happen to them in time, they nested a big number of philosophical positions towards death. Many of them were characterized by skepticism or the most absolute nihilism, while others were influenced by the transcendence of christianity. Nevertheless, it was generally maintained before the dead itself, and before their dead, a position of respect, traditionalism and also a good extent of faith and hope, which often reach the archaeological manifestations themselves, arrived at us in a more or less casual way.

However, in the above-mentioned context of global archaeological analysis applied to the city of Cordova as a unique site, the study of the necropolis acted as an important complement, not only because the layout of the funerary areas of a city (and its distribution in the Space) are generally indicative of the first degree in order to apprehend the urbanistic oscillations of this population, but also because nothing appears as more clarifying in relation to the living than the confrontation with their own dead; His attitude to death, his rites, the typology of his burials, his schemes, and, ultimately, the ideological component that can be drawn from all of this. In the words of one of the scholars who has contributed most in recent years to Roman funeral Archaeology, “i monumenti funerari rappresentano a source storica importante che ci permette un ampia visione della vita sociale e culturale della societa romana”1

According to all this, Funus I was a rigorous project for the revision of the necropolis associated with Corduba / Colonia Patricia, putting an end to a secular abandonment of the theme. It also provided a valuable diachronic perspective that allowed us to interpret the variations that the funerary world experiences throughout the Empire, approaching the following points:

  • Systematization of funeral areas. The rigorous analysis of the funeral record allowed us to hypothesize about basic questions when interpreting the funerary world of a Roman city: existence or not of bounded areas, economic valuation of land, legal limitations on the use of funeral resources, distribution by social classes, professions or purchasing power, etc.
  • Typologies of burials. The morphology adopted by Roman graves is extremely varied; Not only the incineration or the burial is used in an indeterminate way (at least, until the triumph of Christianity), with which conditions have one or the other facing the conformation of the ritual and the funeral space, but, in addition, we observe almost an endless typology of containers used for the deposition of ashes or the cadaver and a vast repertoire of the structures where they can be deposited, as well as a whole range of decorative elements that are not usually free, and must be understood for its iconographic meaning, in relation to the ideological approaches of the deceased or the family or social class it belonged. Within the framework of this same block, the revision, relocation and reinterpretation of the numerous funeral epigraphs of patricians, found or not in the site of the old Roman city, with a view to obtaining an exhaustive study of social, ritual, economic and ideological aspects), that allowed us a rigorous approach to the Cordova Hispano-Roman society.
  • Architectural decoration: At present, the study of architectural decoration is considered as a branch of general studies on Roman architecture, with a particular incidence in the analysis of ornamental elements of the classical order in the Roman period. Thus, from the detailed observation of bases, shafts, capitals, architraves, friezes, cornices, corbels and other pieces, allowed us to reach conclusions of very different nature, among which we highlight the following:
    • Chronological approach to the moment of realization of pieces and monuments, starting logically from the morphological and stylistic analysis of the architectural remains that may have come to us. The particularities of what is called “vintage style” are sufficient guarantee to validate the conclusions obtained from it. In addition, such characters can help us to know the workshops responsible for carrying out the work and to detect the models on which they were based.
    • Identification of funerary structures from some of its decorative elements. This is explained by the fact that the typology of burial buildings from the Roman period is well known in other cities and regions of the Empire (tomb monuments, tholos type, tombs, etc.), so that in many cases a certain architectural element can only be interpreted in function of a certain funeral monument. By way of example, we can indicate that all the curved elements can only be part of a tholos or of a tomb, but never of another type of building. In this way, once the type can be identified certain modules can be applied; Extracted by comparison with other more studied areas, sometimes being able to restore the graphic image of the building.
    • From all of the above, studies of dispersion of models, purchasing power, ideology and / or relationship determined certain types-certain social or professional classes, etc., can contribute to the understanding of the Roman society that inhabited the Patricia Colony Over the centuries, evolution in its degree of romanization and, of course, incidences and nuances in the acceptance of certain cultural models, aesthetic fashions or ideological-religious currents, as is the paradigmatic case of Christianity itself.
  • Typologies of funerary offerings. Its layout as well as its composition provided irreplaceable information regarding:
    • Funeral rites practiced: offerings, libations, sacrifices, etc.
    • Funeral and post-funeral ceremonies, mainly banquets.
    • Acquisition capacity of the deceased, as well as social identity of the same chosen by the community, the family or himself at the time of his death; Identity or identities that will be expressly stated in the burial.
    • Ideological value, or of socioeconomic representativeness, of prestige, granted to the space of the tomb.
    • Operation of the circuits of commercial exchange and of supply to the city, by means of the valuation of the objects included in each one of the offerings.
    • Quantification and qualification of these objects, seeking their possible seriation, standardization or typification according to their ideological content, in case this can be indicative of some scale of values ​​that would transfer to the funerary world the social position that was enjoyed in life.
    • Approximation to the diachronic evolution offered by rites, offerings and typology of tombs, in order to:
      • Observe possible local peculiarities, indicative of the degree of romanization, persistence of traditions, cultural nuances or distortions in the interpretation of the rite.
      • Defining the impact on funerary customs as well as on the conception of the aftermath of a city like Cordova was able to exert the religious triumph of Christianity, whose roots and enormous strength are little doubt from the recent findings.
      • Evolution and oscillations of the urban area, depending on the spatial distribution of funeral areas. Of all the known prohibition that the Laws of the XII Tables are established in relation to the burials inside the pomerium; In this way, the location of tombs in certain areas and times helped us to reconstruct the recessions or expansions experienced by the city, something of enormous importance from the urban point of view.
  • Approach, from the point of view of physical anthropology, and again with a diachronic perspective, to the human types that should have shaped the patrician society. The impact of the Roman colonization on the biological structure of the native population in Andalusia was something totally unknown until the moment. And this has a special interest in the case of Cordova, where historical testimonies document the arrival and settlement of immigrants of very different origin and, in some cases, of high rank. Many of these foreign people surrendered themselves through marriage bonds or very different relations with the natives of the region, introducing very different customs within the initial society, and adopting, in turn, local traditions and ways of life. Hence the need to present a first anthropological analysis of the human remains of Roman times documented to date in Cordova, intended to contrast the results obtained in terms of race, diseases, nutritional deficiencies, etc. With which we have provided the spatial, epigraphic and socioeconomic analysis of the burials in the different funeral areas.
  • Recreation of the society that inhabited Colonia Patricia Corduba between the years of the founding of the city and its passage to visigothic control, seeking to define, as important aspects:
    • The differentiation of rites according to the social classes that could be defined.
    • The economic capacities or the cultural characteristics that translate the ritual, the type of tomb, the location of the funeral space, the trousseau and the epigraph (if preserved).
    • The extent to which one or the other aspect determines whether or not the division of the different categories of burial depends, from a diachronic point of view, always allowing us to detect any qualification that may have been observed or occurred over the centuries and Thread of political, military, economic or religious events.

In short, Funus I defined the evolution of the funerary world in the capital of Baetica from the Phase of Material Romanization to the Phase of Ritual Normalization, contrasting what happens in Colonia Patricia with what was already observed in the most important cities of the Empire, and incorporating to our Seminar on Archaeology (and, with it, the University of Córdoba), to a new trend in research whose results can be astonishing. All this in spite of the fact that the bias of the documentation on the one hand, as well as the enormous amount of information generated by the Roman funeral world in its various manifestations, on the other, forced us to be extremely selective.

Most relevant scientific output derived from the project:

Organization of scientific meetings:

  • Congreso Internacional Espacio y Usos funerarios en el Occidente romano, celebrado en la Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Córdoba entre los días 5 y 9 de junio de 2001; contó con la participación de importantes especialistas a nivel mundial en el tema del mundo funerario de época romana.


  • Las Actas del Congreso Internacional Espacio y Usos Funerarios en el Occidente romano, celebrado en Córdoba en junio de 2001, cuya edición tuvo lugar en 2002, habiéndose convertido en una de las publicaciones más demandadas por centros de investigación y librerías especializadas.
  • El Catálogo de la Exposición Funus Cordubensium. Costumbres funerarias en la Córdoba romana (2001), coordinado por D. Vaquerizo y firmado por todos los miembros del Proyecto.
  • MARTIN URDIROZ, I. (2002), Sarcófagos romanos de plomo de Córdoba y provincia, Arqueología Cordobesa 6, Córdoba.

1) HESBERG, H. von (1994): “Monumenta. I sepolcri romanu e la loro archittettura”, Biblioteca di archeologia, 22. Milano