Tag Archives: Sepulchral monuments

Naiskos in the Funerary Architecture of Ancient Greeks

A type of tombstone in ancient Greece, mostly in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. It imitated the shape of templum in antisIt, namely, it looked like a small temple in classical order with antas, columns or pillars and a decorative pediment, also decorated with figures in the facade. The pediment (frontispiece) was usually filled with family scenes in high relief, where the dead appeared inside the house alongside the living. Also “[some] of the Hellenistic inscriptions found in the Bay of Grama, [in the Ionian Sea of Albania], are placed inside a naiskos, and in this case the religious context is an invocation of Castor and Pollux, [the] Dioskouroi [in Greek and Roman mythology], for a safe passage across the Adriatic, rather than funerary” (“Naiskos” 2020).

Funerary naiskos of a young soldier (Aristonautes, son of Archenautes, of the deme Halai). Pentelic marble, found in the Kerameikos necropolis in Athens, ca. 350–325 BC. Photo by Marsyas (2005). CC BY 2.5. Photo and caption source: “Naiskos” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The naiskos form developed from an Attic tombstone stelae in the second half of the fourth century BC.; initially simple in shape, with time they had acquired a more complicated form referring to the facade of a Greek temple with a pediment supported by columns.

The facade of Naiksos also appears as a decorative motif  in the funerary “black-figure and red-figure pottery of Ancient Greece at the Loutrophoros and the Lekythos and the red-figure wares of Apulia in South Italy, [the fourth century BC.]” (“Naiskos” 2020).

A similar style of funerary tombstones can be also observed in the so-called aedicula, typical of Roman art.

Featured image: Naiskos-style funerary stele of Cyzicus (an ancient town of Mysia in Anatolia, in the current Balıkesir Province of Turkey), with high-relief decoration; epitaph inscribed on the plint: “Attalos, son of Asklepiodoros, greetings!” Made of marble, from the second quarter of the second century BC. Stele of funerary banquet represents, from left to right, a servant holding a round object, perhaps a model of the Arsinoeion in Samothrace, a seated woman, a half-reclining man holding a phiale in which a snake is drinking, a boy cupbearer. Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Denon, ground floor, room 11 (Musée du Louvre, Paris, France). Photo by Jastrow (2008). Credit given by W. H. Waddington, (1854). CC BY 3.0. Image cropped. Photo and caption source: Wikimedia Commons (2021).


“Naiskos” (2020). In: Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bQQvhL>. [Accessed on 28th February, 2021].

“Naiskos” (2020). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/2PkkoiN>. [Accessed on 28th February, 2021].

“Naiskos stele of Cyzicus” (2021). In: Wikimedia Commons. Available at <https://bit.ly/3bHRUaa>. [Accessed on 28th February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 274. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.

Matzevah – a Traditional Form of a Jewish tombstone

Jewish tombstone in the form of a vertically positioned rectangular stone or wooden slab, and from the nineteenth century also made of cast iron, topped with a straight line, triangle, semicircle or two segments of a circle, decorated with a bas-relief in the upper part and covered with an inscription (epitaph) at the bottom. The Hebrew epitaph was placed on the eastern side of the slab, as both, the tomb and the tombstone were oriented to the east. The stone slab was placed on the grave, on the headboard or in the legs of the deceased. It was often supported from the back by a stone block with a rectangular or semicircular cross-section, very rarely decorated.

Matzevot at the Cemetery in Warsaw at Okopowa Street. Photo by Grzegorz Petka (2008). Public domain. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.

The reliefs in the upper part of the tombstone are not only decorative, but also symbolic; from the sixteenth century on, above the epitaph but under the top of the matzeva, there were usually sculpted symbols referring to the name of the deceased, their profession, character features, or sadness, mourning and death. Some of the decorative motifs on the matzevot are intended for representatives of traditional groups of the Jewish community, e.g. for a person from a priestly family (kohena) – those were hands folded in prayer, for a descendant of a Levite family, a cup, for a scholar or a rabbi – a Torah crown or a book for a woman, a lamp-stand, for the descendants of the tribe of Judah, a lion. Over time, the matzevot were given an increasingly complex architectural form, with cornices, columns, and recesses, and its height increased, sometimes reaching four meters.

Matzevah derived from the distant past, when it first meant sacred pillars in Canaanite sanctuaries, and then boulders, placed in memory of some important event; placed in cemeteries by Ashkenazi Jews.

Such a tombstone was adopted in Poland; the oldest one preserved there dates back to 1203 and is now at a Jewish cemetery in Wrocław (Poland), at Ślężna Street. The form of the matzevot is also recalled by erratic boulders placed on graves in Jewish cemeteries in north-eastern Poland. When in the early nineteenth century’s Poland, the administrative authorities of the partitioning powers ordered Jews to take surnames, Jewish traditionalists placed an appropriate entry containing this name on the reverse, unfinished side of the matzeva. In the areas associated with German culture, from the mid-nineteenth century, it was customary to place an epitaph in Hebrew on one side of the matzevah, and in German on the other. Similar records can also be found in Jewish cemeteries in large cities of central Poland, on the graves of assimilated Jews.

Featured image: Matzevot at the old Jewish cemetery in Wrocław. Photo by Barbara Maliszewska (2010). CC BY-SA 3.0 pl. Image cropped. Colours intensified. Photo source: “Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia.


“Macewa” (2021). In: Wikipedia. Wolna Encyklopedia. Available at <https://bit.ly/3tXyQwX>. [Accessed 14th February, 2021].

Jagielski J. (2021). “Mazewa”. In: Portal DELET. Available at <https://bit.ly/2ZeT6fx>. [Accessed 14th February, 2021].

PWN (2007). Słownik terminologiczny sztuk pięknych, p. 244. Kubalska-Sulkiewicz K., Bielska-Łach M., Manteuffel-Szarota A. eds. Wydanie piąte. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.