UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Shaping social relations at the grave : a spatial analysis of tombs 88-90 at the Isola Sacra Necropolis and Tomb B at the Vatican Necropolis Meshel, Elizabeth


Scholars typically consider Roman funerary monuments to be static representations of the commissioner or deceased. However, this common approach limits our inquiries to a single individual and the moment of the tomb's commission, ignoring decades and centuries of subsequent use and users. Furthermore, it belies the fact that the tomb was also a locus of social activity amidst collective mourning and annual festivities like parentalia. To address these shortcomings, this thesis proposes a new approach centered on the agency of the tomb. In so doing, it argues that tombs actively influenced the social activity of its users in ways that changed over time. I employ this approach on two diachronic case studies, Tombs 88-90 at the Isola Sacra Necropolis and Tomb B at the Vatican Necropolis, through an application of space syntax. This analytical framework developed by Hillier and Hanson (1984) permits us to quantify, represent, and interpret the spatial relationships in the built environment that impact the probable movement and encounter patterns of its users. The results of this study reveal that the built environment of the tomb and the material manifestations of its inhabitants structured the social environment of the living as much as it structured their interactions with the dead. Just as relationships amongst the living were not equal, so too were spaces in these chamber tombs. The physical and topological properties of the tomb could reinforce social stratification and create an experiential hierarchy for its users. Consequently, changes to the tomb precipitated not only shifts in its social potential and the lived experience of its users, but also in their experience of social stratification within the space. Finally, this thesis demonstrates that an approach centered on the agency of the tomb can lend new insights into oft-discussed topics and opens the field to new questions, insights, and methodologies that can consider the lifespan of the tomb and the oft-forgotten individuals buried within.

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