Cypriote. Cast of the original in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Limestone stele probably from the necropolis at Golgoi or at Idalion, 7th-5th centuries BCE.
The most lavish funerary monuments were erected in the 6th century BCE by the aristocratic families of Attica in private burial grounds along the roadside, on the family estate or near Athens. Relief sculpture, statues and tall stelai crowned by capitals and finials marked many of these graves. Each funerary monument had an inscribed base with an epitaph, often in verse that memorialized the dead. A relief depicting a generalized image of the deceased sometimes evoked aspects of the person’s life, with the addition of a servant, possessions, dogs, etc. On early reliefs, it is easy to identify the dead person; however, during the 4th century BCE, more and more family members were added to the scenes, and often many names were inscribed, making it difficult to distinguish the deceased from the mourners. Like all ancient marble sculpture, funerary statues and grave stelai were brightly painted, and extensive remains of red, black, blue, and green pigment can still be seen.
Many of the finest Attic grave monuments stood in a cemetery located in the outer Kerameikos, an area on the northwest edge of Athens just outside the gates of the ancient city wall. The cemetery was in use for centuries—monumental Geometric kraters marked grave mounds of the 8th century, and excavations have uncovered a clear layout of tombs from the Classical period as well. At the end of the 5th century BCE, Athenian families began to bury their dead in simple stone sarcophagi placed in the ground within grave precincts, which were arranged in man-made terraces buttressed by a high retaining wall that faced the cemetery road. Marble monuments belonging to various members of a family were placed along the edge of the terrace rather than over the graves themselves.