Examples in Archaeology: The Multiple Burial in the Corner of the Hexamilion North of the Roman Bath (Gully Bastion)
When and where the feature was found
The multiple burial (Grave 2 Gully Bastion) is located in the Corner of the Hexamilion North of the Roman Bath at Isthmia. The grave cut into what is assumed to be ground level at the time of the construction of the Hexamilion wall which is a hard white soil. The grave itself was excavated in the 1970 season and was found under a later kiln or oven.
Topelev = 41.08
Botelev = 40.18
Located in a corner of the Hexamilion wall the Gully Bastion Grave Two has the interior face of the wall forming both the West and the North sides with the North side slightly undercutting the Hexamilion by around 20cm. The sides of the grave are lined with large tiles, these tiles also included in their number one stamped tile and another which being heavily smoke stained indicates that it may have originally been part of the nearby Roman Bath. The interpretation of this tile as formerly of the Roman Bath is also suggested by how the smoke staining does not extend to the corners of the tile where it would have been resting on top of hypocausts.
The grave is actually split into two irregular sections, North and South. These two sections were split by a line of vertical tiles which ran West to East across the grave. Within the north section was found two skeletons with their heads to the west and within the south compartment eight skeletons were uncovered also with their heads to the west. There is some debate to who these individuals were, whether they were part of the garrison assigned to guard or build the Hexamilion or from some other associated part of society.
Underneath the lowest body in the southern section a number of artefacts were found, namely an Athenian glazed lamp fragment which shares much of the characteristics of other lamps found in the Roman Bath (IPL 70-100) which can be dated to the second half of the fourth century after Christ. There is debate over the function of the lamp in the grave. Was it part of some religious ceremony for the deceased or simply just lost or for another reason yet to be thought of? Either way this lamp fragment allows for the best dating of the grave in relation to similar lamps found in the Roman Bath as mentioned previous. Several other items were found in the same area as the lamp fragment including a coarse dark reddish bowl (IPR 70-26) which like the lamp can be dated to the second half of the fourth century. A bronze buckle (IM 70-32) and a bead on a wire (IM 70-54) were also excavated.
The north side of the grave undercutting the Hexamilion along with the relation between the lamp fragment found in the south section of the grave in relation to lamps found in Roman Bath dating to the fourth century suggest that the grave was contemporary with the construction of the Hexamilion. This is further indicated by how the grave sides are the interior of the wall on two sides. The graves construction can hence be placed either at the time the Hexamilion was being built or slightly after but before the kiln/oven was placed on top.
The position of the skeletons within the grave suggests primarily a Christian burial with the skeleton’s heads to the west. Christian burials of the period were generally orientated East-West with the head to the West end of the grave in order to mirror the layout of the Christian Church and the direction from which Christ is meant to come on judgement day.
Gregory, T.E., Isthmia: Vol.5, The Hexamilion and the Fortress (1993), pp.42-45
Gully Bastion 1970 Vol.2 – pp.47-72 May 1970
Gully Bastion 1970 Vol.3
Wohl ‘Deposit of Lamps’ No. 24
Fraser, P.M., Archaeology in Greece, 1970-71, Archaeological reports, No.17 (1970-71), p.9
What was the ‘Opening of the Mouth’ ceremony and why was it considered important
The ‘Opening of the Mouth’ was the final ceremony in front of the portrait statue in accordance with the Book of the Dead Chapter 23 (formula for opening the deceased’s mouth for him in the necropolis). The deceased’s head orifices were symbolically reopened by a priest. Adams explains that the ceremony was based on the legend of Osiris when it was first performed by Horus (Adams (1998): 20). This is mirrored in early times when the son performed his father’s ceremony symbolizing inheritance which was an important aspect of Egyptian society. The ceremony was essentially to restore the powers of sight, hearing and speech, to restore life. Adams asserts that the Egyptians loved life and this was an insurance of eternal life/rebirth (Adams (1998): 20). David explains that the ceremony was performed on objects in the tomb to ensure that they would “come to life for eternity” (David (2002): 33) for the use of the deceased. The main importance of the ceremony was that it gave the deceased eternal existence through restoration, the idea and desire for immortality being of great importance to the Egyptians.
What role did the heart play in ideas about the afterlife?
David explains that the heart was considered the “seat of the mind and emotion” (David (2002): 31) and was the most important part of the body. The heart was an essential tool in the judgement of the deceased, during which it would be weighed on a balance against the feather of Ma’at (truth). The heart was instructed not to condemn the deceased (Book of the Dead, Chapter 30B – Formula for not letting the heart of the deceased oppose him in the necropolis). The papyrus of Ani illustrates the final judgement, it shows the mythical figures of the divine judges along the top and the judgement of the heart against the feather below. We see the figure of Anubis (guardian of the scales) weighing the heart overlooked by Thoth as the baboon and Thoth as the ibis-headed man recording the proceedings. Ammit the devourer waits to devour the deceased if judged untrue and the three fates stand to the left who provide the deceased’s testimony. The man-headed bird is Ani’s ba awaiting his fate. The only two real figures are Ani and Tutu bowing to the gods.
What is the role of Osiris in the mythical events associated with judgement? Why is the deceased called ‘Osiris’?
Assmann explains that in Egyptian myth Osiris as the master of righteousness overlooked the judgement (weighing of the heart) of the deceased (Assmann: 149). If the deceased was judged guiltless the soul of the dead was thought to be subject to one last judgement by Osiris to determine whether they were worthy of eternal life. The deceased was called Osiris but this did not mean that he actually became Osiris. It rather meant that he had taken on the role of the “victor over death” (David (2002): 159) that Osiris originally became. An assessment of this relation to Osiris suggests that moral righteousness and worship of Osiris were important factors in ensuring the deceased “access to eternity” (David (2002): 159). It was the wish of the deceased to identify his fate with Osiris’, as displayed in Chapter 43 of the Book of the Dead (Book of the Dead Chapter 43 – Formula for not letting the head of the deceased be cut off in the necropolis).
What are the main concerns of the deceased in the ‘Declaration of Innocence’ from Chapter 125? What do these tell us about Egyptian ideas of Morality?
One of the main concerns of the deceased is that he has not done ill to the gods. This is seen in the large number of references to the sins against the gods, for example “I have not blasphemed a god”, “I have not done what the god abhors” (Book of the Dead Chapter 125 – The Judgement of the Dead, the Declaration of Innocence). Also the other main concerns such as doing ill to people and stealing are related to the gods in reference offerings and stealing from temples. The concern of the deceased is that he has not cheated either man or god and is therefore pure. In Egypt the gods were the force of universal order, and evil was a force of disorder. The concerns of the deceased in relation to the gods show morality ideas were based around maintaining order provided by the gods by not doing evil to them or the earth that they influenced (Bains: 164). Concerns in the declaration also include treating people equally showing another important moral idea.
Adams, B., Egyptian Mummies (Pembrokeshire, 1998), pp.20-22
Allen, J. P., Genesis in Egypt (Connecticut, 1988), pp.8-12
Allen, J. P., Religion and Philosophy in Ancient Egypt (Connecticut, 1989), pp.137-143
Assmann, J., The Search for God in Ancient Egypt (London), pp.145-149
Baines, J., Religion in Ancient Egypt (Ithaca), pp.160-164
Book of the Dead, Chapters 23, 30B, 43, 59, 105 &125
David, R., Religion and Magic in Ancient Egypt (London, 2002), pp.30-33, 121-124, 158 & 159
Grajetzki, Burial Customs in Ancient Egypt (Norfolk, 2004), pp. 27, 45 & 78
Roberts, J.M., Ancient History, From The First Civilisations To The Renaissance, (London, 2004), pp. 102-133