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Unique bronze funerary inscription of enigmatic and powerful Roman woman discovered in Spain's Baelo Claudia


The Minister of Culture of the Regional Government of Andalusia, Miguel Angel Vázquez, announced the discovery of a unique bronze funerary inscription at the Baelo Claudia Archaeological Site in Tarifa (Cádiz) this week. According to the statement, the investigation has revealed that the most important tomb, located in the most privileged area of the necropolis, belonged to a powerful woman, whose name was Junia Rufina.

Unique bronze funerary inscription of enigmatic and powerful Roman woman discovered in Spain's Baelo Claudia
The slab inscribed with the name of Junia Rufina [Credit: Baelo Museum]
Vázquez has indicated that "the discovery is of extraordinary value because, in addition to the unique character of the inscription, for the first time in our country it has been possible to complete the complex comprising the funerary monument, including various architectural elements of great value and a toga sculpture of women, clear evidence of female power at the time".


It is a complex of great monumentality, where columns with Corinthian capitals and other decorative elements have appeared in a tomb that reflects the splendour and artistic brilliance of this Hispanic-Roman city around the 1st and 2nd centuries of our era and which was demolished by the force of a devastating earthquake in the 4th century.

The most important piece, the bronze inscription, was recovered on June 4th and since then has, along with the other finds, been subjected to an in-depth archaeological examination and analysis.

Unique bronze funerary inscription of enigmatic and powerful Roman woman discovered in Spain's Baelo Claudia
Female statue found near the Gate of Carteia in Baelo Claudia,
thought be Junia Rufina [Credit: Anual/WikiCommons]
The research, led by Fernando Prados, from the Institute of Archaeology and Historical Heritage of the University of Alicante and involving experts from the universities of Granada, Murcia, Alicante and Madrid, has been carried out with the collaboration of the staff of the Archaeological Ensemble of Baelo Claudia, as well as students and volunteers.


The study has identified in the inscription the name of a powerful woman who, it seems, is also represented in a headless sculpture previously discovered at the site and which can now be seen in the rooms of the Baelo Claudia Museum.

"It was a surprise. The nearest tomb to the main town gate, the largest and most important, is the tomb of a woman," said Prados. It is not the first time that a Roman burial dedicated to the female sex has appeared in Spain, but this time it has been different. "They usually referred to a woman as somebody's wife or mother, but not in this case. She was an important woman in her own right," says the archaeology professor. Garcia adds: "It is the first monument in Spain dedicated to a woman of this stature".

Unique bronze funerary inscription of enigmatic and powerful Roman woman discovered in Spain's Baelo Claudia
Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia in Tarifa (Cádiz) [Credit: Ken Welsh, Getty]
The inscription, which reads "For the gods Manes of Junia Rufina, daughter of Marcus," following the usual pattern of Roman funerary inscriptions, was found with the bronze lettering in place. And it is precisely the preservation of these characters that is another reason for the exceptional nature of the discovery. The use of metal for inscriptions was common in Roman times.


"Nevertheless, it's unusual for this type of inscription to have remained intact to this day. There is no other example in Spain of an epigraph with full bronze lettering. People used to pillage them. Normally, only the imprint is preserved, but in this case it is complete. Even the dots separating the words are still in place", explains Prados.

The reason for this extraordinary state of preservation lies in a catastrophic event that destroyed the city of Baelo Claudia around the fourth century of our era. "An earthquake left everything buried, like a little Pompeii, and it remains so to this day. It's lucky, people used to plunder the site in times of need," the research director admits. The quake caused the slab with the inscription to fall face down onto the pavement of the necropolis. Archaeologists have even located coins from 340 CE that fell, between the ground and the inscription."


In the excavations there have appeared more pieces that show the grandiosity of the funerary monument. In addition to the bronze inscription and sculpture already mentioned above, archaeologists have also found imported marble pieces. "It is a complex of great monumentality, where columns and Corinthian capitals and other decorative elements have appeared in a tomb that reflects the splendour and artistic brilliance of this Hispanic-Roman city," explains the minister.

The value of the finding, which includes skeletal remains, also lies in the possible avenues of investigation that open up to resolve the question of who Julia Rufina was and why she became so important. For now, archaeologists have a working hypothesis, based on the woman's name. "Junia is also the name of an important Roman goddess. In fact, the sculpture is a standard type of this goddess," explains Prados. The surname gives more clues, as the archaeologist explains: "We know that she is the daughter of a certain Marco and that Rufina is one of the classic surnames that the noble families of Cadiz used after the Roman conquest." Apart from this, however, little else is known about this enigmatic woman.

Source: El Pais [August 25, 2018]

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