Decapolis city Capitolias reveals vibrant wall paintings
In a Roman tomb in northern Jordan, archaeologists have discovered what they are calling the “first Aramaic comics.” The wall paintings feature human figures, deities, and animals with texts written above them.
“The inscriptions are […] similar to speech bubbles in comic books, because they describe the activities of the characters, who offer explanations of what they are doing (‘I am cutting [stone],’ ‘Alas for me! I am dead!’), which is also extraordinary,” explained Jean-Baptiste Yon, one of the French researchers who investigated the tomb, in a French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) press release.
“These 60 or so texts painted in black, some of which we have already deciphered, have the distinctive feature of being written in the local language of Aramaic, while using Greek letters,” added Yon.
The underground tomb is part of a necropolis at Capitolias, one of the ancient cities of the Decapolis—a group of Hellenized cities stretching from Damascus to Amman. Founded in the late first century C.E. by Roman emperor Nerva or Trajan in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus, Capitolias is located in the modern village of Beit Ras.
Spanning 52 square meters, the tomb includes two funerary chambers. Colorful wall paintings depicting 260 figures—humans, deities, and animals—in scenes of banqueting, farming, and construction decorate the largest chamber. According to the CNRS press release, the researchers believe the wall paintings illustrate “the various stages involved in the founding of Capitolias: consultation of the gods on the choice of site during a banquet, clearing of the plot, raising of a wall, thanks offered to the gods after the construction of the city.”
“According to our interpretation, there is a very good chance that the figure buried in the tomb is the person who had himself represented while officiating in the sacrifice scene from the central painting, and who consequently was the founder of the city,” said project researcher Pierre-Louis Gatier. “His name has not yet been identified, although it could be engraved on the lintel of the door, which has not yet been cleared.”
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