“Aramaic Comics” Decorate Roman Tomb in Beit Ras, Jordan

Decapolis city Capitolias reveals vibrant wall paintings

beit-ras-capitolias-stone-cutters

Two stonecutters working in the construction of Capitolias. Photo: © Julien ALIQUOT/HiSoMA 2018.

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.

Other than Israel, no country has as many Biblical sites and associations as Jordan: Mount Nebo, from where Moses gazed at the Promised Land; Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptized Jesus; Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and many more. Travel with us on our journey into the past in our free eBook Exploring Jordan.

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.”

beit-ras-capitolias-dionysus

The clearing of the site of Capitolias, with the assistance of Dionysos and other gods. Photo: © Julien ALIQUOT/HiSoMA 2018.

“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.”

Read more about the “ancient Aramaic comics” in a Roman tomb in the CNRS press release.

Other than Israel, no country has as many Biblical sites and associations as Jordan: Mount Nebo, from where Moses gazed at the Promised Land; Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptized Jesus; Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and many more. Travel with us on our journey into the past in our free eBook Exploring Jordan.

Posted in The Ancient Near Eastern World.

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  • Helen says

    So — written left to right like Greek or right to left like Aramaic?

    • Jim says

      Totally uneducated guess, but I think from left to right, as the captions are left justified.


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