This marble relief was carved to fit into the facade of a stone tomb that probably stood along a major road outside Rome. Information about the three people derives both from the Latin inscription at the bottom of the relief and the images themselves. The inscription names the three figures in the Funerary Monument as Sextus Maelius Stabilio, Vesinia Iucunda, and Sextus Maelius Faustus, and indicates that the men were freed slaves of Sextus Maelius and that the woman was freed by a Roman matron named Vesinia. The letter “L” in the inscription is an abbreviation for libertus, meaning “freedman,” or liberta, for “freedwoman.” Such reliefs were often commissioned by recently enfranchised slaves and their families as a way of establishing the social and familial identity and relationships that had been legally denied to them.
The handshake shared by the older man and the woman identifies them as husband and wife. Iucunda also wears a bride’s veil and her betrothal ring, and she holds her left hand to her face in a wife’s traditional gesture of modesty. The younger man is probably the couple’s son, born to them while they were still slaves. He may have been responsible for commissioning this monument. The emphasis on the symbols of marriage evident in this relief reflects the importance attached to the family during the reign of Augustus (27 B.C.–A.D. 14 )
tags: symbolism, Ancient Rome