Stele with portrait of a boy

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Roman, Tunisian
3rd century CE
93 x 31.4 cm
Yale University Art Gallery: Gift of Ambassador and Mrs. William L. Eagleton, Jr., B.A. 1948; 1984.121

This limestone stele from the Roman province of Africa Proconsularis (present Tunisia) functioned as either a funerary cenotaph or a votive monument. The stele, which is divided into three registers, displays both Roman and local cultural traditions. The central register depicts a standing boy. He wears a toga praetexta, the standard dress for Roman children who have not yet reached puberty, and holds a scroll in his left hand. He also wears a bulla (amulet; right) which rests on his chest. The bulla was a distinctly Roman attribute given to a child at birth to mark their status as a freeborn citizen.

The emphasis on Roman identity seen in the boy’s clothes contrasts with the local, North African subject matter of the upper and lower registers of the stele. The top register depicts a seated female figure who nurses an infant while two attendant figures carrying baskets stand to either side.  The seated woman is probably the goddess Caelestis-Nutrix, a Romanized version of Tanit, a North African goddess associated with fertility and childrearing. The bottom register of the stele contains a bull and a haystack, local motifs popular in pre-Roman times.

This text was prepared by Mellon Special Projects Intern Amanda Manker.

Not on view

 Additional views (3)

Detail A

Detail B

Detail C


Related exhibitions

Center and Periphery: Cultural Hybridity in the Funerary Arts of the Roman Provinces

Further reading

Acquisitions 1984, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin 39, no.3 (Winter 1986): 80, ill.

Eric R. Varner, “Two Portrait Stelae and the Romanization of North Africa,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (1990): 10–19, fig. 1.

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