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Original scientific paper

The Portrait Stele of Virdomarus and Pama from Salona

Dražen Maršić ; Department of Archaeology,University of Zadar, Zadar, Croatia

Fulltext: croatian, pdf (237 KB) pages 7-21 downloads: 379* cite
APA 6th Edition
Maršić, D. (2015). Salonitanska portretna stela Virdomara i Pame. Tusculum, 8 (1), 7-21. Retrieved from
MLA 8th Edition
Maršić, Dražen. "Salonitanska portretna stela Virdomara i Pame." Tusculum, vol. 8, no. 1, 2015, pp. 7-21. Accessed 23 Jun. 2021.
Chicago 17th Edition
Maršić, Dražen. "Salonitanska portretna stela Virdomara i Pame." Tusculum 8, no. 1 (2015): 7-21.
Maršić, D. (2015). 'Salonitanska portretna stela Virdomara i Pame', Tusculum, 8(1), pp. 7-21. Available at: (Accessed 23 June 2021)
Maršić D. Salonitanska portretna stela Virdomara i Pame. Tusculum [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2021 June 23];8(1):7-21. Available from:
D. Maršić, "Salonitanska portretna stela Virdomara i Pame", Tusculum, vol.8, no. 1, pp. 7-21, 2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 23 June 2021]

In the lapidarium of the Museo Maffeiano of Verona, since the 18th ct. as been kept the stele of Virdomarus, a missicius of the ala Claudia nova present inventory number 28393), according to the testament, erected y his sister, Pama (CIL 3, 2065). Although many brief texts have been published on the stele, no photographs or any paper on its orphological
and iconographical characteristics have been published in either croatian or in foreign archaeological publications (Figure 1). The inscription of the stele and all the related information have been entered in the Epigraphische Datenbank Heidelberg (HD063264) and the Epigraphik Datenbank Clauss-Slaby (EDCS-27601608). The stele is also registered in the Arachne data base as the monument number 55820, with two accompanying photographs. This is the only base publishing its dimensions: 1.67 m high, 0.605 m wide and 0.168 m thick. It is stated to be made of limestone. In the Arachne base, there is also available
digitalised version of the book published in Verona in 1749 by Francesco Scipione Maffei, the founder and owner of the Museum, where a drawing of the stele is published in the page CXXI (Figure 2).
In the upper part of the stele there is a triangular gable, and between the gable tip and the sides of the stele there are two triangular fields acting as pseudo-acroteria. In the gable is an eagle with spread wings, flanked at left by a snake and at right by a bird. In each acroterion there is a rosette and a stylised leaf. The presently destroyed places can be recognised thanks to the Maffei's drawing (Figure 2). Below the gable horizontal S-moulding (cyma reversa), obviously standing for its cornice, there are two straight bands, the upper one slightly protruding and a bit higher of the two. The architrave is laid on high and elegant spiral-shaped columns with Corinthian capitals. These flank the field containing halffigure portraits (Figure 3). The Virdomarus' figure is in front, with its left side covering a half of the Pama's figure. She is slightly aback and adequately reduced in perspective. Pama is embracing her brother with her right arm, and gently holding him below his chest with the left. Virdomarus is wearing a paenula, a long cloak – cape, with a hood at the back (cucculus). Pama's clothing consists of a long sleeved tunic (tunica manicata) and an overcoat, corresponding to the Roman palla. The presence of the manicata is perfectly adequate to
the Pama's Celtic origin and peregrine status. The two persons' heads are bent down unusually low, with an obviously sad yet proud expression (Figure 4). They are well preserved, although damaged at several places.
Below the portrait field is the inscription field, just a little smaller in height, with a decorative border made of a cyma reversa moulding and an outer border made of wide, straight bands. Most part of the epitaph is damaged, especially in the central part of the field, its contents, however, are undoubted and known for quite some time now (CIL 3, 2065). It is cut in a neat, monumental, at places even square ajuscule. As a particularity, it should be mentioned the letter S of the deceased name for which there was not enough room within the field, wherefore it is cut in the outer part of the border, although the Maffei's drawing
suggests something else.
Although the Maffei's drawing presents the bottom side of the stele as flat, without even the wedge for its mounting on the base (Figure 2), not even the CIL commenting this detail, below the inscription field clearly are visible remains of yet another field. There have been no information on this so far. These are tops of two moulded coffers. The coffers are
bordered with a moulding of the same type as that of the inscription field (cyma reversa).
Their upper corners are smoothed and well preserved, whereas the central part is broken and worn out, making it obvious that the central part contained some image. Its character can only be guessed. Several details support the assumption that only two, somewhat higher, coffers were made.
By its shape and arrangement, the stele of Virdomarus and Pama is a typical example of an architecturally designed stele, a stele type very popular among the military population of the 1st century AD, especially among soldiers of the units stationed in Salona or the nearby Tilurium, less numerous elsewhere (e.g. Burnum, Bigeste).
Virdomarus is named by the formula typical for persons of the peregrine status, i.e., by his given name and patronymic (father's name). This, however, is no proof that he was actually a peregrine. Explanation of his legal status at the moment of the death is directly linked to the term missicius and its meaning. The ethnic origin of the two deceased is undoubted and solved by the Virdomarus' domicile (domo Biturix), testifying they were of the Celtic ethnicity and Galia Acquitania origin.
Virdomarus served in Dalmatia as a horseman of the ala Claudia nova, a unit whose presence in this province can be followed from the year 42 till probably the year 70, when it is deemed to have been moved to Germania Superior. The Virdomarus' epitaph reads he was a missicius of the ala Claudia nova. This paper accepts the opinion of A. Domaszewski
that missicii were veterans who remained in extended military service (sub vexillio). This would mean that the deceased had served all his twenty-five sears of military service as required of auxiliary unit soldiers, to have remained in an active veteran service (and not discharged!) after that. The Virdomarus' peregrine name, therefore, should not be taken as a proof that he did not become a veteran and did not acquire the civil status. The monument being found in Salona implies the possibility that the deceased served in Salona or its immediate surroundings (thesis by G. Alföldy). The reasons as why the inscription does not state his new Latin name and, thus, his newly acquired social status, remains unclear.
This could be so because he just completed his military service and, thus, just became a missicius, but other reasons are possible as well.
The information of the presence of the ala Claudia nova in Dalmatia and the appearance of the term missicius enable a relatively precise dating of the stele. The earliest possible date of the deceased having completed his military service is the year 67. whereas the latest possible date of creating the stele is the year 70, or 74 when this unit is positively
confirmed in Germania. This dating is confirmed by stylistic and fashion character of the portraits of the deceased.
Both portraits show similar physiognomic characteristics, but by their fashion and style particularities they clearly indicate different models. Pama follows the fashion of the later Claudian époque. Her hairstyle has three recognisable elements of the female fashion of the time: parting above the middle of the forehead, rolls over the front part of the head
with smaller ones also by the face, and long spiral curls falling toward the shoulders. The Pama's fashion models are certainly the hairstyles of Agrippina the Younger (most probably the 2nd or the Milan type) and creations derived from that for other princesses in the courts
of Claudius and Nero. The Virdomarus' portrait is characterised by high forehead, loss of hair and a simple military hairstyle. The fashion elements obviously indicate post-Nero's atmosphere, certainly inspired by the appearance of Vespasian, with who Virdomarus could have
easily identified himself. This is also supported by the duration of the Virdomarus' military career. There are evident differences between the portraits of Vespasian and Virdomarus.
These are lack of wrinkles on the soldier's face, forehead and eye corners. However, it must not be forgotten that the Virdomarus' portrait was not made during his lifetime, but some time after his death, wherefore it probably does not show his true physiognomy, but is at
least partly a reconstructed portrait. This partly idealised expression excellently fits a posthumous portrait and excellently relates to the expression of his sister's portrait, additionally emphasizing the blood relation of the deceased.
Based on the epigraphic information only, it would be hard to establish with certainty whether the expression missicius alae relates to a more distant past time, meaning that Virdomarus held this position some time in the past, or to the immediate past. Presence of the paenula type cloak, according to the author, clearly shows that Virdomarus died while
in the service! Namely, there is not a single monument from the Roman Dalmatia showing a soldier in paenula and not being in the active service at the moment of his death!
The earliest possible date of the Virdomarus' death is the year 68 (provided he ended his regular service in the year 67 and died in the first year of his military reserve status), and the latest possible time is the year 70 or a little later. This dating is excellently supported
by the Pama's hairstyle character. It is highly probable that all of the most interesting epigraphic and iconographic details: that Virdomarus is a missicius, that he is named as a peregrine, and that his sister wears a typical late-Claudian hairstyle, are for the same reason: the death of Virdomarus and creation of the stele having occurred in the first few
years of the Vespasian's rule, most probably in the late 69 or during the year 70. It is possible that the Virdomarus' extended service was caused by particularly difficult circumstances, that is, leaving of his ala and of other Dalmatian military units for Italy in the year 69, that left Dalmatia with just a small number of soldiers. This could be the reason why he, as an experienced soldier, remained here as a missicius, possibly even assigned to the office of the governor in Salona.

architectural stele; ala Claudia nova; missicius; portraits

Hrčak ID: 148893



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