Archaeologists working in Jordan in the Hellenistic town of Capitolias have excavated a 2,000-year-old Roman tomb that was found covered with beautiful frescoes, many of which turned out to be ancient comics. While the writing was actually in Aramaic, those who wrote the comics used Greek letters.
The Roman tomb was discovered completely by accident in 2016 when roadwork was being conducted in the area, and over the past two years a group of both local and international researchers have been studying the tomb to learn more about its origins. The tomb itself is thought to belong to a necropolis in Capitolias and is quite large, measuring 170 feet in length. According to Haaretz, it was fashioned so that it had two burial chambers with a basalt sarcophagus.
While there is evidence that at some point in history the tomb was looted, it is nevertheless still in extremely good shape given this and its age. The Roman tomb was found to have been decorated by a master of painting as there are no less than 260 figures in the colorful display of comics presented on it.
The ancient Roman comics on the 2,000-year-old tomb include gods feasting at a large banquet with poor peasants waiting upon them, construction workers busily going about their building tasks, and peasants in graveyards and fields toiling and carrying on with work and life.
Slam! Bam! Pow! Archaeologists Find Ancient 'Comics' Decorating Roman Tomb in Jordan https://t.co/8rBCqKxfHG #Roman #MiddleEast #Jordan #RomanArchaeology #Comics #Archaology pic.twitter.com/YevxNktvue
— Roman Middle East (@RomanMiddleEast) September 24, 2018
As archaeologist Aliquot explained, the comics on the Roman tomb dealt with the issues of the day, most of which revolved around ordinary life.
“Characters resembling architects or foremen stand alongside laborers who are transporting materials on the backs of camels or donkeys, with stone cutters or masons climbing walls, sometimes resulting in accidents. This precise and picturesque scene of a construction site is followed by the last painting, in which a priest offers another sacrifice in honor of the city’s guardian deities.”
Most exciting of all about these Roman paintings are the 60 comic speech bubbles that accompany them, giving those observing the paintings a much better idea of what was going on. For instance, one worker after suffering from an accident was found to exclaim, “Alas for me! I am dead!” Yet beside another worker, who managed to survive his task, was merely a blurb saying, “I am cutting stone.”
While these are indeed early comics, they are certainly not the first in the ancient world. After all, ancient Egyptians were adept at telling stories through their intricate and highly creative artwork which included both pictures and words.
However, as far as the artwork in this 2,000-year-old Roman tomb that was found in Jordan goes, these may certainly be the first Greco-Aramaic comics on a tomb that the world has seen.