A stele ( // STEE-lee) , or occasionally stela (plural stelas or stelæ), when derived from Latin, is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected in the ancient world as a monument. Grave stelae were often used for funerary or commemorative purposes. Stelae as slabs of stone would also be used as ancient Greek and Roman government notices or as boundary markers to mark borders or property lines.
A monument is a type of—usually three-dimensional—structure that was explicitly created to commemorate a person or event, or which has become relevant to a social group as a part of their remembrance of historic times or cultural heritage, due to its artistic, historical, political, technical or architectural importance. Examples of monuments include statues, (war) memorials, historical buildings, archaeological sites, and cultural assets. If there is a public interest in its preservation, a monument can for example be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A grave is a location where a dead body is buried. Graves are usually located in special areas set aside for the purpose of burial, such as graveyards or cemeteries.
The surface of the stele usually has text, ornamentation, or both. The ornamentation may be inscribed, carved in relief, or painted.
Relief is a sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. The term relief is from the Latin verb relevo, to raise. To create a sculpture in relief is to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane. What is actually performed when a relief is cut in from a flat surface of stone or wood is a lowering of the field, leaving the unsculpted parts seemingly raised. The technique involves considerable chiselling away of the background, which is a time-consuming exercise. On the other hand, a relief saves forming the rear of a subject, and is less fragile and more securely fixed than a sculpture in the round, especially one of a standing figure where the ankles are a potential weak point, especially in stone. In other materials such as metal, clay, plaster stucco, ceramics or papier-mâché the form can be just added to or raised up from the background, and monumental bronze reliefs are made by casting.
Steles are occasionally erected as memorials to battles. For example, along with other memorials, there are more than half-a-dozen steles erected on the battlefield of Waterloo at the locations of notable actions by participants in battle.
Traditional Western gravestones may technically be considered the modern equivalent of ancient stelae, though the term is very rarely applied in this way. Equally, stele-like forms in non-Western cultures may be called by other terms, and the words "stele" and "stelae" are most consistently applied in archaeological contexts to objects from Europe, the ancient Near East and Egypt,China, and sometimes Pre-Columbian America.
Steles have also been used to publish laws and decrees, to record a ruler's exploits and honors, to mark sacred territories or mortgaged properties, as territorial markers, as the boundary steles of Akhenaton at Amarna,or to commemorate military victories. They were widely used in the ancient Near East, Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and, most likely independently, in China and elsewhere in the Far East, and, independently, by Mesoamerican civilisations, notably the Olmec and Maya.
Amarna is an extensive Egyptian archaeological site that represents the remains of the capital city newly established and built by the Pharaoh Akhenaten of the late Eighteenth Dynasty, and abandoned shortly after his death. The name for the city employed by the ancient Egyptians is written as Akhetaten in English transliteration. Akhetaten means "Horizon of the Aten".
The ancient Near East was the home of early civilizations within a region roughly corresponding to the modern Middle East: Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, ancient Iran, Anatolia/Asia Minor and Armenian Highlands, the Levant, Cyprus and the Arabian Peninsula. The ancient Near East is studied in the fields of Near Eastern archaeology and ancient history.
Mesopotamia is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent, in modern days roughly corresponding to most of Iraq, Kuwait, the eastern parts of Syria, Southeastern Turkey, and regions along the Turkish–Syrian and Iran–Iraq borders.
The large number of steles, including inscriptions, surviving from ancient Egypt and in Central America constitute one of the largest and most significant sources of information on those civilisations, in particular Maya stelae. The most famous example of an inscribed stela leading to increased understanding is the Rosetta Stone, which led to the breakthrough allowing Egyptian hieroglyphs to be read. An informative stele of Tiglath-Pileser III is preserved in the British Museum. Two steles built into the walls of a church are major documents relating to the Etruscan language.
Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancient North Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is now the country Egypt. Ancient Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes. The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.
Central America is a region found in the southern tip of North America and is sometimes defined as a subcontinent of the Americas. This region is bordered by Mexico to the north, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. Central America consists of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. The combined population of Central America is estimated to be between 41,739,000 and 42,688,190.
The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele discovered in 1799 which is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic and demotic scripts, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. The decree has only minor differences among the three versions, so the Rosetta Stone became key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, thereby opening a window into ancient Egyptian history.
Standing stones (menhirs), set up without inscriptions from Libya in North Africa to Scotland, were monuments of pre-literate Megalithic cultures in the Late Stone Age. The Pictish stones of Scotland, often intricately carved, date from between the 6th and 9th centuries.
An obelisk is a specialized kind of stele. The Insular high crosses of Ireland and Britain are specialized steles. Totem poles of North and South America that are made out of stone may also be considered a specialized type of stele. Gravestones, typically with inscribed name and often with inscribed epitaph, are among the most common types of stele seen in Western culture.
Most recently, in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the architect Peter Eisenman created a field of some 2,700 blank steles.The memorial is meant to be read not only as the field, but also as an erasure of data that refer to memory of the Holocaust.
Many steles have been used since the First Dynasty of Egypt. These vertical slabs of stone depict tombstones, religious usage, and boundaries.
Urartian steles were freestanding stone obelisks that served a variety of purposes, sometimes they were located within temple complexes, or set within monumental rock-cut niches (such as the niche of the Rock of Van, discovered by Marr and Orbeli in 1916) or erected beside tombs. Others stood in isolated positions and, such as the Kelashin Stele, had a commemorative function or served as boundary markers. Although sometimes plain, most bore a cuneiform inscription that would detail the stele's function or the reasons for its erection. The steel from Van's "western niche" contained annals of the reign of Sarduri II, with events detailed yearly and with each year separated by the phrase "For the God Haldi I accomplished these deeds". Urartian steles are sometimes found reused as Christian Armenian gravestones or as spolia in Armenian churches - Maranci suggests this reuse was a deliberate desire to capitalize on the potency of the past. Some scholars have suggested Urartian steles may have influenced the development of the Armenian khachkar.
Greek funerary markers, especially in Attica, had a long and evolutionary history in Athens. From public and extravagant processional funerals to different types of pottery used to store ashes after cremation, visibility has always been a large part of Ancient Greek funerary markers in Athens. Regarding stelai (Greek plural of stele), in the period of the Archaic style in Ancient Athens (600 BC) stele often showed certain archetypes of figures, such as the male athlete.Generally their figures were singular, though there are instances of two or more figures from this time period. Moving into the 6th and 5th centuries BC, Greek stelai declined and then rose in popularity again in Athens and evolved to show scenes with multiple figures, often of a family unit or a household scene. One such notable example is the Stele of Hegeso. Typically grave stelai are made of marble and carved in relief, and like most Ancient Greek sculpture they were vibrantly painted. For more examples of stelai, the Getty Museum's published Catalog of Greek Funerary Sculpture is a valuable resource
Steles (Chinese: bēi 碑) have been the major medium of stone inscription in China since the Tang dynasty.Chinese steles are generally rectangular stone tablets upon which Chinese characters are carved intaglio with a funerary, commemorative, or edifying text. They can commemorate talented writers and officials, inscribe poems, portraits, or maps, and frequently contain the calligraphy of famous historical figures. In additional to their commemorative value, many Chinese steles are regarded as exemplars of traditional Chinese calligraphic scripts, especially the clerical script.
Chinese steles from before the Tang dynasty are rare: there are a handful from before the Qin dynasty, roughly a dozen from the Western Han, 160 from the Eastern Han, and several hundred from the Wei, Jin, Northern and Southern, and Sui dynasties. 墓誌, mùzhì) containing biographical information on deceased people began to be written on stone tablets rather than wooden ones.During the Han dynasty, tomb inscriptions (
Erecting steles at tombs or temples eventually became a widespread social and religious phenomenon. Emperors found it necessary to promulgate laws, regulating the use of funerary steles by the population. The Ming dynasty laws, instituted in the 14th century by its founder the Hongwu Emperor, listed a number of stele types available as status symbols to various ranks of the nobility and officialdom: the top noblemen and mandarins were eligible for steles installed on top of a stone tortoise and crowned with hornless dragons, while the lower-level officials had to be satisfied with steles with plain rounded tops, standing on simple rectangular pedestals.
Steles are found at nearly every significant mountain and historical site in China. The First Emperor made five tours of his domain in the 3rd century BC and had Li Si make seven stone inscriptions commemorating and praising his work, of which fragments of two survive. 13 m (43 ft) high stele at Mount Tai with the personal calligraphy of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang commemorating his imperial sacrifices there in 725.One of the most famous mountain steles is the
A number of such stone monuments have preserved the origin and history of China's minority religious communities. The 8th-century Christians of Xi'an left behind the Nestorian Stele, which survived adverse events of the later history by being buried underground for several centuries. Steles created by the Kaifeng Jews in 1489, 1512, and 1663, have survived the repeated flooding of the Yellow River that destroyed their synagogue several times, to tell us something about their world. China's Muslim have a number of steles of considerable antiquity as well, often containing both Chinese and Arabic text.
Thousands of steles, surplus to the original requirements, and no longer associated with the person they were erected for or to, have been assembled in Xi'an's Stele Forest Museum, which is a popular tourist attraction. Elsewhere, many unwanted steles can also be found in selected places in Beijing, such as Dong Yue Miao, the Five Pagoda Temple, and the Bell Tower, again assembled to attract tourists and also as a means of solving the problem faced by local authorities of what to do with them. The long, wordy, and detailed inscriptions on these steles are almost impossible to read for most are lightly engraved on white marble in characters only an inch or so in size, thus being difficult to see since the slabs are often 3m or more tall.
There are more than 100,000 surviving stone inscriptions in China. However, only approximately 30,000 have been transcribed or had rubbings made, and fewer than those 30,000 have been formally studied.
Maya stelae were fashioned by the Maya civilization of ancient Mesoamerica. They consist of tall sculpted stone shafts or slabs and are often associated with low circular stones referred to as altars, although their actual function is uncertain.Many stelae were sculpted in low relief, although plain monuments are found throughout the Maya region. The sculpting of these monuments spread throughout the Maya area during the Classic Period (250–900 AD), and these pairings of sculpted stelae and circular altars are considered a hallmark of Classic Maya civilization. The earliest dated stela to have been found in situ in the Maya lowlands was recovered from the great city of Tikal in Guatemala. During the Classic Period almost every Maya kingdom in the southern lowlands raised stelae in its ceremonial centre.
Stelae became closely associated with the concept of divine kingship and declined at the same time as this institution. The production of stelae by the Maya had its origin around 400 BC and continued through to the end of the Classic Period, around 900, although some monuments were reused in the Postclassic (c. 900–1521). The major city of Calakmul in Mexico raised the greatest number of stelae known from any Maya city, at least 166, although they are very poorly preserved.
Hundreds of stelae have been recorded in the Maya region,displaying a wide stylistic variation. Many are upright slabs of limestone sculpted on one or more faces, with available surfaces sculpted with figures carved in relief and with hieroglyphic text. Stelae in a few sites display a much more three-dimensional appearance where locally available stone permits, such as at Copán and Toniná. Plain stelae do not appear to have been painted nor overlaid with stucco decoration, but most Maya stelae were probably brightly painted in red, yellow, black, blue and other colours.
Ogham stones are vertical grave and boundary markers, erected at hundreds of sites in Ireland throughout the first millennium AD, bearing inscriptions in the Primitive Irish language. They have been occasionally been described as "steles."
The Horn of Africa contains many stelae. In the highlands of Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Axumites erected a number of large stelae, which served a religious purpose in pre-Christian times. One of these granite columns is the largest such structure in the world, standing at 90 feet.
Additionally, Tiya is one of nine megalithic pillar sites in the central Gurage Zone of Ethiopia. As of 1997, 118 stele were reported in the area. Along with the stelae in the Hadiya Zone, the structures are identified by local residents as Yegragn Dingay or "Gran's stone", in reference to Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi (Ahmad "Gurey" or "Gran"), ruler of the Adal Sultanate.
The stelae at Tiya and other areas in central Ethiopia are similar to those on the route between Djibouti City and Loyada in Djibouti. In the latter area, there are a number of anthropomorphic and phallic stelae, which are associated with graves of rectangular shape flanked by vertical slabs. The Djibouti-Loyada stelae are of uncertain age, and some of them are adorned with a T-shaped symbol.
Near the ancient northwestern town of Amud in Somalia, whenever an old site had the prefix Aw in its name (such as the ruins of Aw Bare and Aw Bube), it denoted the final resting place of a local saint. Surveys by A.T. Curle in 1934 on several of these important ruined cities recovered various artefacts, such as pottery and coins, which point to a medieval period of activity at the tail end of the Adal Sultanate's reign. Among these settlements, Aw Barkhadle is surrounded by a number of ancient stelae. Burial sites near Burao likewise feature old stelae.
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Copán is an archaeological site of the Maya civilization in the Copán Department of western Honduras, not far from the border with Guatemala. It was the capital city of a major Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD. The city was in the extreme southeast of the Mesoamerican cultural region, on the frontier with the Isthmo-Colombian cultural region, and was almost surrounded by non-Maya peoples.
Quiriguá is an ancient Maya archaeological site in the department of Izabal in south-eastern Guatemala. It is a medium-sized site covering approximately 3 square kilometres (1.2 sq mi) along the lower Motagua River, with the ceremonial center about 1 km (0.6 mi) from the north bank. During the Maya Classic Period (AD 200–900), Quiriguá was situated at the juncture of several important trade routes. The site was occupied by 200, construction on the acropolis had begun by about 550, and an explosion of grander construction started in the 8th century. All construction had halted by about 850, except for a brief period of reoccupation in the Early Postclassic. Quiriguá shares its architectural and sculptural styles with the nearby Classic Period city of Copán, with whose history it is closely entwined.
Seibal, known as El Ceibal in Spanish, is a Classic Period archaeological site of the Maya civilization located in the northern Petén Department of Guatemala, about 100 km SW of Tikal. It was the largest city in the Pasión River region.
Wahankh Intef II was the third ruler of the Eleventh Dynasty of Egypt during the First Intermediate Period. He reigned for almost fifty years from 2112 BC to 2063 BC. His capital was located at Thebes. In his time, Egypt was split between several local dynasties. He was buried in a saff tomb at El-Tarif.
Gebel el-Silsila or Gebel Silsileh is 65 km north of Aswan in Upper Egypt, where the cliffs on both sides close to the narrowest point along the length of the entire Nile. The location is between Edfu in the north towards Lower Egypt and Kom Ombo in the south towards Upper Egypt. The name Kheny means "The Place of Rowing". It was used as a major quarry site on both sides of the Nile from at least the 18th Dynasty to Greco-Roman times. Silsila is famous for its New Kingdom stelai and cenotaphs.
The Metternich Stela is a magico-medical stele that is part of the Egyptian Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It dates to the thirtieth dynasty of Egypt around 380–342 B.C. during the reign of Nectanebo II. The provenance of the stele is unknown.
The Raphia Decree is an ancient inscribed stone stela dating from ancient Egypt. It comprises the second of the Ptolemaic Decrees issued by a synod of Egyptian priests meeting at Memphis under Ptolemy IV of the Hellenistic Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt from 305 BC to 30 BC. The slab dates itself to 217 BC, and celebrates Ptolemy IV's victory at the Battle of Raphia.
Khaneferre Sobekhotep IV was one of the more powerful Egyptian kings of the 13th Dynasty, who reigned at least eight years. His brothers, Neferhotep I and Sihathor, were his predecessors on the throne, the latter having only ruled as coregent for a few months.
King Ezana's Stela is an obelisk in the ancient city of Axum, Ethiopia. The monument stands at the center of the Northern Stelae Park, which contains hundreds of smaller and less decorated stelae. This stela is probably the last one erected and the largest of those that remain unbroken. King Ezana of Axum's Stela stands 21 m (69 ft) tall, smaller than the collapsed 33 m (108 ft) Great Stela and the better-known 24 m (79 ft) "Obelisk of Axum". It is decorated with a false door at its base, and apertures resembling windows on all sides.
The slab stela was an original form of the steles of ancient Egypt. However, it was horizontal in dimension. Some of the earliest tablets from mid- to late-3rd millennium BC were painted Slab Steles. A small list of Ancient Egyptian dignitaries or their wives had a slab stela.
Maya stelae are monuments that were fashioned by the Maya civilization of ancient Mesoamerica. They consist of tall, sculpted stone shafts and are often associated with low circular stones referred to as altars, although their actual function is uncertain. Many stelae were sculpted in low relief, although plain monuments are found throughout the Maya region. The sculpting of these monuments spread throughout the Maya area during the Classic Period, and these pairings of sculpted stelae and circular altars are considered a hallmark of Classic Maya civilization. The earliest dated stela to have been found in situ in the Maya lowlands was recovered from the great city of Tikal in Guatemala. During the Classic Period almost every Maya kingdom in the southern lowlands raised stelae in its ceremonial centre.
Sacul is an archaeological site of the Maya civilization located in the upper drainage of the Mopan River, in the Petén department of Guatemala. The city occupied an important trade route through the Maya Mountains. The main period of occupation dates to the Late Classic Period. In the late 8th century AD through to the early 9th century, Sacul was one of the few kingdoms in the southeastern Petén region to use its own Emblem Glyph, together with Ixtutz and Ucanal.
Sihyaj Chan Kʼawiil II, also known as Storm Sky and Manikin Cleft Sky, was an ajaw of the Maya city of Tikal. He took the throne on November 26, 411 and reigned until his death. He was a son of his predecessor Yax Nuun Ahiin I and Lady Kʼinich, and a grandson of Spearthrower Owl. Stela 31, erected during his reign, describes the death of his grandfather in 439; other monuments associated with Sihyaj Chan Kʼawiil II are Stelae 1 and possibly Stelae 28. Tikal Temple 33 was Sihyaj Chan Kʼawiil II's funerary pyramid and his tomb was located beneath it.
Nefer-Setekh is the name of an Ancient Egyptian high official, who lived and worked either during the late midst of the 2nd or during the beginning of the 3rd dynasty. He became known by his name, which was addressed to the deity Seth.
Kʼinich Yat Ahk II, also known as Ruler 7, was the last ajaw of Piedras Negras, an ancient Maya settlement in Guatemala. He ruled during the Late Classic Period, from 781 to roughly 808 AD. Possibly a descendant of Itzam Kʼan Ahk II, Kʼinich Yat Ahk II ascended the throne upon the death of his brother, the sixth ajaw of the site, Haʼ Kʼin Xook. While Kʼinich Yat Ahk II presided over the destruction of the rival Maya site Pomona, his reign likely ended with Kʼinich Tatbu Skull IV of Yaxchilan capturing and subjugating Piedras Negras. Itzam Kʼan Ahk II left behind several monuments, including stelae at Piedras Negras, a stone seat known as Throne 1 which records either the death or abdication of Haʼ Kʼin Xook, and Panel 3 which recounts the exploits of Itzam Kʼan Ahk II.
The commemorative stelae of Nahr el-Kalb are a group of over 20 inscriptions and rock reliefs carved into the limestone rocks around the estuary of the Nahr al-Kalb in Lebanon, just north of Beirut.
Caracol is the name given to a large ancient Maya archaeological site, located in what is now the Cayo District of Belize. It is situated approximately 40 kilometres south of Xunantunich and the town of San Ignacio Cayo, and 15 kilometers away from the Macal River. It rests on the Vaca Plateau at an elevation of 500 meters above sea-level, in the foothills of the Maya Mountains. Long thought to be a tertiary center, it is now known that the site was one of the most important regional political centers of the Maya Lowlands during the Classic Period. Caracol covered approximately 200 square kilometers, covering an area much larger than present-day Belize City and supported more than twice the modern city's population.
A stele is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected as a monument, very often for funerary or commemorative purposes.
At Helwan south of modern Cairo was excavated a large Ancient Egyptian cemetery with more than 10.000 burials. The cemetery was in use from the Naqada Period around 3200 BC to the Fourth Dynasty and again at the beginning of the Middle Kingdom and then up to the Roman Period and beyond. The burial ground was discovered and excavated by Zaki Saad in 1942 to 1954. Further excavations started in 1997 by an Australian expedition. The excavations of Zaki Saad were never fully published, only several preliminary reports appeared. Helwan was most likely the cemetery of Memphis in the first Dynasties. The tombs range from small pits to bigger elaborated mastabas. Regarding the underground parts of these tombs, two types are attested. There are on one side pits with the burial at the bottom and there are on the other side underground chambers, reached via a pit or via a staircase. The majority of burials are for one deceased. There are some examples of multiple burials. The deceased were mostly place in reed mats or coffins of different materials. Most of the bodies were found in a contracted position. Most tombs were built of mud bricks. Roofs are often made of timber. Some walls in the underground chambers were covered with plaster. In several tombs stones were found, used for roofing the tomb chamber, for blocking the entrance and in rare cases for paving walls. Some of the more elaborate tombs had several underground chambers. These chambers were often reached via a staircase. The people buried here belonged to all levels of society, albeit the highest officials were buried at Saqqara. Over 40 stelae were found belonging to the upper levels of society. They are an important source for early writing in Egypt. A certain Meriiti bears many titles on his stela and dates most likely to the First Dynasty. A few stelae also belong to members of the royal family, such as the king's daughter Satkhnum, the king's daughter Khenmetptah and the king's son Nisuheqet. The stelae date from about the middle of the First Dynasty to the early Fourth Dynasty.