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by Archaeology Newsroom

Suicide in Ancient Art

Suicide is often denoted as the “Roman Death” in the Anglo-Saxon world. The expression stems from the conviction that self-killing was common in the ancient world. However, on the basis of the available data it is not possible to corroborate this belief. In my 1990 monograph entitled From Autothanasia to Suicide. Self Killing in Classical Antiquity 960 instances were processed. During the years the number of my ghastly collection has grown to 1317.. As an historian I am not qualified to assess the aesthetic meaning of an individual work of art nor its place in a specific genre. My questions are basic and global: which suicides were represented? Were specific methods favored or avoided by art? If so, why? What is the proportion of male versus female suicide in art? Are these distinct patterns for Greek and Roman iconography of self-killing? The answers to these questions may help to establish the significance of art for understanding the ancient paradigm of mors voluntaria. The way an individual puts an end to his or her life is the most objective method to group the representations. Therefore, this paper discusses the material to the method used.