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Gravestone of Helena
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Unknown
Roman, about A.D. 150 - 200
Marble
H: 24 x W: 12 3/8 in.
71.AA.271

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A Maltese dog in the architectural setting of a naiskos, or small shrine, decorates this Roman grave relief. The inscription on the relief reads, "To Helena, foster daughter, the incomparable and worthy soul."

Was the Helena commemorated by this sculpture a dog or a girl? The Romans made grave reliefs for animals, but these usually took a different form and their inscriptions specify that they were intended for an animal. On the other hand, funerary monuments for children often show the child with a favorite pet. In this instance, however, the pet is shown alone, which might be more appropriate if Helena was not a high-born Roman. The inscription appears to support this interpretation because the word alumnus, although here translated as "foster daughter," can also mean a slave raised in the house.