Among the grave altars built into the northern wall of Dion, an altar stood out for its size, its proportions and especially the way its inscriptions were arranged. For this reason, the altar was detached and in situ replaced by a cast (Fig. 1).
Today the altar is on display in the courtyard of the Archaeological Museum of Dion (Fig. 2).
On the front side of the main body of the altar, the so-called “orthostates”, there are three inscriptions (Fig. 3).
At the top a horizontal Latin inscription reveals the identity of the deceased. He was M(arcus) Domitius Pyrilampes who lived 23 years:
vixit annos XXIII
At the bottom of the body another inscription, also in horizontal writing, provides the same information in Greek:
Μ(άρκος) Δομίτιος Πυριλάμπης
ζήσας ἒτη κγ΄. vac
Between the aforementioned inscriptions there is, engraved in eight vertical columns, a dactylic hexameter epigram that outlines the favourite habit of the deceased, his character and his untimely death:
Τόν με φίλον θήραισι τὸν
ἥρπασεν ἀτλήτως γαῖα Μα-
οὔνομα δ’ εἰ ζητεῖς, Πυρι-
λάμπην χαῖρε καλῶν με
ζήσαντα ὠκυμόρων ἠιθέ-
[I, who loved hunting, who did not cause resentment to anyone, was unbearably snatched by the land of Macedonia. If you are looking for my name, bless you, call me Pyrilampes, who lived unmarried a short life].
On the left side of the altar there is another inscription, a curse for anyone who desecrates the monument (Fig. 4):
Ὁ δὲ μετάρας ἤ ἐπι-
θείς τι τῷ βωμῷ, ἔσ-
τω ἐπάρατος καὶ αὐτὸς
καὶ τὰ τέκνα καὶ τὸ γένος
[Whoever shall move or put something on the altar, let him and his children and family be cursed.]
According to the inscriptions, the altar dates to the 2nd c. A.D.
The altar is a special monument, unique in the collection of the funerary altars of Dion. The Greek name Pyrilampes appears as the surname (cognomen) of the deceased. The name is found for the first time in Macedonia, while it is mentioned several times in southern Greece, the islands and Ephesus. Also, the inscribed curse shows provision to protect the monument against violation. But mainly, the alternation of horizontal and vertical (“kionedon”) writing on the front side of the monument, creates a rare and interesting decorative effect as if it were an image.
Bibliography: P. Papageorgiou, Die Grabaltäre Pierias in der Kaiserzeit, Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani: Griechenland Bd. III.2, Athens 2019, 94-96, 10 (with former bibliography).