Archaeology Odyssey 8:6, November/December 2005

Death in Louisville, Roman Style

By Linda Maria Gigante

A fascinating episode in the history of Roman archaeology in America took place in Kentucky in the early years of the last century.

In 1911 Louisville businessman and community leader Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston traveled to Italy, purchased Roman funerary monuments and shipped them to Louisville. A November 1912 article in the local paper, The Courier Journal, announced the collection’s arrival:

To Louisville from far distant Rome, where for centuries they slept until disturbed by the ruthless hands of the early Christians, have come fragmentary bits of an ancient civilization to attest mutely but with surprising eloquence to the desecration of an old necropolis. Yet the movement that disturbed this sleep of the Romans is the gain of Kentucky’s metropolis in education: for the antiquities, saved from the ruins of ancient Rome, will become a much desired object lesson for modern Kentuckians.

The newspaper reporter then quoted the esteemed collector:

Mr. Thruston says that he expects to have some of the learned professors read the inscriptions for the purpose of ascertaining whether they have historic value. He entertains the belief that some of the urns, very ornately carved in bas reliefs, may have held the remains of famous Romans. Perhaps a tribune’s ashes have come to Louisville.

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