Biblical Archaeology Review 45:1, January/February 2019

Strata: “Aramaic Comics” Decorate Roman Tomb in Jordan

In a Roman tomb in northern Jordan, archaeologists have discovered what they are calling the “first Aramaic comics.” The wall paintings feature 260 figures—humans, deities, and animals—with texts written above them.

“The inscriptions are […] similar to speech bubbles in comic books, because they describe the activities of the characters, who offer explanations of what they are doing (‘I am cutting [stone],’ ‘Alas for me! I am dead!’), which is also extraordinary,” explained researcher Jean-Baptiste Yon of the French National Center for Scientific Research. “These 60 or so texts painted in black, some of which we have already deciphered, have the distinctive feature of being written in the local language of Aramaic, while using Greek letters.”

The underground tomb is part of a necropolis at Capitolias, one of the ancient cities of the Decapolis—a group of Hellenized cities stretching from Damascus to Amman. Founded in the late first century C.E. by Roman emperor Nerva or Trajan in honor of Jupiter Capitolinus, Capitolias is located in the modern village of Beit Ras.

Spanning 52 square meters, the tomb includes two funerary chambers. The researchers believe the wall paintings decorating the largest chamber illustrate Capitolias’s founding, including scenes of banqueting, construction, and offering thanks to the gods.

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