Inscribing defeat: The commemorative dynamics of the Athenian casualty lists

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Beginning ca. 500 bc, the Athenians annually buried their war dead in a public cemetery and marked their graveswith casualty lists. This article explores the formal and expressive content of the lists, focusing in particular on their relationship to defeat. The lists created a monumental, visual rhetoric of collective resilience and strength that capitalized on Athenian notions of manhood and exploited conceptions of shame. For most of the fifth century, the casualty lists were undecorated, austere monuments testifying to the endurance of the community. When decoration began anew, the public reliefs, in contrast to private funerary reliefs, represented, through imagery and setting, struggle rather than victory. The selective remembrance and, paradoxically, frequent forgetting both enacted and enabled by the lists helped the Athenians elide internal political strife and facilitated their repeated return to the fields of war.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)179-212
Number of pages34
JournalClassical Antiquity
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Classics


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