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Stigmata and the Cupids of Piazza Armerina

July 2021 (125.3)

Archaeological Note

Stigmata and the Cupids of Piazza Armerina

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Cupids depicted in the early fourth-century CE mosaics of the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina in Sicily are marked with a V on their foreheads; this has been explained as a symbol connected to a workshop. I adduce evidence from Roman literature and from the artistic tradition of Cupid in Roman art that suggests the mark is, in fact, the stigma, a tattoo regularly applied by the Romans to people convicted of serious crimes. This adds a new iconographic component to the well-known artistic repertoire of Cupid Punished in Roman art. I suggest ways in which the motif may have functioned in the context of the iconography of the villa’s mosaics.

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By Martin Beckmann
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 125, No. 3 (July 2021), pp. 461-469
DOI: 10.3764/aja.125.3.0461
© 2021 Archaeological Institute of America