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Paintings in Punic tombs

Some tombs in the ancient Punic necropolis of Sulky feature pictorial decorations. Sardinian funeral painting remained largely ignored until the discovery, in the necropolis of Tuvixeddu (CA), of the tombs called "of the Sid" and "of Uraeus" (fig. 1) which together with those in the necropolis of Kerkouane (Gebel Mlezza ), near Cape Bon (figs. 2a - b) represent some of the most complex and interesting examples.

Fig. 1 - The so-called Tomb of "Uraeus" in the necropolis of Tuvixeddu (CA) with friezes painted in red (from
Fig. 2a - Red painted wall in a Punic underground grave in Gebel Mlezza datable to the IV-III century B.C. (from MOSCATI 1972, p. 449)
Fig. 2b - Red painted wall in a Punic underground grave in Gebel Mlezza datable to the IV-III century B.C. (from MOSCATI 1972, p. 449).

Only three painted tombs of the ancient Sulky are known, but the most interesting one is no. 7, dating to the second half of the fifth century B.C. It was only used for one burial and was found intact; it is characterised by wall paintings, but also by the Egyptian-style high relief which depicts a male with a beard and klaft, also painted (fig. 4). The walls are painted with red horizontal bands which frame the eight niches and the contours of the false door (figs. 5-6) and the colour highlights the distinctive details of the character carved on the pillar. The walls of the hypogeum are coloured in red, while the details of the Egyptian-style character are rendered in red and black.

The technique used in the majority of Sardinian funerary paintings, as is the case in Sulky, is that which sees the colour applied directly onto the rock, without this being subjected to any special preparation, with the result that the pigment follows all the irregularities of the rock and suffers degradation over time, in fact, it is not uncommon to find a powder of the same colour as the decorations along the perimeter of the tombs, which clearly shows the crumbling of the wall surfaces, especially when these, as occurs in Sulky, are made of soft rock such as tuff.

In some rare cases, the presence of plaster has been documented as occurs in the grave of "Uraeus" in Tuvixeddu, where it is used to decorate the more complex frieze in the upper part of the chamber. As we saw earlier, tomb painting is generally monochromatic, characterised by so-called funerary red, but other colours are also documented such as black, blue and yellow.

Fig. 4 - The Egyptian-style high relief of tomb no. 7 (from BERNARDINI 2010, table I, 2).
Fig. 5 - Detail of the pictorial decoration on the right side of underground tomb no. 7 and along the bottom wall (from BERNARDINI 2007, p. 156, fig. 9)
Fig. 6 - Detail of the false door of tomb 7 (from BERNARDINI 2007, p. 156, fig. 10).

Strips, bands and lines are among the most common decorations. Other types, which at the present state of knowledge are unknown in the Punic necropolis of Sulky, are those which reproduce: architectural elements; geometric elements; various symbols of a funerary and sacred nature, such as Tanit or the sun disk and the crescent moon, plant elements and finally the iconography of human characters and animals.


  • P. BARTOLONI, La tomba 2AR della necropoli di Sulcis = Rivista di Studi Fenici vol. XV, 1, Roma 1987, pp. 57-73.
  • P. BARTOLONI, Sulcis, Roma 1989.
  • P. BARTOLONI, In margine a una tomba punica di Sulcis = Quaderni della Soprintendenza Archeologica per le Province di Cagliari e Oristano 1993, pp. 93-96.
  • P. BERNARDINI, Memorie d’Egitto. Un sepolcro punico da Sulky, in G. M. DELLA FINA (a cura di), Etruschi, Greci, Fenici e Cartaginesi nel Mediterraneo Centrale. Atti del XIV Congresso Internazionale di studi sulla storia e l’archeologia dell’Etruria, (Annali della fondazione per il Museo “Claudio Faina”, XIV), Orvieto 2007, pp. 137-160.
  • P. BERNARDINI. Aspetti dell’artigianato funerario punico di Sulky. Nuove evidenze, in M. MILANESE, P. RUGGERI, C. VISMARA (a cura di), Atti del XVIII Convegno Africa Romana (Olbia, 11-14 dicembre 2008), Roma 2010, pp. 1257-1270.
  • S. MOSCATI, I Fenici e Cartagine, Torino 1972.
  • A. STIGLITZ, Osservazioni sulla pittura funeraria nella Sardegna punica = Annali della Facoltà di Lettere di Cagliari LIV, Cagliari 2000, pp. 75-110.
  • S. PUGLISI, Scavo di tombe ipogeiche puniche (Sant’Antioco) = Atti dell'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. Notizie degli scavi di antichità, Roma 1942, pp. 106-115.
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