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Ancient Greek grave stele

As a stele ( ancient Greek στήλη stélē "column", "tombstone"), a high, free-standing, monolithic pillar has been primarily referred to since ancient Greece . Steles often served as tombs or as inscriptions - or boundary stones ; with the Maya they mostly served the ruler's apotheosis .



It is unclear whether the Neolithic menhirs and stone slabs (e.g. in the Table des Marchand ) can be ascribed to the character of steles, but it is known from around 1500 to 2500 BC. Statue menhirs already dated a clear stele shape.

Egypt and Ethiopia

Egyptian steles are often square and taper slightly towards the top. This shape is called an obelisk when it ends with a pyramid . The up to 33 m high and unscripted steles from Aksum (Ethiopia), probably dating to the first half of the 1st millennium AD, are among the most impressive examples of the genus.


Already around 2100 BC The original Nammu stele of the law was created . However, the one from the 18th century BC is more famous. Column-shaped stele of the law Hammurapis I from Babylon .


Ancient steles from Greece are often decorated with leaves and flowers ( anthemion ). When they mark a tomb, they have the name of the deceased on the front and often a relief on which the family or scenes from the life of the deceased can also be depicted. The largest collection of such steles is in the National Museum of Athens . The winners of the ancient Olympic Games were honored with the erection of steles or the misconduct of the deceased was remembered as a chilling example.


Instead of steles, the column shape was chosen for edicts and other notices in India (see Ashoka edicts ; Heliodoros column , iron column ); others were engraved into free-standing boulders.


In Macedonian and Roman times, the shape of the grave stelae changed to the tombstone we know today: They were lower and wider and often ended with a gable or a palmette at the top .

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, grave steles were mostly replaced by grave slabs or crosses; it was not until the 15th century that the upright stele was gradually revived.


While no stelae are known from most of the cultural centers in the highlands of Mexico, they reached their peak among the lowland Maya . The height of the steles varies between approx. 2 and approximately 7 m; their thickness is mostly between 30 and 60 cm. In addition to date and name glyphs, rulers (rarely also gods) are shown. Interactions between the participants are often shown on steles with two or more people.

Modern times

  • South of the inner east gate, steles with names and reliefs were erected during the construction of the Berlin Olympic Stadium , reminding of the German gold medal winners and sports at the Olympic Winter and Summer Games since 1896 ("Olympic Steles"). The erection of further steles was continued north of the inner east gate at the request of the Berlin Senator Ella Kay after the Second World War . The gold medal winners of the GDR were subsequently honored with pure name steles, the (provisionally) last Olympic stele was inaugurated on July 23, 2010 (Salt Lake City 2002-Athens 2004) and made by the Berlin sculptor Paul Brandenburg .
  • Today the term stele is also used for narrow, tall information boards that can be found at bus stops , train stations or as elements of guidance systems in street furniture .
  • Steles are also frequently used as a means of aesthetic expression in contemporary art. The St. Wendel artist Leo Kornbrust created a number of steles for public spaces , including an approximately 10 m high granite column in the fountain of the UKV building in Saarbrücken . The most famous example of the use of the stele in Germany is likely to be the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe designed by Peter Eisenman , a field of 2,711 concrete steles .
  • As part of a Europe-wide project, more than 30 octagonal Staufer steles, each weighing 4.5 t, by the sculptor Markus Wolf have been erected at locations that are related to the history of the Hohenstaufen dynasty since 2000 .

Web links

Commons : Steles  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Stele  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Stauferstelen on