Arriving in Louisville in 1912, Ballard Thruston’s antiquities were stored in one of the downtown warehouses of his family’s flour mill (Ballard & Ballard Flour Mill). The contents of the 28 crates were checked against an inventory list and a few objects were taken by Ballard Thruston and his widowed sister-in-law to adorn their homes.
When plans were being made to make changes at the mill, Ballard Thruston was faced with the problem of finding a permanent home for the collection. Some pieces were given to the Jefferson Institute of Arts and Science, which, after 1914, was housed in the Louisville Free Public Library. Probably because of space constraints in the library, Ballard Thruston sent a letter to Hattie Bishop Speed in October 1929 offering to donate the antiquities to the Speed Museum, along with records of their purchase and photographs that he had taken in Rome. She gratefully accepted his gift, and within a few months the antiquities were transferred to the museum. A few pieces were put on display in small exhibitions in 1932 and 1940, but most of the objects remained in their crates for more than five decades due to a lack of resources and inadequate space in the museum.
In the late 1980s, when the museum was undergoing extensive renovation and expansion, interest in the Ballard Thruston collection was renewed. Since I teach courses in Roman art and culture at the University of Louisville, I was contacted by the museum to evaluate the objects. With the assistance of the staff and students from the university, an inventory was made of more than 60 terracotta ash urns (ollae) with assorted lids (including the two-paneled ash urn); 70 intact and fragmentary terracotta lamps; a variety of terracotta vessels, including bowls, plates and about 100 small unguent bottles; fragments of 12 relief panels; 12 marble ash urns (cineraria) and two small marble sarcophagi for children; and hundreds of inscribed stone epitaphs, many of them in pieces.
This collection constitutes one of the largest collections of Roman funerary artifacts with a documented provenance in the United States.
When the museum’s Antiquities Gallery was redesigned in the early 1990s, several objects from the collection were put on display. They are now the highlight of the Roman exhibit. A few epitaphs are mounted on the walls and some ash urns are set into niches to create the effect of a Roman columbarium. In 2000 the museum produced an audioguide to provide visitors with general information about the acquisition of the artifacts and Roman burial customs.
In 2001 George Houston, an expert in Latin epigraphy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, began to help us catalogue and study the inscriptions. With the assistance of graduate students from the University of Louisville, we have been measuring the inscriptions, transcribing the Latin, writing descriptions of the stones’ condition, and photographing the epitaphs for inclusion on the website of the US Epigraphy Project. While most of the inscriptions in this collection are in volume 6 of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, approximately 20 were never recorded. Professor Houston and I are currently working on a publication of this epigraphic material.—L.M.G.