AskDefine | Define stela

Dictionary Definition

stela n : an ancient upright stone slab bearing markings [syn: stele]

User Contributed Dictionary



Latin stela.


  • /'sti:lə/


  1. an obelisk or upright stone pillar, usually as a primitive commemoration or gravestone
    • 1966: A shore excursion had been arranged for the passengers who were interested in visiting the stelae of San Ignacio. — Paul Bowles, Up Above The World

Alternative forms



Old Norse



stela (+ )

Extensive Definition

A stele (from Greek: , stēlē, ; plural: stelae, , stēlai, ; also found: Latinised singular stela and Anglicised plural steles) is a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected for funerals or commemorative purposes, most usually decorated with the names and titles of the deceased or living — inscribed, carved in relief (bas-relief, sunken-relief, high-relief, etc), or painted onto the slab.

History and function

Stelae were also used as territorial markers, as the boundary stelae of Akhenaton at Amarna, or to commemorate military victories. They were widely used in the Ancient Near East, Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia, and, quite independently, in China and some Buddhist cultures (see the Nestorian Stele), and, more surely independently, by Mesoamerican civilisations, notably the Olmec and Maya. The huge number of stelae surviving from ancient Egypt and in Central America constitute one of the largest and most significant sources of information on those civilisations. An informative stele of Tiglath-Pileser III is preserved in the British Museum. Two stelae built into the walls of a church are major documents relating to the Etruscan language.
Unfinished standing stones, set up without inscriptions from Libya in North Africa to Scotland were monuments of pre-literate Megalithic cultures in the Late Stone Age. The Pictish stones of Scotland, often intricately carved, date from between the 6th and 9th centuries.
In 1489, 1512, and 1663 CE, the Kaifeng Jews of China left these stone monuments to preserve their origin and history. Despite repeated flooding of the Yellow River, destroying their synagogue time and time again, these stelae survived to tell their tale.
An obelisk is a specialized kind of stele. The Insular high crosses of Ireland and Britain are specialized stelae. Likewise, the Totem pole of North and South America is a type of stelae. Gravestones with inscribed epitaph are also kinds of stelae.
Most recently, in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, the architect Peter Eisenman created a field of some 2,700 blank stelae. The memorial is meant to be read not only as the field, but also as an erasure of data that refer to memory of the Holocaust.

Notable individual stelae


–4th c.BC. Salbyk kurgan surrounded by balbals with kurgan obelisk on the top. Upper Enisey-Irtysh interfluvial


  • John Boardman ed., The Cambridge Ancient History, Part 1, 2nd Edition, (ISBN-13: 9780521224963 | ISBN-10: 0521224969)
  • Christopher A. Pool, Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica, Cambridge University Press 2007 (ISBN-13: 9780521783125)
  • Karen E. Till, The New Berlin: Memory, Politics, Place, University of Minnesota Press 2005

Footnotes and references

External links

stela in Breton: Maen-koun
stela in Catalan: Estela (monument)
stela in Czech: Stéla
stela in Danish: Stele
stela in German: Stele
stela in Spanish: Estela (monumento)
stela in Esperanto: Steleo
stela in French: Stèle
stela in Croatian: Stela
stela in Indonesian: Prasasti
stela in Hebrew: אסטלה
stela in Dutch: Stele
stela in Japanese: 石碑
stela in Norwegian: Stele
stela in Polish: Stela
stela in Portuguese: Estela (monumento)
stela in Romanian: Stelă
stela in Russian: Стела
stela in Simple English: Stele
stela in Slovak: Stéla
stela in Sundanese: Prasasti
stela in Finnish: Steela
stela in Swedish: Stele
stela in Thai: ศิลาจารึก
stela in Turkish: Stel

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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