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Rubina Raja

Funerary Portraiture in Greater Roman Syria

Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportAnthology

In many cities of Roman Greater Syria, the sculptural
habit was revived in the first century ce. A sudden
and explosive rise in the production of funerary
sculpture can be observed from in particular the first
century ce onwards. The best-known and most outstanding
example is Palmyra, where thousands of funerary
reliefs depicting the deceased were produced already
from the middle of the first century bce until 273 ce
when Palmyra was sacked by the troops of the Roman
emperor Aurelian. However, Palmyra does not stand as
an isolated phenomenon. Roughly contemporary with
and a bit later than the beginning of the production of
funerary portraits in Palmyra, large quantities of funerary
sculpture were produced in Zeugma and Hierapolis.
Furthermore, locally produced funerary reliefs are
known from rural areas of northern Syria and central
Syria, from Emesa and Epiphaneia, the Hauran, Lebanon
as well as the Decapolis region. Portraiture found its way
into the funerary sphere and in many places became an
integrated part of how individuals were honoured and
commemorated. However, it is also crucial to remember
that the surviving distribution of funerary sculpture
in Syria is uneven and the picture we have is scattered.
The abundance of funerary portraits from Palmyra and
a few other cities and regions tends to conceal the scarcity
if not absence of funerary sculpture in many parts
of Roman Greater Syria, including some of the region’s
most prominent cities. The trajectories behind this scarcity
and perhaps even disinterest in figural decoration of
tombs deserve to be studied in detail.
The funerary portraits of Greater Syria are quite
diverse in format and in style. In some regions, the
portraits display traits which adhere to what usually is
called provincial art, latching on to the current fashion
in contemporary Roman-period portraiture, while
other places, most prominently Palmyra, developed an
individual portraiture style, which cannot be termed
provincial. Nevertheless, the adaption of Graeco-Roman
modes of funerary representation facilitated the emergence
of visual norms and practices in a region with no
sculptural tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationTurmhout
PublisherBrepols Publishers
Number of pages235
ISBN (Print)978-2-503-57633-6
Publication statusPublished - 2019
SeriesStudies in Classical Archaeology
Volume6

    Research areas

  • Palmyra, Funerary Portraiture, Roman Near East, Greater Syria, Classical Archaeology

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