Near Eastern, Palmyrene
About 175 CE
59 x 43 x 19 cm
Yale University Art Gallery: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Edgar Munroe; 1954.30.2
Palmyra, a wealthy city located on the trade routes between the Parthian Empire to the east and the Mediterranean world to the west, was incorporated into the province of Roman Syria, established in 64 BCE by the general Pompey the Great, by approximately 18 CE.
Wealthy Palmyrenes built various types of funerary chambers, all of which contained cubicula (compartments cut into the walls of a tomb) designed to hold the remains of the deceased. Each cubiculum was sealed off with a portrait plaque, such as this limestone funerary stele of a woman. The reliefs featured on such stelae would have represented the personality or soul of the deceased. This example follows the canon for funerary plaques of the era—the woman is depicted frontally, in bust form, with her arms held across her chest. Stelae of this kind were produced in workshops and usually adhere to figure types rather than distinguish specific characteristics of the individual—enlarged, schematic eyes, heavy ornament, and patterned or linear hair are the norm. The Aramaic inscription on the upper- right-hand corner of this stele identifies the woman represented as Herta, daughter of Baida. The wealth of her family is communicated through the abundance of her necklaces, earrings, rings, and diadem. She is draped in a Greek chiton (tunic) and himation (cloak), arranged in a complex manner to create a veil over her head. Her dress reflects the adoption of Graeco-Roman fashions and customs among the elite of Palmyra.
This text was prepared by Mellon Special Projects Intern Amanda Manker.