CULTURE OF PALMYRA
of Baal-Shamin, Palmyra. As ‘lord of the heavens’ this deity
is associated with rain and fecundity. The Corinthian
columns and the almost Baroque treatment of the foliage (some of
which shows Egyptian elements) make this small structure a
delight. In its present form it is largely the result
of 3rd century construction. Note the projecting ledges on the
columns. These were to support statues. Inscriptions
identifying who was honoured sometimes survive below the
platform. This is a characteristic of Palmyrene art and is
not encountered in the Western Classical world.
of Bel, (1st to 2nd century). This deity was the king of the
West Semitic Pantheon. From cuneiform tablets of the
Akkadian period his name was synonymous with kingship. When
the Greeks arrived they equated him with Zeus. This structure is
one of the most important in the Near East. It is in a
huge compound (205 by 210 metres) and would have accommodated a
large number of worshippers. The deity would have been
cared for by the elite who controlled the temple.
view of the Temple of Bel. The columns would have been
capped with gold or silver capitals.
is famous for it’s decorated architectural elements. This is
an example of an interlocking design that appears repeatedly in
Roman mosaics. Fragment in the Museum of
monumental arch in morning light. This is one of the first
things visitors see from a tour bus. It is wedge shaped and
marks the spot where the colonnaded street - which is interrupted
by the modern asphalt road - changes direction. The richly
decorated arch was erected by Septimius Severus (193-211), one of
the Syrian Roman Emperors.
funerary stele in front of the Museum of Palmyra. The museum’s
garden contains a wonderful collection of statuary. This large
example is of typical Palmyrene form. The richly dressed male is
accompanied by his seated wife and children. There is debate as to
what this scene represents. It is clearly funerary, and it appears
that the man has passed away. Does the scene represent a happy
occasion or is the banquet a more sombre one in his honour? He is
dressed in what is now known as Eastern style in trousers with a long
tunic. The fabrics were far from plain as is clear on many of the
funerary scene from the Museum of Palmyra. The attending
male figure may be a servant or the man’s son. Previous
generations of scholars often tried to categorize Palmyrene art as
provincial. Even from a casual appreciation of the sculpture
it is clear that the figures are skilfully executed and that they
convey a particular world view, though the latter is open to
interpretation. All the monuments represent an elite who
convey their sense of mastery in their repose.
laden with precious treasures are a common theme in Near Eastern
art, and they are particularly appropriate in Palmyra. The
city was a hub in a bustling trade network.
camel trappings from the Ethnographic Museum, Palmyra. This
museum is a short walk from the Temple of Bel and preserves Beduin
handicrafts from the last century. These nomadic people
preserve many aspects of material culture that can be seen in
Palmyrene art. Perhaps the most obvious are their textiles,
which can be appreciated only as shades of grey in sculptures.
Richly ornamented textiles represented considerable time to
produce and were very valuable.
in Palmyra were occupied with weaving, as is clear from the
reliefs and from textile finds in tombs. Women were often
portrayed ‘with the tools of their trade’, a spindle whorl and
yarn, suggesting that this craft was central to their status.
It is unlikely that elite women actually wove, rather the spindle
represented mastery over the household. Upper class Roman
ladies were also buried with golden spindles.
of textile from Palmyra now in the Museum of Palmyra. This
textile has raised areas of design that suggest the richly
ornamented sculptures were not based on artistic fantasy.
fragment with coloured bands in the Museum of Palmyra. This
textile hints that while many of the sculptures are now white,
they may have been painted in antiquity. There are traces of
colour on some that suggest the extent of what was lost.
textile fragment from the Museum of Palmyra. It is perhaps
no surprise that some of the Chinese textiles destined for Rome
can also be found in Palmyra. The dry climate along with
tower tombs preserved them from water and decay.
textile fragment from the Museum of Palmyra. The colour blue
and purple were reserved for the elite in the ancient
Mediterranean. Ancient Rome even had laws that restricted royal
purple to the aristocracy. Royal blue was obtained from the
marine mollusk the murex snail. Similar shades of blue are
also found on Chinese textiles that were made to suit Western