HOME

SYRIAN CULTURAL

TOURISM

ANCIENT CULTURES

ANCIENT  GREEKS

ROMANS

SYRIAN EMPERORS

OF ROME

PALMYRA

MATERIAL CULTURE

OF PALMYRA

LATE ANTIQUITY

EARLY ISLAM

THE MIDDLE AGES

ISLAMIC HERALDRY

SYRIA IN THE LAST

CENTURIES

HANDICRAFTS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

SUGGESTED READING

MATERIAL CULTURE OF PALMYRA

Temple 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.

Temple 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.


East view of the Temple of Bel. The columns would have been capped with gold or silver capitals.

Palmyra 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 Palmyra.


The 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.

Reclining 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 sculptured likenesses.


Another 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.

Camels 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.


Beduin 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.

Women 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.


Fragment 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.

Textile 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.


Chinese 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.

Chinese 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 tastes.

HOME ~ CAUCASIAN RUGS FROM GEORGIA

Copyright © 2003

DR. MURRAY EILAND

ARCHAEOLOGIST

UNIVERSITY OF DAMASCUS

Web Developer: Diana Tsirunova