Funerary Portraiture in Greater Roman Syria

Organised by Assistant Professor Michael Blömer and Professor Rubina Raja

Date 15-16 June 2017
Time 8:45-17:30
Venue Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters, Copenhagen




In many regions of the Near East a surge in the sculptural habit can be found from around the 1st century CE. In particular, a sudden and explosive rise in the production of funerary sculpture can be observed from the late 1st century CE onwards. The best known and most outstanding example is Palmyra, where thousands of funerary reliefs depicting the deceased were produced in the 1st/2nd/3rd centuries CE. However, the trend in Palmyra was not an isolated phenomenon. Roughly contemporary with the beginning of the production in Palmyra, large quantities of funerary sculpture were produced in Zeugma and Hierapolis. Furthermore, funerary steles are known from rural areas of North Syria and Central Syria, from Emesa and Epiphanea, 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 honored and remembered in more or less public and private settings. The portraiture from the Roman period in Greater Syria, however, is quite diverse. Some portrait traditions display provincial traits, latching on to the fashions which were current in contemporary Roman portraiture, while other places, most prominently Palmyra, show strong local developments in a portraiture style, which cannot be termed as provincial. These portrait traditions will at this event be discussed within a regional setting based on case studies of the various traditions, including the funerary traditions and monuments, in the regions within Greater Syria.

The aim of the conference is to provide an up-to-date survey of locally produced funerary sculpture and the funerary traditions from the regions of ancient Syria in order to bring new perspectives into play in the academic debate. The main focus will be on funerary reliefs and sculpture, but in order to get as holistic a picture as possible statues in the round, busts, funerary mosaics and paintings will be taken into consideration as well. This is an important undertaking, since until now few attempts have been made to merge local and regional studies in Syrian sculpture in order to develop an integrated transregional picture of sculptural development and funerary iconography in the Roman Near East. The presentation and discussion of material from as many regions as possible will facilitate on the one hand the identification of mutual influences, interconnections, and iconographical analogies. On the other hand, it will give the opportunity to recognize boundaries and breaks between traditions (chronologically and regionally), regional differences and insular phenomena.

A number of other research questions related to funerary sculpture in Syria are also desirable to address. In particular, it seems worthwhile to reconsider upon which models the sculpture and its iconography has been based. While it can hardly be denied that Roman impact has fostered the reintroduction of the sculptural habit in numerous places, it is less certain to what degree locally produced sculpture can be directly linked to actual Hellenistic or Roman archetypes. The often cited influence of early imperial funerary reliefs from Rome and Italy, for example, seems questionable and needs to be revised in the light of new knowledge and material. Funerary steles of Roman soldiers in the Near East are frequently cited as another source of inspiration, but the influence of this large group of monuments on the local perception of funerary commemoration has not been studied in any detail so far. Apart from tracking external influences, regard to indigenous traditions that shaped local funerary sculpture and its iconography should also be paid.

Furthermore the original contexts of the funerary sculpture in Syria should be taken into consideration in order to comprehend the thoughts behind the original set-ups/contexts. Funerary sculpture was inherently part of the decoration of a tomb monument. Thus, the types of the various tombs would strongly have influenced the shape, the size and also the design of the sculpture displayed in a tomb. This interconnection between the function and form of funerary sculpture has often been neglected.

Confirmed speakers

  • Annan, Bilal (Institut français du Proche-Orient)
  • Blömer, Michael (Aarhus University) - organiser
  • De Giorgi, Andrea (Florida State University
  • Dillon, Sheila (Duke University)
  • Görkay, Kutalmış (Ankara University)
  • Hallett, Christopher (UC Berkeley)
  • Krag, Signe (Aarhus University)
  • Lichtenberger, Achim (Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster)
  • Mahler, Karl-Uwe (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz)
  • Raja, Rubina (Aarhus University) - organiser
  • Rumscheid, Jutta (Universität Bonn)
  • Speidel, Michael A. (Universität Zürich)

Practical information for speakers


Please make your own travel arrangements to/from Copenhagen. After your visit, your travel expenses will be reimbursed (only economy class). Please fill out this travel reimbursement form and return it (preferably in Excel-format) to Christina Levisen ( along with scanned copies of your receipts and boarding passes (no need to send the originals).­

NOTE: Once you have booked your trip, please send Christina Levisen your itinerary, so that the hotel booking can be finalised.



Dinner and diet

A speakers’ dinner has been organised for 15 June, and of course we will cater for you during the conference. If you have any dietary restrictions (incl. allergies), please let Christina Levisen ( know in advance of the conference.


If you wish to use powerpoint, please forward your slides by Wednesday 14 June 2017.