Representations of Priests in Palmyra: Methodological Considerations on the Meaning of the Representation of Priesthood in the Funerary Sculpture from Roman Period Palmyra

New publication by Rubina Raja.

2016.04.01 | Christina Levisen

Raja, R. (2016). Representations of Priests in Palmyra: Methodological Considerations on the Meaning of the Representation of Priesthood in the Funerary Sculpture from Roman Period Palmyra. Religion in the Roman Empire, 2(1), 125-146.

Abstract

The city of Palmyra, ancient Tadmor, holds an immense amount of archaeological and written evidence informing us about the life and practices of people in the city. Apart from being home to unique architecture and monuments from the Roman period, Palmyra is home to the largest corpus of funerary sculpture portraying individuals outside of Rome. This makes these portraits, which have been collected within the framework of the Palmyra Portrait Project, a unique resource through which methodological considerations may be carried out. In this contribution, aspects of the representations of the Palmyrene priests, which make up approximately eighteen percent of all male representations in the funerary sculpture, take centre stage. These depictions of priests, in total 289, are shown in a variety of figural constellations divided between various forms (loculus reliefs and sarcophagi lids and boxes). Palmyrene priests are the only group of individuals in the funerary sculpture which are shown in the capacity of holding an office. It is here argued on the basis of the vast material that being depicted as a priest is to be seen much more as an expression of status than of profession. Furthermore, the nature and importance of the depiction of priests in various family constellations is discussed on the basis of the corpus, providing the first ever possibility to view these within a broader methodological framework, which has implications for ways of interpreting representations of individuals in funerary sculpture in general.

About the journal

Religion in the Roman Empire (RRE) is a peer-reviewed journal, which is published three times a year. It intends to further and document new and integrative perspectives on religion in the Ancient World combining multidisciplinary methodologies. Starting from the notion of "lived religion", it offers a space to take up recent, but still incipient, research to modify and cross the disciplinary boundaries of History of Religion, Archaeology, Anthropology, Classics, Ancient History, Jewish History, Rabbinics, New Testament, Early Christianity, Patristics, Coptic Studies, Gnostic and Manichean Studies, Late Antiquity and Oriental Languages. 

Rubina Raja is co-founder of RRE.

Publication, History and archaeology