Representations of Women and Children in Roman Period Palmyra: The Religious Life of Women, Children and the Family

Summary of conference: Aarhus, 6th of February 2017, by PhD student Sara Ringsborg

2017.02.20 | Julie Thomsen Raunstrup

Part II of the two one-day conferences on Palmyrene women and children took place in Aarhus on February 3rd, 2017. Part I took place in October 2016. The conference was organized by assistant professor Signe Krag and PhD student Sara Ringsborg within the framework of the Palmyra Portrait Project. The project is directed by Dr. Rubina Raja and financed by the Carlsberg foundation.

The speakers of the day were all specifically chosen to shed light on a topic based on their previous and current research. The speakers were Ted Kaizer, Durham University, Rubina Raja, Aarhus University, Nathaneal J. Andrade, Binghamton University, Sanne Klaver, University of Amsterdam and Ville Vuolanto, University of Tampere.

The papers explored the religious positions of women and children in the religious sphere of Palmyra. The first part of the day focused on families in religion. Here, the papers examined how familial relations played a role in Palmyrene worship. Some families seemed to have been more prominent in certain contexts, linking them to individual temples or cults by dedications. Inscriptions from dedications reveal that Palmyrene families could have specific deities connected to them, and even inherit these or pass them on. The many representations of priests from the Palmyrene funerary sphere underline the importance of religion in Palmyrene society. Almost 20 % of all male funerary portraits represent a priest. However, the question is what this can reveal about the religious structure in Palmyrene society. Discussions on what priesthood meant and contained in Palmyra were undertaken.

Part two of the day explored women in religion. Queen Zenobia, the evidence of her life, and especially her last resting space are sparse. Through the examination of material concerning the burial of her husband, Odainath, we might get a better understanding of this legendary woman of Palmyra. Several small dedicatory altars are found trough the city of Palmyra. Occasionally, these were erected by women. Representations of women participating in sacrifices and processions further underline that women could hold an active and prominent role in the religious life.

The third and last part of the day explored children and their role in the religious life of Palmyra. Children are mentioned in religious dedicatory inscriptions. However, only two representations of a child from a religious dedication exist. One can assume that religious life were a key feature in the socialization and upbringing of a child in Palmyrene society. However, we lack the material showing children actively participating in religious affairs.

We once again thank all the participants and speakers of both the conference held in October 2016 and in February 2017 for some productive discussion and enlightening papers.

All papers will be published in Palmyrenske Studier, founded by Rubina Raja and published by Royal Academy of Sciences and Letters. 

Conference, History and archaeology