Funerary Representations of Children in Roman-Period Palmyra

The aim of this project is to examine the funerary portraits of children from ancient Palmyra, Syria. Until now, representations of children have not received much attention by scholars; however, this is about to change.

Only very few public/religious objects contain depictions of a child, and we must look to the funerary material in order to examine and understand the role of children in Palmyrene society. Statistics show that at least 7 percent of the total Palmyrene funerary corpus contain a child’s portrait. Most young children are depicted on loculus reliefs in small group constellations, whereas the sarcophagus is the medium of the large family constellations, which include several family members. Occasionally, a child is portrayed alone in full figure on a loculus stele.

The children are recognisable by being rendered smaller than the adults with whom they are depicted as well as by certain attributes they often carry; however, occasionally, it is not that straightforward to identify children. Adults are also often portrayed together with their parents, especially on the sarcophagi; children are portrayed in a variety of constellations in the funerary sphere, and the aim of this project is to examine how the medium and its shape set boundaries for the display of the funerary portraits of young and adult children as well as why some constellations are acceptable in one medium and not in another. Furthermore, Sara Ringsborg wishes to examine children’s role in the group constellations and the values expressed in these.

Investigator: PhD student Sara Ringsborg

PI: Professor Rubina Raja

Read more at the project website