Production Economy of Palmyrene Funerary Portraits

The Palmyra Portrait Project aims to compile a comprehensive corpus of the Palmyrene funerary portraits, and today, the corpus consists of more than 3,000 portraits.

Julia Steding’s PhD project addresses questions of the production economy of these, including a study of the technical aspects and the ways in which these contribute to a broader understanding of the chaîne opératoire involved. The project aims to outline and discuss how and to what extent large-scale production and production-to-stock constituted the main ways in which Palmyrene funerary portraits were prepared.

Therefore, it is necessary to see the techniques in a broader frame and compare the tool traces from Palmyrene portraits with those of portraits from the surrounding area in Syria and the big production centres of the East and the West. Based on this, it will be possible to reconstruct networks of trade as well as the spreading of specific knowledge of production techniques.

Furthermore, the project seeks to answer the question of how and when in the chain of production these portraits were tailor-made to fit either stylistic trends or the wishes of the customer, and when the customer became involved in the process of production.

The second part of the project addresses the placement of portraits in the graves. Most of the objects were not found in situ, so a reconstruction of their original location would add key information to our knowledge about the portraits. This is connected to the question of where the portraits were actually made – in workshops in the city or maybe at the graves, taking into consideration already made portraits – and again, tool traces and the influence of the costumer hold the key.

Investigator: PhD student Julia Steding

PI: Professor Rubina Raja

Read more at the project website