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New monograph on Palmyra’s unique sarcophagi

Olympia Bobou and Rubina Raja have written the first ever comprehensive monograph on the Roman period sarcophagi from Palmyra, a group unique for its treatment of the banquet motif in the ancient Graeco-Roman world.

Bobou, O. and Raja, R. 2023. Palmyrene Sarcophagi, 2 vols (Turnhout: Brepols).

Palmyrene limestone sarcophagi are unique among those from the ancient world for their representation of the banquet motif: unlike the better-known and well-studied sarcophagi from the Greco-Roman world where only a pair of spouses is shown reclining on the lid, Palmyrene sarcophagi show family scenes, where several members across generations take part on a banquet, while further portraits of members – also of the extended family – may appear on the boxes, creating an image of familial continuity and bonds that is unprecedented in the Roman world. 

The material is presented, analysed and discussed in two richly illustrated volumes. The first volume contains the historiography of research on Palmyrene sarcophagi, a presentation of Palmyra’s funerary customs and the question of the appearance of the banqueting motif and the sarcophagi in the city. It addresses issues of chronology, location, and iconography, and the authors present the evidence for understanding the sarcophagi as vehicle of local elite ideology, manifested through the choice of the banquet motif. The text is accompanied by an extensive catalogue of 729 objects. These are divided according to chronology and provenance, and range from fragments to complete sarcophagi. The second volume closes with a series of appendixes that present all the other sarcophagi or reliefs with banqueting motif, such as lost sarcophagi, sarcophagi known only from publications, and imported marble sarcophagi fragments, that are currently known.

This new publication brought out by the frontrunner publishing house Brepols brings together all the known sarcophagi and sarcophagi fragments from Palmyra, as well as all the other objects from the funerary sphere with banquet imagery (foundation reliefs and reliefs from inside tombs).

Olympia Bobou is an assistant professor at the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, Aarhus University. She is an expert on Hellenistic and Roman iconography and has published widely on Palmyra.

Rubina Raja is professor of Classical Archaeology and Art, center director of Centre for Urban Network Evolutions and furthermore directs three projects on Palmyra: The Palmyra Portrait Project; Archive Archaeology: Preserving and Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archive; and Circular Economy and Urban Sustainability in Antiquity. She specialises in the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant and has published widely on Palmyra and the Eastern Mediterranean.