Book Series Studies in Palmyrene Archaeology and History, vol. 10

Palmyrene Sarcophagi

Olympia Bobou, Rubina Raja

  • Pages: approx. 940 p.
  • Size:216 x 280 mm
  • Illustrations:536 b/w, 184 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2023



Olympia Bobou is an assistant professor at the Centre for Urban Network Evolutions, Aarhus University. 

Rubina Raja is professor of Classical Archaeology and 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 Mediterranean and the Levant and has published widely on Palmyra and the region in general. 


While the funerary portraiture of Palmyra is rightly world-renowned, up to now, the corpus of sarcophagi from the ancient city has received relatively little attention as a cohesive group in their own right. Comprising sarcophagi, banqueting reliefs and founder reliefs, as well as sarcophagus reliefs, most of these objects share a common iconographic motif, that of the banquet, although other scenes, mostly drawn from the daily life of the city’s caravan leaders and their families, also appear. The emphasis on the banqueting scene in particular reveals the crucial importance of dining in ancient Palmyrene society: for the living, banquets were a marker of social standing and gave hosts a chance to honour the gods and offer an ephemeral benefaction to their fellow citizens, while for the dead, the banquet motif offered the opportunity for the entire family to be depicted together and showcase their wealth and sophistication, as well as their connections outside the city.

This single corpus of material gathered through the Palmyra Portrait Project, is presented in this beautifully illustrated two-volume monograph. Through careful analysis of the portraits, and the costumes and attribute choices that appear in these images, the authors explore how the sarcophagi were used by Palmyrenes to project an image of local pride, while at the same time participating in the visual cultures of the Roman and Parthian Empires between which their city was situated.


List of Illustrations Acknowledgements

Chapter 1. General Introduction
Introduction to the Book and Chapter Structure
History of Palmyra
The Exploration of Tadmor-Palmyra
Literature Survey
Sarcophagi in the Roman Empire

Chapter 2. The Portrait Habit in Palmyra and the Funerary Sphere
The Portrait Habit in Palmyra
The Sarcophagi within the Portrait Corpus
The Iconography of Palmyrene Sarcophagi
The Banqueting Motif
Burial Customs
Tower Tombs
Temple Tombs

Chapter 3. Dated Objects
Chronological Criteria
Group I: A.D. 1–100
Group II: A.D. 100–150
Group III: A.D. 150–200
Group IV: A.D. 200–240
Group V: A.D. 240–273
Other Sarcophagi
Comparison with Palmyrene Dated Pieces outside the Sarcophagi Corpus

Chapter 4. In situ Contexts
Late 1st cent. B.C. / Early 1st cent. A.D.: Tower Tomb no. 19
Late 1st cent. B.C. / Early 1st cent. A.D.: Tower Tomb no. 15
A.D. 33: Tomb no. 67, Tower of Ḥaîran
A.D. 35–70: Tower Tomb no. 46
A.D. 41: Tower Tomb no. 44, Tower of Kîtôt
A.D. 70–100: Tower Tomb no. 41a
A.D. 73: Tower Tomb no. 194, Tower of ʿOgeîlû
A.D. 83: Tower Tomb no. 51, Tower of Iamlikû
A.D. 83: West Necropolis: Tower Tomb no. 68, of the Bene Baa
A.D. 88/89: Hypogeum of ‘Aštôr
A.D. 89: South-east Necropolis: Tomb no. 7, Hypogeum of Bôlḥâ
Late 1st cent. / Early 2nd cent. A.D.: Tower Tomb no. 39d
Late 1st cent. / Early 2nd cent. A.D.: Hypogeum of Aqraban
Ca. A.D. 90: Hypogeum of Barîkî
A.D. 98: Tomb no. A120, Hypogeum of ‘Atenatan
A.D. 98: Hypogeum of ‘Abd’astôr
A.D. 98: Hypogeum of the Barîkî
Around A.D. 100: Hypogeum of the Bôlbarak Family
Around A.D. 100: Hypogeum of Zabdâ
A.D. 103: Tower Tomb no. 13, Tower of Elahbel
A.D. 108: Hypogeum of Yarḥai
A.D. 109: Hypogeum of Julius Aurelius Malê
A.D. 113: Tomb no. H, Hypogeum of Taibol
A.D. 114: Hypogeum of Zabd ‘ateh and Moqîmû
A.D. 115–125: Hypogeum of Shalamallat
A.D. 116: Hypogeum of Malkû
A.D. 116: Hypogeum AK
Early 2nd cent. A.D.: Hypogeum of Artaban
Early 2nd cent. A.D.: Hypogeum of Taai
A.D. 100–125: Tower Tomb no. 85d
A.D. 100–130: Tower Tomb no. 39
A.D. 100–130: Tower Tomb no. 168
A.D. 100–150: Hypogeum of Lišamš
A.D. 100–150: Hypogeum no. 31
A.D. 100–150: Hypogeum no. 33
Before A.D. 128: Tower Tomb no. N206
A.D. 123: Hypogeum of Ḥennibel
A.D. 128: Tower Tomb no. 34, Tower of Moqimu
A.D. 130/131: Hypogeum of Ḥatrai
A.D. 133/134: Hypogeum of Yarhai, Atenuri, and Zabdibol
A.D. 138: Hypogeum of ʿAlaine
Before A.D. 142: Hypogeum of the Three Brothers
A.D. 149: Temple Tomb no. 85b, Tomb of Aʿailamî and Zebidâ (›Tomb Cantineau‹)
Ca. A.D. 150: Tower Tomb no. 87
A.D. 150–200: Hypogeum AN
A.D. 186: Hypogeum of Bar’a Bonnur
2nd cent. A.D.: Hypogeum AC
2nd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb no. 146
Before A.D. 220: Hypogeum F
Late 2nd cent. A.D.: Hypogeum Anonymous
2nd / 3rd cent. A.D.? Tower Tomb no.101
Late 2nd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb no.186 (›Tombeau de l’aviation‹/ ›Tomb Duvaux‹)
Late 2nd / Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb Q280, ›Qasr Abjad / White castle‹
Late 2nd / Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb 173c
Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb no. 173d
Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Hypogeum AG
Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb no. 174
Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb 173b
Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb no. 75
Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb no. 159
Early 3rd cent. A.D.: Temple Tomb no. 36
A.D. 236: Temple Tomb no. 150, Tomb of Marona
3rd cent. A.D.: Hexagonal Tomb

Chapter 5. Iconography
Banqueting Motif
Kline and Mattress
The Reclining Figure
Seated Females
Standing Figures
Seated Children
Portrait Busts
Daily Life: Caravan/Trade, Religious, and Domestic Iconography
The Horse Sarcophagus
Sarcophagi from Other Regions and their Influence

Appendix: The Costume of Reclining Figures
Parthian-style Costume
Trousers, Parthian-styleTunic, and Chlamys (79)
Parthian-style‹ Tunic and Himation (29)
›Parthian-style‹ Tunic and Chlamys (8)
›Parthian-style‹ Tunic and Trousers (6)
›Parthian-style‹ Tunic, Trousers, and Over-trousers (4)
›Parthian-style‹ Tunic, Trousers, and Himation (4)
›Parthian-style‹ Tunic, Trousers and Long Coat (3)
Tunic and Chlamys (3)
Plain Tunic, Trousers, and Himation (2)
Plain Tunic, Trousers, and Chlamys (1)
Chlamys, ›Parthian-style‹ Tunic and Himation (1)
Trousers and Over-trousers (1)
Tunic, Chlamys, Trousers, and Over-trousers (1)
Tunic, Chlamys, Trousers, and Himation (1)
Parthian-style — at least one Garment is Known
Tunic and Himation (81)
Tunic with Two Clavi
Only Himation (no Tunic Survives, or Cannot be Determined) (13)
Tunic only Survives (4)
Unknown or Unclear (11)

Chapter 6. Conclusion: Sarcophagi as Vehicles of Elite Identity
Works Cited
Dated by Inscription
A.D. 41
A.D. 73
A.D. 103
A.D. 128
A.D. 140/141
A.D. 142/143
A.D. 146/147
A.D. 148
A.D. 188
A.D. 239
A.D. 243–247
Objects from Tower Tombs
A.D. 50–100
A.D. 50–150
A.D. 100–150
A.D. 103–273
A.D. 135–170
A.D. 150–200
A.D. 200–273
A.D. 220–240
Objects from Hypogea
A.D. 89–220
A.D. 100–120
A.D. 100–130
A.D. 100–200
A.D. 100–220
A.D. 100–240
A.D. 100–250
A.D. 108–273
A.D. 113–240
A.D. 123–250
A.D. 128–200
A.D. 130–220
A.D. 131–240
A.D. 140–160
A.D. 150–200
A.D. 140–220
A.D. 150–170
A.D. 150–240
A.D. 170–200
A.D. 180–240
A.D. 186–200
A.D. 200–220
A.D. 200–240
A.D. 220–240
A.D. 240–273
Objects from Temple tombs
A.D. 140–273
A.D. 150–200
A.D. 150–225
A.D. 150–240
A.D. 200–240
A.D. 200–273
A.D. 220–240
A.D. 220–273
A.D. 236–273
A.D. 240–273
Objects with Indication of General Context
Sarcophagus Lids
Fragments from Lids, Lid Reliefs, or Banqueting Reliefs
Sarcophagus Boxes
Heads: Males
Heads: Females
Sarcophagi with No Known Provenance or from Secondary Contexts
Sarcophagus Lids
Sarcophagus Boxes
Fragments from Lids, Lid Reliefs, or Banqueting Reliefs
Fragments from Boxes or Box Reliefs
Sarcophagi Reliefs
Sarcophagus Box
Fragments from Boxes, Box Reliefs, or Banqueting Reliefs
Undetermined Fragments from Sarcophagi
Sarcophagus Fragments
Possible Sarcophagus Fragments
Priest Heads
Male Heads
Female Heads
Banqueting Reliefs (incl. Founder Reliefs)
Founder Reliefs
Banqueting Reliefs
Banqueting Reliefs with Frame

Appendix 1. Lost Dated Reliefs
A.D. 83

Appendix 2. Lost Reliefs
Tower Tomb no. 13, Tower of Elahbel
Sarcophagus Relief
Tower Tomb no. 46
Sarcophagi Reliefs
Appendix 3. Lost Reliefs Temple Tomb no. 173d

Sarcophagi Reliefs

Appendix 4. Marble Sarcophagi from Attica
A.D. 100–150
A.D. 150–200
A.D. 200–250

Appendix 5. Sarcophagi without Portraits
A.D. 75–150
A.D. 128–150
A.D. 150–200
A.D. 200–273
A.D. 220–240

Appendix 6. Objects known only Through Publications
A.D. 100–200
A.D. 219–250
Sarcophagus Lids
A.D. 219–250
Sarcophagus Boxes
A.D. 75–100
A.D. 75–150
A.D. 100–150
A.D. 100–200
A.D. 150–200
A.D. 200–273
Sarcophagi Reliefs
A.D. 200–273
Banqueting Reliefs
A.D. 200–273
A.D. 240–273

Appendix 7. Reliefs with Frame, without Portraits

Text Images Credits

Catalogue images credits