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Funerary monument of the priest Tibol
From Palmyra, Syria, about AD 150-200
A commemorative stone bust
This is a funerary monument from a tomb outside the wealthy trading city of Palmyra. It originally decorated the end of a burial compartment and represented the dead man. The inscription, in Aramaic, reads: 'Monument of Tibol, son of Lisaus Tibol the elder, renewed by 'Aziz, son of Tibol'.
Tibol was probably a priest, since he wears a distinctive modius or cap. This headgear can be used to date the sculpture, as from around AD 130-140 it was normally shown encircled by a laurel wreath, as it is here. Priests can also be recognized because they hold ritual vessels. Greek and Parthian (Iranian) dress predominates in Palmyrene art; local garments are unusual and Roman rare. The priest's medallion necklace, however, evokes Hellenistic and Roman parallels - though on other similar sculptures such necklaces themselves depict busts of Palmyrene priests.
The image is known as a nefesh, a word meaning 'soul' or 'personality'. The faces are not attempts at realistic portraiture but rather are part of a tradition of representing people based on a standardized frontal approach.
M.A.R. Colledge, The art of Palmyra (London, 1976)