Stone relief showing a funerary banquet
From Palmyra, Syria
3rd century AD
Palmyra, an oasis city in the Syrian desert, grew rich from the caravan trade. Its cosmopolitan population included merchants from all parts of the Near East, including Parthians and Nabataeans. It was incorporated into the Roman Empire by the end of the first century AD. The rich tombs of the Roman period that were built outside the city show a fascinating mix of eastern and Roman influences.
This relief comes from such a tomb. It shows a funerary banquet: a popular theme in Roman funerary art that was copied by Palmyrene and Parthian (Iranian) craftsmen. Such scenes were introduced at Palmyra from the early second century, when they joined the funerary busts that were a particular feature of the Palmyrene tombs.
This example is typical of such scenes. The deceased reclines on a couch holding a bowl. He wears Parthian costume of a trouser suit and lacks the high headdress (modius) worn by priests. His wife appears with him, on a slightly smaller scale.
Three or five such reliefs would be placed around the sides of a tomb chamber to form a group echoing the triclinium or Roman dining room. An actual funerary banquet could then take place in the presence of the departed, or in his honour.
In the third century AD Queen Zenobia led her Palmyrene troops against the might of Rome. They took control of Syria, conquered Egypt and attempted to take Asia Minor (now Turkey). In AD 272 the Emperor Aurelian defeated the Palmyrenes, captured Zenobia and took her to Rome. Palmyra was destroyed after a second insurrection in AD 273.
M.A.R. Colledge, The art of Palmyra (London, 1976)
Height: 40.640 cm
Width: 43.180 cm
Thickness: 19.050 cm
Height: 40.640 cm
Gift of Mr and Mrs Nash