Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Funerary relief

ca. 200–273
Syria, probably from Palmyra
20 x 15 7/16 x 9 1/16 in. (50.8 x 39.3 x 23 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, 1898
Accession Number:
Not on view
1 Zabda‘ateh,
2 son of Wahba,
3 son of Zabda‘ateh.
4 (This is) what made for him Wah-
5 ba, his brother.
6 Alas!

1 zbdʿth
2 bṙ whbʾ
3 bṙ zbdʿth
4 dy ʿbd lh wh
5 bʾ brh

This relief is a type of funerary monument characteristic of the prosperous caravan city of Palmyra during the first three centuries A.D. Reliefs with a representation of the deceased and a short identifying inscription were used to seal burial niches in elaborately decorated communal tombs; those with a half-length or bust format became prevalent sometime after A.D. 65.

Shown here is the upper body of a bearded man in high relief, head turned slightly to his left, dressed in a Greek cloak known as a himation, worn over a chiton, or tunic, and wrapped around the right arm like a sling. His left hand holds a looped fold of the himation. The background of the relief is blank except for an inscription in Palmyrene Aramaic to the left of his head giving his name, his father and grandfathers’ names, and the name of his brother, who commissioned this monument. Traces of red paint remain in the letters of the inscription. His eyelids are carefully outlined, with tear ducts indicated at the inner corners, although the eyeballs themselves are left uncarved. The arched, thick eyebrows and furrowed brow give a pensive quality to the distant, impersonal gaze. The man’s short hair is depicted as a mass of wavy locks, slightly receding at the temples to suggest middle age, while his beard is made up of individual diamond-shaped tufts. Carved with remarkable skill, this relief is unusual for eschewing the direct frontal posture of most Palmyrene funerary portraits and for the remarkably individualized depiction of the deceased’s careworn features. It can be stylistically dated to around 200-273 A.D. because of the figure’s beard, the treatment of the eyes, and the manner in which he holds his himation in the left hand.
Acquired by the Museum in 1898, purchased from Emile Abela, Tripoli.

“Palmyrene and Gandharan Sculpture.” Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, October 8, 1954–January 17, 1955.

“Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contact from Greece to Japan.” Tokyo National Museum, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, Japan, August 5, 2003–December 23, 2003.

Gottheil, Richard. 1900. "Seven Unpublished Palmyrene Inscriptions." Journal of the American Oriental Society 21, pp. 109-111, fig. 3.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1901. “Sur Quelques Inscriptions Palmyrèniennes Récemment Publiées.” Journal Asiatique 9, p. 347, no. 3.

Lidzbarski, Mark. 1902. Ephemeris für Semitische Epigraphik I. Giessen: J. Ricker, p. 215, no. C.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1904. "The Stone Sculptures of the Cesnola Collection of Cypriote Antiquities in Halls 14, 18 and 19." In Handbook No. 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 2045, p. 134.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1905. Répertoire d'Épigraphie Sémitique. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, no. 157.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste. 1922. Choix d'Inscriptions de Palmyre. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, p. 129, pl. 31.1.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste, ed. 1926. Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum III. Inscriptions Hébraïques. Paris: Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, p. 374, no. 4327, pl. 36.

Ingholt, Harald. 1928. Studier over Palmyrensk Skulptur. Copenhagen: C.A. Reitzel, p. 122.

Ingholt, Harald. 1954. Palmyrene and Gandharan Sculpture, exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Art Gallery, no. 9.

Ingholt, Harald. 1976. “Varia Tadmorea.” In Palmyre: Bilan et Perspectives. Strasbourg: Université des Sciences Humaines, p. 118, no. 82.

Colledge, Malcolm. 1976. The Art of Palmyra. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, p. 253.

Hillers, Delbert R. and Eleonora Cussini. 1996. Palmyrene Aramaic Texts. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 123, no. C4327.

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. 2003. Alexander the Great: East-West Cultural Contacts from Greece to Japan, exh. cat. Toyko National Museum, p. 104, no. 94.
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