Children in Palmyrene Funerary Epigraphy

Summary of lecture by Nathalia B. Kristiansen and Jesper V. Jensen.

2017.03.08 | Christina Levisen

By students Nathalia B. Kristiansen and Jesper V. Jensen.

Sara Ringsborg continued her research from both her MA thesis and her current work as a PhD student at Aarhus University and gave an interesting lecture on children in the Palmyrene funerary epigraphy. How are the children and their genealogy reflected in the inscriptions?

The Palmyra Portrait Project database contains more than a thousand inscriptions – most are in the local Palmyrene-Aramaic tongue but also Greek and Latin inscriptions can be seen. The inscriptions indicate the family genealogy of the portrayed and their ancestors. Seven percent of all reliefs in the database represent children and in ninety-four of the reliefs, the children are mentioned in the inscription.

Children are represented in a variety of constellations: sarcophagi, banquet reliefs, funerary stelae, a few wall paintings but are most common on the loculus reliefs. The children are depicted smaller than adults and often occupy the background or are placed in the arms of a female. Few examples show children placed on pedestals but the meaning of this is still being discussed by scholars. The children are depicted with short hair, wearing a tunic and jewelry often making it difficult to distinguish the sex. Boys can also be seen wearing a tunic and himation or the Parthian style dress. The children are often seen holding a bird and a bunch of grapes. These attributes were common for children in the Roman world. The grapes could represent abundance, wealth and fertility and the bird is often thought to be a status symbol or a symbol of adolescence – the stage between being a child and an adult.

From the inscriptions, it is clear that boys were more commonly depicted than girls in the funerary context. Likewise, it is the lineage of the father which is emphasised by the children being called the son or daughter of the father rather than the mother even on reliefs where both parents are present. In some cases, the children are not mentioned in the inscriptions even though they are depicted in the reliefs. It could be that the children were meant as an attribute to display wealth and social status. This, however, this cannot be known for certain and a much can still be learned about the role of children in Palmyrene iconography and epigraphy.


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Lecture / talk, History and achaeology