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Making Connections: The Work of Ingholt’s Archive in Rethinking Peripheries

The Archive Archaeology project finds connections across space and time. By drawing parallels between the eastern and western parts of the Roman Empire as well as the time of Harald Ingholt's scholarship with today’s, the archive suggests new potentials for Palmyrene funerary reliefs and Roman provincial sculpture more broadly.

Fig. 1. Funerary Relief, ca. 2nd-3rd century CE, limestone. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, purchase 1902, 02.29.1. (artwork in the public domain; photograph all rights reserved, The Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Fig 2. Archive sheet Palmyrene sculpture 67. (© Palmyra Portrait Project, Ingholt Archive at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, PS67).

By postdoc Amy C. Miranda

The banquet relief with four figures named Palmyrene Sculpture 67 in the Ingholt archive, or PS 67 for short, is a family portrait. (Metropolitan Museum of Art 02.29.1; Fig. 1) The relief shows Zabdibôl as a reclining figure at the viewer’s right and his family: his son Moqîmu, and his two daughters, ʾAliyyat and Tadmor. There is nothing particularly unusual or even distinctive about the relief—the Palmyrenes were nothing if not consistent in their modes of representation—yet an archive sheet that pertains to this sculpture has piqued the interest of the Archive Archaeology team.

PS 67 is a brown sheet oriented horizontally to make space for the two images of the banqueting relief positioned side by side. (Fig. 2) Notes are scattered across the sheet in a variety of different writing implements, tracking Ingholt’s return to the images over and over again. Although later additions made in pen indicate Ingholt’s growing interest in the inscriptions and, correspondingly, Palmyrene genealogy, his initial notes, made in pencil, show his process in understanding the sculpture on stylistic terms.

The relief, which was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) in 1902, can be described as a gravestone carved in high relief. The MMA notes that “The man is reclining on a richly decorated couch, holding a palm spray or cluster of dates in his right hand and a cup in his left. The two daughters wear veils, necklaces, and earrings. The son wears a necklace and holds grapes in his right hand and a bird in his left” (“Funerary Relief.” Metropolitan Museum of Art). The sculpture, which likely sealed the opening of a family burial niche, has a Palmyrene Aramaic inscription in addition to the figures. This inscription names the figures and their ancestors (CIS 4259; PAT 0615). 

There is little about the relief that it is exceptional by Palmyrene standards. What is innovative is Ingholt’s thinking about the sculpture: his conception of the relief as part of a pan-imperial dialogue. Rather than conceiving of Palmyrene sculpture in a vacuum, Ingholt often lists comparanda for the sculptures among his copious notes on the archive sheets. In the instance of PS 67, however, he looks all the way to Roman Britain for his comparison. Ingholt developed an interest in “The Tomb of the Victor” of the South Shields Museum in Northern England (NEWMA:1960.44.5.C). From the archive sheet, it seems that he became aware of “The Tomb of the Victor” through an article in the Journal of Roman Studies (Haverfield and Stuart Jones 1912). The article by F. Haverfield and H. Stuart Jones discusses several different sculptural typologies, with “The Tomb of the Victor” falling under the designation of “other monuments.” This is not to say that the monument, or the Palmyrene banquet relief, is less important to the field of Roman sculptural studies.

One of the goals of the Palmyra projects based at UrbNet, Aarhus University, is, among other things, to re-characterize the sculpture of the Roman provinces by examining them in their own local and regional contexts and not exclusively as products from the periphery of the Roman Empire (For an example of this thinking in recent scholarship, see Blömer and Raja 2019). Whether this was Ingholt’s intent or not, by connecting the Near East with Britain he was participating in a rather 21st century dialogue on Roman provincial studies and, more broadly, globalization. Recent trends in the humanities such as globalization, network theory, and relational thinking—to name a few—are emerging as critical tools in developing a new appreciation for art and artefacts that were often considered marginal. Whether this marginality was geographic (such as provincial art) or typologic (such as decorative, or minor, arts) the impact of these artefacts on the imperial centres and their monumental arts is now being reconsidered and re-appreciated due to new frameworks and proper contextualization. This is meant to say that the sculpture of Palmyra (and also Roman Britain) should not be considered merely provincial or as isolated entities. Instead, the Palmyra projects first insist that Palmyrene sculpture be evaluated on its own terms rather than judged against the metropolitan sculpture of Rome and other capital cities known for their sculpture such as Athens, Greece, or Aphrodisias, Turkey. Second, the designation of “provincial” should not express any negative judgement, but simply act as a geographic descriptor. Last, the local communities that created these sculptures should not be treated as insular.

“The Tomb of the Victor” shows a male figure reclining upon a kline in an aedicula. He, too, holds a palm spray or the like in his right hand and a cup in his left. There are clear formal similarities between the two male figures, however, damage to the figure’s head in “The Tomb of the Victor” relief prevent any comparison of the two portraits. Without universalizing, it is possible to suggest that this motif—the reclined figure of a funerary banquet relief—could appear pan-imperially (The reclining figure motif is not only a Roman phenomenon, but has been also associated with art of earlier cultures, for example, in Assyria and Anatolia). Each iteration of the motif is distinctive in some way, but Ingholt maintained a dialogue between the eastern and western parts of the Empire.

This brief investigation of PS sheet 67 only introduces the idea of pan-imperial formal qualities across funerary reliefs. However, recent attention paid to the global turn and network theory in the humanities may provide fruitful avenues of research for Palmyrene sculpture and its place in Roman studies. And, perhaps, more importantly, it seems that Ingholt was ahead of his time in his broad thinking about Roman funerary sculpture.

More about the project is available at https://projects.au.dk/archivearcheology/

Further reading: https://projects.au.dk/palmyraportrait/


  • Blömer M. and R. Raja (2019). “Funerary portraits in Roman Greater Syria: time for a reappreciation.” In M. Blömer and R. Raja (eds), Funerary Portraiture in Greater Roman Syria, Studies in Classical Archaeology 6 (Turnhout: Brepols Publishers), pp. 1–4.
  • CIS = Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum
  • “Funerary Relief.” Metropolitan Museum of Art [Accessed 13 November 2020. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/322375].
  • Haverfield, F. and H. Stuart Jones (1912). "Some Representative Examples of Romano-British Sculpture." The Journal of Roman Studies 2: 121–52. [Accessed 13 November 2020. doi:10.2307/295954].
  • PAT = Hillers, D. R and E. Cussini, Palmyrene Aramaic Texts