Palmyrene Funerary Portraits
The desert trading city of Palmyra (in modern Syria) stood in prime position between the Roman Empire in the west and its rival, the Parthian Empire (mid-1st to mid-3rd century CE), in the east. For two centuries, wealth flooded into the city along the east–west trading route. The local funerary record is one of the most impressive results of this phenomenon: hundreds of relief portraits like these two (1998.3, 1908.3) survive, testament to what has been called a new “middle class” subsidized by Roman and Parthian commodity lust. The portraits come from communal tomb buildings outside the city, where entire walls would have been covered with rows of similar faces. Each limestone slab would have covered the end of a slot into which the corpse or corpses were placed.