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Work Bust of Ummayat, daughter of Yarhai

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Buste de Ummayat, fille de Yarhai

© 1997 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Near Eastern Antiquities
Levant

Author(s):
Benoit Nicolas

The funerary bust of Ummayat, daughter of Yarhai, gives a very good idea of the richness of the jewelry worn by the women of Palmyra. Dating to the second half of the second century AD, this limestone bust is evidence of the development of trade and also the taste of the people of Palmyra, a city that had become a crossroads between the Roman west and the eastern world.

Information provided by funerary reliefs

In common with other female funerary sculpture of Palmyra, the bust of Ummayat richly illustrates the taste for jewelry in the city in the second century AD. Very little Palmyrene jewelry has come down to us. After the fall of the city in AD 273, the merchant families took their goods with them, abandoning the tombs to pillage by passing tribes. Partly compensating for this loss is the abundance and detail of funerary reliefs, since Palmyrene women liked to be portrayed wearing all their jewelry. Like clothes, jewelry provides information about trade between Palmyra and the eastern and western Mediterranean. As the Palmyrenes grew wealthier, the number and variety of jewelry items increased.
The town's good fortune dates to the time of Augustus, whose policy of conciliation with the Parthians made Palmyra a key trading center that provided a link with rival empires. Thanks to the Roman taste for oriental luxury items, trade with India and China flourished. Under Trajan, however, resumption of war with the Parthians upset Palmyra's trading system and obliged caravans to take the Persian Gulf maritime routes. Hadrian (AD 117-138) reorganized the town, setting trade taxes in AD 137. This marked the beginning of a prosperous period whose effects were felt from the second half of the second century onwards. The bust of Ummayat is witness to this new wealth.

Ummayat, a woman of the second century AD

We learn from the inscription that Ummayat was the daughter of Yarhai. She is portrayed with her hand on her cheek in a gesture of sorrow common in funerary images. Behind her, a piece of material hanging from two palm leaves symbolizes the boundary between life and death, like the gate in the Greco-Roman world. Ummayat is wearing a tunic that follows the Greek chiton model worn by the women of Palmyra at the beginning of the second century, over which a cloak is draped. This is pinned in the traditional manner on the front of the left shoulder by a trapezoidal brooch (or fibula), here decorated with a lion's head. Like most women of the time, she wears on her arms and head a veil, which covers a draped turban whose extremities cross at the front of her head. Below this is a type of headband well known in the oriental world; similar examples have been found at Kish and Ur (third millennium BC). This type of ornament (possibly of gold or silver) is recorded at Palmyra from the first century AD onwards. Initially smooth, it was typically decorated in the second century by geometrical and plant motifs set in superposed rectangles, as seen here. The pearl necklace, the ring, and the Roman earrings (crotalia) were common items of finery in Palmyra from the second century onwards.

Bibliography

Colledge M. A. R., "The Art of Palmyra", in Studies in Ancient Art and Archaeology, Londres, Thames and Hudson, 1976, p. 260.
Dentzer-Feydy J., Pic M., Teixidor J., Les antiquités de Palmyre au Musée du Louvre, Paris, Editions de la Réunion des musées Nationaux, 1993, n 181, p. 180.
MacKay D., "The Jewellery of Palmyra and its Significance", in Iraq, XI, Londres, British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 1949, pp. 16-187.

Technical description

  • Buste de Ummayat, fille de Yarhai

    2e moitié IIe siècle après J.-C.

  • H. : 53 cm. ; L. : 43 cm. ; Pr. : 21 cm.

  • Acquisition 1891 , 1891

    AO 2196

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Arabia: the caravan cities, Dura-Europus, Palmyra, 3rd century BC–3rd century AD
    Room 20
    Vitrine 1

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