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Work Woman's funerary stele

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Arabia

Stèle funéraire d'une femme

© 2010 RMN / Franck Raux

Near Eastern Antiquities

Franceschi Isabelle

The Louvre has enriched its collection of art from the Hauran, in southern Syria, with the addition of this funerary stele bearing the bust of a young woman and a Greek inscription giving her name and next of kin. The deceased woman is portrayed in the style used by sculptors in this rich Arab region under Roman rule, which developed an original local culture. The epitaph on the side of the stele illustrates the intermingling of Hellenistic and Arab cultures in inland Syria.

The intermingling of Greek and Semitic cultures

This 85-cm high stele has a high-relief bust of a young woman set on an inscribed cubic base. A five-line Greek text gives her name and next of kin and - something that is very unusual - the date of the monument instead of the age of the deceased: "Obbe, daughter of Sachamelos, wife of Bassos, the 17th Gorpiaios 455 [September AD 143]." As all these names are of Semitic origin, it must have been a Syrian family. Two of the names have been found in the Damascus region on a funerary stele that could belong to the same lineage, since it was customary to pass names down from generation to generation. This example of a funerary epigraph testifies to the cultural mix in southern Syria. Rural or urban officials readily engraved their tombs with long epitaphs in Greek, the language of the educated elite. In addition, many of them, by keeping their indigenous names and their Semitic traditions, perpetuated the originality of their regional civilization.

A sculpture in the style of the Hauran region

This stele was probably commissioned by the dead woman's family from a sculptor from Hauran or one trained in one of its many workshops. Hauran was an agricultural region that gradually became very prosperous. It developed a local civilization of great originality, which can be seen in the rough, but powerful style of its sculpture. This commemorative monument is an illustration of the Hauran style both in its material - basalt, a volcanic stone omnipresent in the sculpture of this region - and in its style: the solid, stylized appearance and frontal position used systematically in this type of funerary sculpture.

A melancholic figure

The figure is not entirely separated from its base and seems to be leaning against a backrest. The rear face is concave to enable the bust, designed to be seen from the front only, to be placed against the base of a pillar. The features are regular but summarily modeled, with a strong chin, jaw, and neck. Other elements are even more characteristic of the style of Hauran: the almond-shaped eyes, wide open with their protuberant eyeballs devoid of pupils, are emphasized by a roll of flesh drawn up towards the temples; the hairstyle is a round crown with two comma-shaped curls flattened against the cheeks. The folds in the costume, shown by thick body-hugging lines that emphasize the breasts, recall the pleats of tunics worn by many Victory statues from the Hauran region. The cloak that covers the tunic is drawn up onto the head to form a sort of cap. The right hand holding the edges of the cloak together at the front and the left forearm bent beside the body give the stele a sense of movement and spill over into the frame of the inscription. The downward sloping lines of the mouth and eyes lend the face a melancholic expression.


André-Salvini Béatrice, "Acquisitions. 3 : Stèle-portrait funéraire", in Revue du Louvre, n 5/6, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1991, p. 95.
Les Antiquités orientales : guide du visiteur, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1997, p. 278.
Catalogue des acquisitions des trois départements d'antiques du musée du Louvre : 1988-2003, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, à paraître.
Un Royaume aux confins du désert, Pétra et la Nabatène, Exposition, Muséum de Lyon, 18 novembre 1978-28 février 1979, Lyon, Muséum de Lyon, 1978.
Sartre A., "Obbè fille de Sachamelos : un buste funéraire syrien", in Syria, n LXVII, Paris, Geuthner, 1990, pp. 675-685.
Sartre Maurice, D'Alexandre à Zénobie : histoire du Levant antique, IVe siècle avant J.-C.-IIIe siècle après J.-C., Paris, Fayard, 2001.

Technical description

  • Stèle funéraire d'une femme

    143 après J.-C.

    Hauran (Syrie du Sud)

  • Basalte

    H. : 85 cm.

  • Acquisition 1991 , 1991

    AO 30045

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Arabia: Arabia Felix, Arabia Deserta, 7th century BC–3rd century AD
    Room 314

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Additional information about the work

In Greek: "Obbe, daughter of Sachamelos, wife of Bassos, the 17th Gorpiaios 455"