Limestone sculpture of priest’s head, Palmira, 2nd – 3rd century A.D.

DESCRIPTION
This funerary bust is a superlative example of Palmira's art and radiates the nobility of a man of great esteem. From its classical aesthetics, it can be inferred that the priest belonged to the Hellenic religious tradition. With his square chin and exquisite facial symmetry, the handsome priest personifies the idealized proportions of the Greeks. It has a high cylindrical headdress with two vertical grooves, a face with the nose crooked downwards, a square chin and prominent ears, well-defined arched eyebrows and eyes with thick eyelids. On the eastern periphery of the Roman Empire, the ancient city of Palmira stood as a gateway linking the western world with the luxuries of the East. For the ancient inhabitants of this arid kingdom, Palmira was known simply as the Bride of the Desert, and for centuries intrepid merchants passed through this oasis in search of relief from the desert sun. The Hebrew Bible attributes the city to King Solomon, although ancient Marian records mention Palmira of the second millennium BC. Under the mercurial reign of the Seleucids, the city experienced the pleasures of Hellenic civilization, which continued 300 years later when in the 1st century AD Tiberius incorporated Syria into the Roman Empire. From the Romans the city passed to Byzantium before falling into the armies of Muhammad and being abandoned around 800 A.D. At its height, Palmira was an elegant symbol of imperial greatness. Trade brought wealth, power and splendour to this desert city, transforming Palmira into a limestone metropolis that has bequeathed a rich and abundant source of archaeological remains reflecting the city's long imperial history. The inhabitants of Palmira are famous for the construction of colossal funerary monuments built above and below the desert floor. The funerary compartments were sealed with limestone slabs decorated with magnificent busts in high relief representing the soul of the deceased.  


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