Meet someone new at the Great North Museum on 9 or 10 May

This bust of a man in the Great North Museum in Newcastle is from Palmyra and dates from the second century AD. We know that he was a priest because of his tall cylindrical hat, known as a ‘modius’. These hats were probably made of felt, and although some were plain, others were decorated with wreaths and small objects. This one has a wreath with an oval stone at the front.

The type of hat used in ancient Palmyra differs from those worn by priests elsewhere in the Near East, which were usually conical in this period.  Palmyrene priests also shaved off all their hair and did not grow beards, unlike other priests in the region. These differences existed before the Romans took control of Palmyra, and all the evidence suggests that there were few changes in any of the religious institutions in the city as a result of Roman rule.

Come and meet this priest and other objects from the Roman period with a Middle Eastern connection at a free workshop in the Great North Museum in Newcastle on 9 or 10 May. Create new memories by drawing, writing and photography, assisted by our experts. We’ll supply all the materials, lunch and refreshments. Just let us know which date you prefer: rememberingromans@gmail.com.

And, after you’ve been to our workshop in Newcastle, don’t forget to visit the other archaeological collections in Durham and elsewhere.

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Memories of Palmyra

GNM Palmyrene busts

These portrait busts from ancient Palmyra are in the Great North Museum in Newcastle.  We are holding free workshops there on 9 and 10 May, when you can come and meet objects like these and create new memories using photography, drawing and writing, helped by our experts. Come on the day or email us in advance, if you would like to join in: rememberingromans@gmail.com

These reliefs were made to seal burial chambers in tombs outside the important and wealthy trading city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert. The way the individuals are depicted blends Greek, Roman and local artistic traditions. They weren’t really ‘portraits’ in the modern sense, but conventional representations of how people wanted to be remembered. The inscriptions in the local language would have enabled people to identify them.

The woman on the left is Malakt. She is shown wearing local clothing and jewellery, and was buried some time between about AD 150 and 200. The man on the right is Wahballat. He is wearing a Greek cloak and holding writing material in his left hand. The depiction of a curtain behind him suggests that his bust was carved earlier in the second century. The frontal style of the reliefs looks normal now, but was unusual at the time. It appears in eastern Syria and Mesopotamia in the first century AD, and may have spread from there throughout the Roman empire. It had become a normal feature of Roman art by the fourth century, and continued to be used into the early Middle Ages.