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Divine symbolism on the tesserae from Palmyra
Considerations about the so-called “symbol of Bel” or “signe de la pluie”

Ted Kaizer et Rubina Raja
p. 297-315

Résumés

Un symbole énigmatique, souvent représenté sur les tessères de Palmyre, a généralement été interprété, soit comme le signe du dieu principal Bel, soit comme le signe de la pluie. L’article rassemble toutes les attestations du symbole et fait l’hypothèse qu’il s'agit plutôt de signaler quelque chose qui ne peut être représenté, c’est-à-dire la notion de la présence de la divinité aux dîners religieux. On peut donc le comparer au fait d’apposer sur des figures évidemment divines le qualificatif qui peut sembler inutile de ʾlhʾ ou bien θεός.

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  • 1 See RTP. For the most recent studies of the Palmyrene tesserae, see Raja 2015a; Raja 2015b; Raja 2 (...)
  • 2 See Mesnil du Buisson 1944; Mesnil du Buisson 1962.
  • 3 Dunant 1959.
  • 4 Schmidt-Colinet & al-Asʿad 2005; Schmidt-Colinet 2011; Schmidt-Colinet & al-Asʿad 2013, II, p. 243 (...)
  • 5 As announced by Cynthia Finlayson at a conference in Warsaw in April 2016. For some of the images, (...)
  • 6 See al-Asʿad, Briquel-Chatonnet & Yon 2005, who also announced a joint venture to produce a supple (...)
  • 7 It concerns a lot of fifty-seven tesserae which were all of the same mould and belong to the type (...)

1The so-called tesserae remain the most under-researched source for the study of the religious life of Palmyra, for which they are potentially the richest mine of information. They are small tokens, mostly made of clay with a few made of other materials, such as glass, lead, metal and bronze. They are widely believed to have served as entrance tickets to religious banquets. Several thousands of them are distributed over collections throughout the world, and more than eleven hundred types have been identified. The majority was found in drains of the banqueting hall situated within the temenos of the great temple of Bel. The main corpus is the Recueil by Harald Ingholt, Henri Seyrig and Jean Starcky (with linguistic commentary by André Caquot) from 1955, superseding the earlier publications from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 1 In 1944, the French count Robert du Mesnil du Buisson had published a plate volume of specimens from the Cabinet des médailles et antiques in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, followed nearly twenty years later by an accompanying text volume. 2 Additional types from the temple of Baal-Shamin were published in 1959, 3 a few tesserae were found in the area of the so-called Hellenistic city, 4 and recently some more have appeared as a result of the Syro-American expedition to Palmyra. 5 A peculiar find was made in the 1980s at the temple of Arsu, where one hundred and twenty-five identical tesserae were discovered inside a pot, suggesting that they had been prepared for a particular banquet (or, alternatively, were collected afterwards). 6 Michał Gawlikowski kindly informed us about the find, in a domestic setting, of a similar hoard of identical tesserae, which currently remains unpublished. 7

  • 8 Many of the male figures, both priests and ordinary men, depicted on the funerary reliefs wear rin (...)
  • 9 For the few exceptions in Greek, see RTP, p. 191.
  • 10 Unexplained Aramaic vocabulary is generally taken to refer to otherwise unknown family names, but (...)
  • 11 An exception is RTP 691, which gives a date of 430 of the Seleucid era (ad 118/9).
  • 12 All the relevant information can be found in RTP. See Nyns 1987, p. 67; Raja 2016, p. 346.

2Despite the fact that they are remarkably small, the tesserae contain an immense amount of information aimed at the individuals who used them. One really ought to have held them in one’s hand in order to fully appreciate the impact they may have had on the participants and worshippers at the occasions to which they provided admission. The tesserae contain a large variety of imagery: reclining priests; deities depicted in bust-shape or as standing figures; aniconic imagery (in the shape of a betyl); divine attributes (e.g. the club of the Heracles figure or the lyre of Apollo/Nebu); astral symbolism; lunar and solar images. A number of the tesserae carry signet-seal imprints, which would have tied them closely to an individual person. 8 Similarly to the funerary inscriptions, the tesserae are inscribed almost exclusively in Palmyrene-Aramaic, and this concerns, therefore, an aspect of Palmyrene civilization that does not engage with the city’s public bilingualism.9 The inscriptions contain mostly names (of deities, persons, groups and/or families) and some sacrificial terminology, 10 but no dates. 11 The tesserae come in many different shapes, and shapes were definitely part of the repertoire of choice and preference, but since it is highly unlikely that a particular shape belonged to a specific group, we are not differentiating between shapes in our text nor in our catalogue. 12

  • 13 Février 1931, p. 55, 216. But see already Seyrig 1933, p. 245, n. 1.
  • 14 First by P. V. C. Baur in Baur, Rostovtzeff & Bellinger 1932, p. 111-112, then by Mesnil du Buisso (...)
  • 15 See also Seyrig 1937, p. 207: “Le symbole …, très fréquent à Palmyre, n’a jamais été expliqué.”
  • 16 Kaizer 1997, p. 162-163.
  • 17 Gawlikowski 1990, p. 2639.

3More than ninety of the types, ca 8 % of all Palmyrene tesserae, depict a small and enigmatic sign (or rather, three main variants of it): a circle with three lines hanging from it, a semi-oval shape with three lines hanging from it as well as a version, which iconographically lies in between the two other versions (fig. 1). It was initially interpreted by scholars as the “symbol of Bel,” despite the fact that it could also be associated with a host of other gods and goddesses, 13 and has subsequently been explained as a “rain symbol.” 14 The editors of RTP left it unexplained, simply depicting it in their catalogue (though always in the same shape, with no regard for the variety in format). 15 The symbol does appear in conjunction with the divine name Bel on approximately forty of the types, thus just under half of its total number of appearances, with another deity named alongside Bel in six of those instances, namely the Gad of the olive merchants (gd mšḥʾ), 16 Baaltak, 17 Herta or Nebu. It can also accompany other divine names, in addition to those already mentioned: Allat, Bel-Hammon (also together with the Gad of Agrud), Belti, Elqonera, Nanaia, Yarhibol and Aglibol, Malakbel (also together with the Gad of Taimi), Shadrafa (also with Duʿanat), Maʿnu and Shaʾd/ru, or Shai al-Qaum. The symbol furthermore appears alongside astral symbols, with anthropomorphic imagery (a deity, but also a reclining priest), with inscriptions only, with divine requisites (the club of the Heracles figure, with the name of Nergal on the reverse), with sacrificial elements (a ladle, but also terminology for religious measuring), with an animal (griffin, ram, horse, lion, camel), or on its own.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.

The three versions of the sign

© drawing by Signe Bruun Kristensen.

  • 18 E.g. RTP 18, showing an extremely detailed tree alongside two of the symbols (= cat. no. 2 in the (...)
  • 19 Seyrig 1941, p. 34.

4Our evidence is insufficient to support the idea that the symbol was linked to any particular cultic context or used by a specific group of worshippers. There is also nothing to indicate that it should be interpreted as an apotropaic symbol. Its widespread appearance certainly suggests that its meaning must have been sufficiently well known in Palmyrene society. Its popularity notwithstanding, it is also clear that there was not always a need to depict it. But it should be emphasized that the absence of the symbol (on over 90 % of all tesserae) does not necessarily mean an absence of the notion of whatever it stood for. Since the iconography, and not least the details of it and the variety in general, leaves no doubt that the artists were perfectly able to depict in splendid detail whatever they wanted to depict, 18 the symbol epitomizes something that could simply not be depicted, whose meaning was beyond “normal” representation: if the artists could have depicted it, they would have done so. Besides, it is always seen as detached, never held by anyone, and never involved in action. One should therefore leave behind any expectation that the imagery of the symbol is subject to a “logical” system or explanation. The symbol is not an “item” but rather a depiction of something that cannot actually be depicted, something notional. As Henri Seyrig put it long ago: “Ce signe ne semble pas être affecté à une divinité particulière, mais avoir eu un sens religieux plus général, difficile à déterminer aujourd’hui.” 19

  • 20 See, for further detail and discussion, Kaizer 2008.
  • 21 The evidence for the terminology and archaeology of banqueting groups is assembled in Kaizer 2002a (...)
  • 22 The rite is known under different names, signifying different facets, such as lectisternium, τραπε (...)
  • 23 For discussion, see Raja 2016, p. 362-366. If this counts as evidence for a process of religious s (...)

5As we have seen, the tesserae are commonly understood within the context of religious banqueting. Sacred dining was one of many ways in which the relationship between humans and deities could find ritual expression at Palmyra. 20 The evidence for it is multidisciplinary: archaeological remains of banqueting halls; terminology of dining fraternities; banqueting scenes on funerary reliefs and sarcophagi lids; tableware and equipment found as grave goods; a wall painting from a Palmyrene context in Dura-Europos; and indeed many tesserae depicting reclining priests. 21 In contrast to other rituals in vogue in Palmyra, such as the ceremony in which the recipient deity would receive (and purportedly consume) offerings without the presence of worshippers, 22 and the manifold sacrificial acts where the deity was present in a symbolic way (through evocation in prayer or through location in front of a cult statue), religious banqueting concerns an occasion where a deity was more notionally present amongst the human participants. It is precisely because of the assumption of divine presence that, to a certain degree, each Palmyrene dining association had, by definition, a religious dimension. That is, of course, not to undervalue the important societal function of the religious banqueting phenomenon, and the tesserae fulfilled an essential role as markers within Palmyra by serving as a means to diversify on the religious level within the local society. 23

  • 24 The title of chapter three in Kaizer 2002a. See also Kaizer 2008.
  • 25 PAT 1353 (ad 25) and 0269 (ad 51). See Kaizer 2002, p. 70, n. 21; Kaizer 2006, p. 104.

6The abstract presence of the deity can be perceived as key to a proper understanding of the phenomenon of religious banqueting at Palmyra – as part of the city’s “rhythm of religious life,” 24 and we therefore put forward the hypothesis that the unexplained symbol on the Palmyrene tesserae, whose earlier interpretation as “rain sign” or as “symbol of Bel” remains unconvincing, simply stands for the conceptual manifestation of the divine during the sacred banquets. The symbol did not have to be depicted, because the deity was notionally present anyway. But it could be depicted, simply to emphasize this notional presence. This theory would go some way to explain the comparative popularity of the combination of the symbol and the divine name Bel. After all, as the leading deity of Palmyra, Bel stands for a unity in cultic heterogeneity, and his large temple was also known as the temple “of the gods of the Palmyrenes.” 25

  • 26 PAT 1347 and 0180, respectively.
  • 27 PAT 0009.
  • 28 Hoftijzer & Jongeling 1995, I, s.v. “ʾlh1”.
  • 29 Price 1984, p. 79-85.
  • 30 Frank Brown made the point that the Greek noun “appended to the name of a deity is a common featur (...)
  • 31 PAT 1372; IGLS XVII, 1, no. 262. The Aramaic counterpart is damaged, and it is not clear that the (...)
  • 32 IGLS XVII, 1, no. 308.
  • 33 IGLS XVII, 1, no. 177. In this case, the Aramaic equivalent only gives the names of the deities, “ (...)
  • 34 The evidence has now been collected by Duchâteau 2013, p. 113-122, at p. 113: “l’épiclèse Theos (l (...)
  • 35 Terms denoting a specific class of divine beings, such as gnyʾ (commonly associated with the Arabi (...)
  • 36 In this context, one may also draw attention to the thesis put forward by Kubiak-Schneider 2016, t (...)

7The apparently “unnecessary” symbol may be fruitfully compared with the similarly “unnecessary” label often applied in the epigraphy of the Roman Near East to designate divine status, especially in Aramaic (ʾlhʾ) but also in Greek (θεός). Thus, as regards the Palmyrenean formula, the first part of the cella of the temple of Bel was dedicated in ad 32 to “Bel and Yarhibol and Aglibol, the gods” (bl wyrḥbwl wʿglbwl ʾlhyʾ), and in ad 73, altars were offered “to Baal-Shamin, the god” (lbʿlsmn ʾlhʾ). 26 Of course, the term could also be used as part of a phrase to explain the peculiar nature of the god, as in the dedication “to Nebu, the good and rewarding god” (lnbw ʾlhʾ ṭbʾ wškrʾ), 27 but often, it is simply drawn on as the common noun to convey godly power. 28 The situation with its Greek equivalent is slightly different, in that the term comes to the Roman Near East with its own classical baggage, 29 but also θεός can be applied to a divine name with a straightforward explanatory function, rather than being used in any predicative manner. 30 A bilingual inscription from ad 164 records the consecration of someone “to Bel the god” (Βήλῳ θεῷ); 31 in an undated Greek text, mention is made of the sedan chair “of Bōrroaōnos the god” (Βωρροαωνου θεοῦ); 32 and the Greek part of a bilingual text from ad 99 records how a statue was set up following the order “of Hera, Artemis and Rasaphos, the gods” (Ἥρας καὶ Ἀρτεμίδος καὶ Ρασαφου θεῶν). 33 In Dura-Europos, scholarly convention has led to “Zeus Theos” being commonly (though not necessarily convincingly) considered as a specific deity, to be distinguished from other appearances of the divine name Zeus in the town. 34 Like the symbol on the tesserae, the Aramaic and Greek terms for “god”, ʾlhʾ and θεός, are sometimes present and sometimes absent from the inscriptions. But it will be clear that, in those cases where a divine name appears on its own, without the addition, we are still dealing with a deity. The label is applied with its explanatory function both to well-known deities such as Bel (in which case it was unnecessary) and to more obscure divinities such as Bōrroaōnos (in which case it might, actually, have been useful) – and the same can be said about the symbol. 35 Both label and symbol can be interpreted as means to heighten expressions of piousness, and both ought to be considered typical for the religious mentality of the oasis settlement. 36

  • 37 PAT 0321, CIS II, iii, tab. XVIII with no. 3975 (see fig. 9).
  • 38 Seyrig 1941, p. 33-34 with pl. I, 2; Tanabe 1986, p. 175, pl. 142 (see fig. 10).
  • 39 Thus Kaizer forthcoming, n. 28. See, however, for a similar relief of a figure mounting a dromedar (...)

8As far as we are aware, the symbol appears only twice elsewhere than on a tessera. Firstly, it can be seen on a fragment of an altar or a cippus, at the end of the third line. 37 The precise place of the symbol in the inscription, directly between the name of the god (Arsu) and the word for god (ʾlhʾ), does support the interpretation that is put forward in this article, namely that it stands for the abstract notion of divine presence. Here, following the name of the god (and by its very position also forcing the term ʾlhʾ onto the next line), it can be said to have served as a further means to accentuate Arsu’s divine status – in addition to the label meaning “god” itself, which can, in the case of a well-known divine figure as Arsu, be viewed as already superfluous. Secondly, it is visible on a relief showing a figure mounting a dromedary, from the temenos of the temple of Bel. 38 In this case, the symbol is placed high up on the right front leg of the animal. Since there is some debate, with regard to other pieces, as to whether the figure riding the animal is indeed a rider god or simply a cavalry soldier, its presence on this relief could be used to support the view that the figure on top of the dromedary, in this case, certainly is a deity. 39

  • 40 RTP 381; Hvidberg-Hansen & Ploug 1993, 175 and 180, no. 155.

9Finally, attention may be drawn to an alternative that was available to the Palmyrenes: a tessera showing a reclining priest depicts the bust of a radiated divinity in the background. 40 In this case, rather than a deity’s notional presence, as suggested by the symbol, the interaction between those participating in religious dining and the divine world is elucidated by means of the concrete presence of divine imagery at a banqueting scene.

10The present contribution is but an attempt to open up and stimulate a debate that starts to pay proper attention to this unique source material. There is more work to be done in order to fully investigate how the tesserae play into an overall framework of religious symbolism at Palmyra, which was shared by a wider society, but which indeed did not seem to have travelled with Palmyrenes abroad and was therefore restricted to the local religious sphere of the city of Palmyra itself.

Catalogue of tesserae carrying the symbol

11The tesserae are only briefly described here, since we focus on the context of the symbol only (fig. 2 to 8). All RTP nos. are described in detail in that publication, including measurements and shapes. Obverse and reverse are naturally constructed, and often arbitrary terms, but used in order to make descriptions easier to follow. Readings and translations follow the original publications, unless stated otherwise.

 

Catalogue no. RTP no. Description (Obverse = O; Reverse = R)
1
11
O: KMRYʾ DY BL (priests of Bel), with the symbol below
R: YRḤY
2
18
O: Priest on kline, [K]MRY BL (priests of Bel)
R: Tree with the symbol depicted on each side
3
20
O: Bucranium, below KMRY / BL (priests of Bel)
R: Symbol placed between two circles, symbol also at the bottom (not viewed according to comment in RTP)
4
40
O: BRYKY ŠKʾTʾ ʿḤYRY [ʿW]NTʾ (for the phrase, see Kaizer 2002a, p. 226 with n. 64)
R: Above BL between two globes, large globe in the middle, the symbol on each side. Below two globes and crescent in the middle
5
 
44
 
O: Symbol next to BL
R: BLḤ[ʾ] (Belha)
6

 
45

 
O: Symbol next to BL
R: Smooth
Cf. Charles-Gaffiot, Lavagne & Hofman 2001, p. 279, no. 177.
7
 
46
 
O: Symbol next to BL
R: Visible finger imprint
8
 
48
 
O: Symbol next to BL
R: Smooth
9
 
49
 
O: Symbol placed below BL
R: Blurred signet-seal imprint
10
 
50
 
O: Symbol next to BL
R: Star on top of circle, surrounded by dots
11
 
52
 
O: Symbol next to BL. Sign shaped as a lying Z at the bottom
R: Two heads in profile facing each other. Above another head
12
 
54
 
O: BL (described in RTP on the basis of Lidzbarski 1898, 492, no. VA 391)
R: Non-bearded bust turned to the right, symbol next to bust
13
 
55
 
O: Bush with berries, on top BL and the symbol
R: Blurred and potentially partly fragmented
14
 
66
 
O: BL BʿLTK / BNY / TYMRṢW (Bel, Baaltak, the sons of Taimarsu) and a globe
R: Crescent with a decorated globe and a symbol on each side of the globe
15
 
69
 
O: BL, below to the left a crescent with a globe, to the right a crescent and the symbol
R: Blurred and worn
16
 
70
 
O: [.]DYʿY / BL, the symbol, [.]RYʿY / BL, the symbol
R: MKB[L] / ʿGYLW (Makkib[el] Ogeilu)
17
 
71
 
O: BL and the symbol. Below an inscription consisting of three letters, one is a Q
R: Two-line illegible inscription
18
 
75
 
O: BL and the symbol
R: Horned bust
19
 
83
 
O: ʾGN BL BNY BWL ʿʾ (symposium of Bel, tribe of Bolaʿa), inscribed in a circle around a globe
R: Unbearded bust facing right, surrounded by crescent and stars. To the left and to the right a globe and the symbol
20
 
84
 
O: ʾGN BL (symposium of Bel) and the symbol
R: ʿBDY / WHBLT (Abdai Wahballat)
21
 
86
 
O: ʾGN BL (symposium of Bel) and the symbol
R: Oval signet-seal imprint with standing figure (Tyche?)
22
 
88
 
O: ʾGN / BL (symposium of Bel), the symbol, YRḤY (Yarhai)
R: Distyle building façade with unclear inscription in the pediment. ḤT (?) Y (Hatay?)
23
 
89
 
O: Centrally placed head of bull surrounded by a symbol on each side. ʾGN B[L] (symposium of Bel)
R: Blank
24
 
90
 
O: ʾGN BL (symposium of Bel), a globe and below the symbol
R: A camel to the right. Traces of letters
25
 
92
 
O: Scorpion to the right. Below ʾGN BL (symposium of Bel) and below this the symbol and a globe
R: BL / YBRK / LBNY / BWDLʾ (Bel blesses the tribe of Bodla). A snake is located below
26
 
95
 
O: ʾGN BL, below a globe situated between two symbols
R: [B]N[Y] YDY[ʿB]L (tribe of Yedibel)
27
 
99
 
O: Centrally placed symbol. Inscription running around the border of the tessera. ʾGN BL BNY ʿGRWD (symposium of Bel, tribe of Agrud)
R: A hill with a fortress (?), to the left three globes and a crescent
28
 
103
 
O: ʾGN BL (symposium of Bel). Above a globe, below three globes and to the right the symbol
R: A globe flanked by the symbol on each side. ʿTNWRY / BWRPʾ (Atenuri Borpa)
29
 
104
 
O: Damaged inscription. [ʾ]GN BL. Second line [B]L and the symbol (RTP after Lidzbarski 1898, 490, no. M84/VA 362)
R: Signet-seal imprint – standing male figure
30
 
105
 
O: ʾGN BL (symposium of Bel), crescent, three globes and two small crescents
R: BNY MGDT (tribe of Magdat) followed by the symbol, below six globes
31
 
106
 
O: Bunch of grapes in the middle, surrounded by inscription and symbol. ʾGN BL BNY QṢMYT (symposium of Bel, tribe of Qasmayat)
R: Wine branches surrounded by inscription and symbol. ʾGN BL BNY BḤR (symposium of Bel, tribe of Bahr)
32
 
108
 
O: BL YBRK (Bel blesses), the symbol, LBNY TYMY (tribe of Taimi)
R: Signet-seal imprint nude male figure
33
 
111
 
O: TGʾ / DY BL / TYMRṢW / DYNY (crown of Bel, Taimarsu Dinai), followed by symbol
R: Wreath or diadem with a star in the middle and surrounded by floral decoration
34
 
129
 
O: BL / BLTY (Bel, Belti), on the sides, respectively, a star and the symbol
R: Female deity head in profile with crown or kalathos and diadem
35
 
130
 
O: ʾGN BL (symposium of Bel), the symbol, GD BLMʾ (Gad Belemma)
R: Bunch of grapes hanging from a wine branch
36
 
131
 
O: Bust of deity with kalathos and diadem. Above to the left BL and to the right the symbol. Below GD MŠḤʾ (protective Fortune of the oil merchants/olive tree? See Kaizer 2002a, p. 219-220 n. 25)
R: Three long objects (swords?)
37
 
 
132
 
 
Bronze tessera O: Bust of Bel with kalathos. Below: GD MŠḤʾ (protective Fortune of the oil merchants/olive tree?)
R: Same three objects as 36. Above BL and the symbol
Cf. Charles-Gaffiot, Lavagne & Hofman 2001, p. 275, no. 167‑168
38
 
133
 
O: ʾGN BL (symposium of Bel), the symbol, ḤRTʾ (Herta)
R: Signet-seal impression, sitting figure playing a lyre
39
 
136
 
O: BL, the symbol
R: NBW (Nebu)
40
 
137
 
O: ʾGN BL / WNBW (symposium of Bel and Nebu), the symbol, BNY ʿLYY (the tribe of Olayai)
R: A palm, to the right and the left, NBW / ZBDBWL (Nebu. Zabdibol)
41
 
151
 
O: Radiate bust
R: Lion turning to the right, to the right the symbol and below ŠMŠ(?)RMʾ (Shamshirama)
42
 
165
 
O: Lion turning right ʾLT (Allat) and other symbols
R: Lying camel. Above BNY NWRBL (tribe of Nurbel) Symbol in front of the camel
43
 
212
 
O: BL / ḤMWN / MQYM[W] ʾQT[.] (Bel Hammon. Moqimu Aqt[.])
R: Amphora with two handles, the symbol is placed on the front side of the amphora
44
 
213
 
O: BL (Bel), the symbol, ḤMWN (Hammon)
R: GD (Gad), the symbol, ʿGRWD (Agrud)
45
 
215
 
O: Unbearded bust. BLḤMN (Bel Hammon), below globe
R: Striding horse towards the left, star above and the symbol below
46
 
217
 
O: Above BLTY (Belti), in the middle the symbol, below star- or sun-shaped figure and small globes
R: YRḤY / KLBʾ (Yarhai Kalba), below six circles
47
 
223
 
O: ʾLQNRʿ (Elqonera), below the symbol and a globe
R: [TY]MʿMD / ZBDBL (Taimoamad Zabdibel)
48
 
227
 
O: Club with the symbol on each side of it
R: NRGL / YRḤY B[R] ZBDʾ (very unclear)
49
 
238
 
O: ḤRTʾ / NNY (Herta, Nanai), the symbol
R: Unbearded bust turning left, in front of it the symbol
50
 
239
 
O: ḤRTʾ (Herta), underneath the symbol
R: NNY (Nanai), surrounded by a wreath. On the top ḤGGW (Hagegu)
51
 
240
 
O: ḤRTʾ WNNY (Herta and Nanai) followed by the symbol
R: Globe with rays and a circle with a dot at the centre in each corner
52
 
242
 
O: ḤRTʾ / WNNY (Herta and Nanai) followed by the symbol
R: TBRKN / LMQYMW (blessing Moqimu)
53
 
244
 
O: YRḤBWL Wʿ GLBWL (Yarhibol and Aglibol)
R: BRYKYN or BRYKYʾ / TRYʾ, followed by the symbol
54
 
248
 
O: MʿNW / ŠʿD/RW / GNYʾ (Maʿnu, Shaʿd/ru, the divine beings)
R: A camel turning to the left. In front of it the symbol and behind it a star and crescent
55
 
264
 
O: MLKBL (Malakbel), the symbol, ʾKHT
R: A bull turning to the left, in front of the bull a person is standing with one arm lifted (sacrificial scene)
56
 
276
 
O: MLKBL GD TYMY (Malakbel, Gad Taimi)
R: BNY RB ʾL (tribe of Rabbel), at the end of line 1 the symbol followed by a star. At the end of line 2 a sign in the shape of a lying Z
57
 
293
 
O: NBW (Nebu), the symbol, ZBYD ʿLG (Zebida Ilg.). At the end of line 3 a globe
R: A star above a crescent and one star in each corner
58
 
297
 
O: NBW 6 (Nebu 6). Above, between two small globes, the symbol
R: A bunch of grapes
59
 
300
 
O: NBW (Nebu)
R: The symbol
60
 
304
 
O: NBW / YBRK (Nebu blesses) surrounded by two globes
R: MŠMŠY, the symbol, PḤDYʾ (the tribal officiants)
61
 
305
 
O: NBW / YBRK (Nebu blesses). At the end of line 1 the symbol R: LMTNʾ / ZBDʿTH (Mattana Zabdaateh)
62
 
306
 
O: QNYT / NBW (the association (?) of Nebu), the symbol
R: NBWZBD / MQYMW (Nebouzabad Moqimou)
63
 
315
 
O: Griffin turning to the left with right paw on a wheel
R: MLKW ḤGGW (Malku Hagegu). At the end of line 1 the symbol
64
 
321
 
O: ŠDRPʾ (Shadrafa). At the bottom from left to right, a star, a globe and a scorpion
R: […]T (or ) / MTNY, … (Mattanai). At the end of line 2 the symbol
65
 
329
 
O: ŠDRPʾ / DʿNT (Shadrafa, Duʿanat)
R: DNY / ʿBDʾ (Dinai Abda). At the end of line 1 the symbol
66
 
332
 
O: Face shown frontally
R: BʾLTK / [ŠY]ʿLQWM (Baaltak, Shai al-Qaum). Above crescent and the symbol, below a star
67
 
434
 
O: Seated female figure turning to the right. Crescent in front of her and globe below
R: Wreath. Globe below and the symbol above
68
 
511
 
O: HYKLʾ (the temple). Below the symbol between two palms
R: Blurred
69
 
521
 
O: Tetrastyle building façade (or box?)
R: Ram turning towards the left. In front of the animal the symbol
70
 
545
 
O: Amphora and globe
R: Ladle, the symbol and hooked cross
71
 
547
 
O: Amphora with branch in it and surrounded by two branches and two symbols
R: BRYQY / YRḤBWL (Bariqai, Yarhibol[a]?)
72
 
548
 
O: Amphora between two globes. Above BʿLTK (Baaltak)
R: MLKW (Malku). Below the symbol and a globe
73
 
638
 
O: A horse turning to the right. A circle in front, a globe and a crescent over its behind, the symbol is placed between its legs
R: ʾBLʿLY / MQYMW / TYBWL (Abibelaali or Abelaali Moqimou Taibbol)
74
 
680
 
O: A bunch of branches with fruits/berries and a pomegranate in the middle. The bunch is standing on a support
R: The symbol, ʾGN GDʿTʾ DY BL (after Vogüé 1868, 76, no. 125)
75
 
684
 
O: A bush with the symbol on top
R: A signet-seal imprint with a crescent and a globe over it
76
 
700
 
O: ḤMR MKL, the symbol, [W]PLG Q[R]Š (measurements, see Kaizer 2002a, p. 188-189, n. 85)
R: Priest reclining on a klinè. Eagle at the foot end of the kline with branch in beak. Star between eagle and priest. Name below the klinè: LQNYS BRS (Licinius Burrus)
77
 
830
 
O: Bust of a priest. ZBDLH BR ZBDʿTH MYKʾ (Zabdilah, son of Zabdaateh Mika). The symbol, star and crescent
R: ZBDLH / ZBDʿTH / MYKʾ (Zabdilah Zabdaateh Mika)
78
 
940
 
O: The symbol, three globes
R: Small traces of signs (illegible)
79
 
985
 
O: BNY (tribe of), the symbol, YŠWʾL (Ieshouala)
R: (not seen)
===
  Dunant 1959  
80 2 TGʾ DY BL with name
81 5 Nebu (NB: RTP 292, identical inscription, does not have the symbol!)
82 6 Nebu
===
From the Syro-American campaigns in 2010 and 2011 a (fig. 7)
83   Figure with lyre? Bel, 2 globes, crescent and symbol (no image)
84   Two symbols, globe and crescent (drawing)
85   Vegetation and hyssop? symbol/wedge = Nebu (?) Nebu inscription (drawing)
===
From the internet b (https://uk.pinterest.com; fig. 8)
86   Tree (cf. image of RTP 18)
87   Horse
===
Palmyrene reliefs carrying the symbol
88 CIS II, iii, tab. XVIII with no. 3975 Altar dedicated to Arsu (fig. 9)
89 Tanabe 1986, p. 175, pl. 142 Relief of dromedary rider (fig. 10)
a. Drawings published in Archaeological Illustrator, 8 August 2011 (http://archaeologicalillustrator.blogspot.com/​2011/​08/​tesserae-from-2011-palmyra-excavation.html).
b. cat. no. 86: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/399413060675261002; cat. no. 87: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/​andreacanecane/​palmyra-art-artifacts-syrian-heritage/​.

Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 1 to 17

© RTP.

Figure 3.

Figure 3.

Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 18 to 34

© RTP.

Figure 4.

Figure 4.

Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 35 to 48

© RTP.

Figure 5.

Figure 5.

Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 50 to 65

© RTP.

Figure 6.

Figure 6.

Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 66 to 79

© RTP.

Figure 7.

Figure 7.

Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 84 and 85

(drawing published in Archaeological Illustrator, 8 August 2011; http://archaeologicalillustrator.blogspot.com/​2011/​08/​tesserae-from-2011-palmyra-excavation.html).

Figure 8.

Figure 8.

Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 86 and 87

(https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/399413060675261002 [no. 86] & https://www.pinterest.co.uk/​andreacanecane/​palmyra-art-artifacts-syrian-heritage/​ [no. 87]).

Figure 9.

Figure 9.

Altar to Arsu

(CIS II, iii, tab. XVIII).

Figure 10.

Figure 10.

Relief

© Ted Kaizer.

The authors would like to thank the Carlsberg Foundation for funding the Palmyra Portrait Project generously since 2012 as well as the Danish National Research Foundation (grant: 119), and the Aarhus Institute for Advanced Studies for awarding Ted Kaizer a Dale T. Mortensen Senior Fellowship in 2014 during which research leading to this article was undertaken. Acknowledgements are also due to the Leverhulme Trust for awarding Ted Kaizer a Major Research Fellowship (2014-17) during which it was completed. We are furthermore grateful to PhD student Julia Steding for help with the images, to Christina Levisen for help with the editing and also to Dr. Signe Krag for assistance with scanning at an early stage.
The editor thanks Richard Berthaux (USR 3225 MAE) for preparing the photographs for publication and Dr Chadi Hatoum (UMR 7041 ArScAn) for the abstract’s and keywords’ Arabic translation.

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Bibliographie

Abbreviations

CIS II, iii J.-B. Chabot, Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, pars secunda, tomus III: Inscriptiones Palmyreneae, Paris, 1926-1947.

IGLS XVII, 1 J.‑B. Yon, Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie. Palmyre (BAH 195), Beirut, 2012.

PAT D. R. Hillers & E. Cussini, Palmyrene Aramaic Texts, Baltimore/Londres, 1996.

RTP H. Ingholt, H. Seyrig & J. Starcky, Recueil des tessères de Palmyre (BAH 58), Paris, 1955 (suivi de remarques linguistiques par A. Caquot).

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Notes

1 See RTP. For the most recent studies of the Palmyrene tesserae, see Raja 2015a; Raja 2015b; Raja 2016.

2 See Mesnil du Buisson 1944; Mesnil du Buisson 1962.

3 Dunant 1959.

4 Schmidt-Colinet & al-Asʿad 2005; Schmidt-Colinet 2011; Schmidt-Colinet & al-Asʿad 2013, II, p. 243‑247.

5 As announced by Cynthia Finlayson at a conference in Warsaw in April 2016. For some of the images, see http://archaeologicalillustrator.blogspot.dk/2011/08/tesserae-from-2011-palmyra-excavation.html.

6 See al-Asʿad, Briquel-Chatonnet & Yon 2005, who also announced a joint venture to produce a supplement to the Recueil and a database of all Palmyrene tesserae. See also Briquel-Chatonnet & Yon 2003.

7 It concerns a lot of fifty-seven tesserae which were all of the same mould and belong to the type RTP 552. They were found in 1996 in a sounding during the excavation of the southern part of a house north of the central colonnade (block F on the map by Gabriel 1926, pl. XII).

8 Many of the male figures, both priests and ordinary men, depicted on the funerary reliefs wear rings, which would have carried signet-seal stones. See Raja 2016, p. 352.

9 For the few exceptions in Greek, see RTP, p. 191.

10 Unexplained Aramaic vocabulary is generally taken to refer to otherwise unknown family names, but see Kaizer 2002a, p. 215 with n. 7, for the suggestion that some of these words could also be unknown terms designating professional associations. See also Kaizer 2002b.

11 An exception is RTP 691, which gives a date of 430 of the Seleucid era (ad 118/9).

12 All the relevant information can be found in RTP. See Nyns 1987, p. 67; Raja 2016, p. 346.

13 Février 1931, p. 55, 216. But see already Seyrig 1933, p. 245, n. 1.

14 First by P. V. C. Baur in Baur, Rostovtzeff & Bellinger 1932, p. 111-112, then by Mesnil du Buisson 1962, p. 147-152.

15 See also Seyrig 1937, p. 207: “Le symbole …, très fréquent à Palmyre, n’a jamais été expliqué.”

16 Kaizer 1997, p. 162-163.

17 Gawlikowski 1990, p. 2639.

18 E.g. RTP 18, showing an extremely detailed tree alongside two of the symbols (= cat. no. 2 in the catalogue at the end of this article, and fig. 2).

19 Seyrig 1941, p. 34.

20 See, for further detail and discussion, Kaizer 2008.

21 The evidence for the terminology and archaeology of banqueting groups is assembled in Kaizer 2002a, p. 220-229. On the link between the tesserae and banqueting, see Gawlikowski 1990, p. 2651-2652, and now also Raja 2016, p. 347-351. For further evidence from the area of the so-called Hellenistic city, see Schmidt-Colinet & al-Asʿad 2005, p. 172; Schmidt-Colinet and al-Asʿad 2013, II, p. 247. For funerary banqueting scenes, see Sadurska & Bounni 1994, fig. 208-250. For the find of multifarious earthenware vessels in tomb F in the Southeast necropolis, see Higuchi & Saito 2001, p. 135-144. A painting (now divided between the Louvre and the Yale University Art Gallery) from a private house in Dura-Europos that is accompanied by a Palmyrenean inscription - a memento for the persons depicted before four Palmyrene gods - shows a combination of a hunting and a banquet scene, the latter with at least five reclining men and one female figure, with an Eros figure in between the two sections. See Dirven 1999, p. 281-292. For some examples of tesserae depicting reclining priests, see RTP 441 and 700. RTP 700 is part of the catalogue at the end of article and depicted here as well (= cat. no. 76, fig. 6).

22 The rite is known under different names, signifying different facets, such as lectisternium, τραπεζώματα, and θεοξένια, on which see Kaizer 2008, p. 186-187.

23 For discussion, see Raja 2016, p. 362-366. If this counts as evidence for a process of religious systematization going on within the unified society of Palmyra, it may be telling that no tesserae have been found amongst the many known communities of Palmyrene expatriates at Dura-Europos and elsewhere. It could perhaps be seen as evidence for the idea that outside Palmyra, the worship of Palmyrene gods took place within a different organizational framework, without the same need to diversify into various cult groups and associations.

24 The title of chapter three in Kaizer 2002a. See also Kaizer 2008.

25 PAT 1353 (ad 25) and 0269 (ad 51). See Kaizer 2002, p. 70, n. 21; Kaizer 2006, p. 104.

26 PAT 1347 and 0180, respectively.

27 PAT 0009.

28 Hoftijzer & Jongeling 1995, I, s.v. “ʾlh1”.

29 Price 1984, p. 79-85.

30 Frank Brown made the point that the Greek noun “appended to the name of a deity is a common feature of the Greek inscriptions of the Near East of Hellenistic and Roman date”, and that it could be explained (when not used as appositive) either “as affirming the divinity of an obscure or lesser god which might not be apparent to the uninitiated from the mere name”, or when “applied to certain widely known but purely oriental gods . . . as mere formal concession to the Greek.” With regard to the rest-category, the “many examples . . . in which the familiar Greek name of the divinity is supplied with the epithet”, he stated that “they pose a problem not answerable here, but worthy of a detailed and special study.” See F. E. Brown, in Rostovtzeff, Brown & Welles 1939, p. 195-196, n. 28. Like ʾlhʾ, θεός can of course also form part of a longer epithet, such as e.g. in the Greek counterpart of a bilingual inscription recording offerings “for Malakbel and the Tyche of Taimi and Atargatis, the ancestral gods” ([Μα]λαχβήλῳ καὶ Τύχῃ Θαιμεῖος καὶ [Ἀτα]ργάτει πατρῴοις θεοῖς), see PAT 0273; IGLS XVII, 1, no. 306.

31 PAT 1372; IGLS XVII, 1, no. 262. The Aramaic counterpart is damaged, and it is not clear that the expected bl ʾlhʾ would fit.

32 IGLS XVII, 1, no. 308.

33 IGLS XVII, 1, no. 177. In this case, the Aramaic equivalent only gives the names of the deities, “Herta and Nanai and Reshef” (ḥrtʾ wnny wršp). The same constellation, however, is attested in an Aramaic text from 6 bc, which records how the priests of Herta had commemorated a benefactor “to Herta, Nanai and Reshef, the gods” (lḥrtʾ wlnny wlršp ʾlhyʾ), see PAT 2766.

34 The evidence has now been collected by Duchâteau 2013, p. 113-122, at p. 113: “l’épiclèse Theos (le dieu) est caractéristique des épiclèses que les dieux orientaux recevaient.” The combination Zeus Kyrios (Κύριος, “Lord”) is used in Dura-Europos only as the Greek counterpart of Baal-Shamin, as on the bilingual inscription accompanying a relief, see Downey 1977, 208-201 with pl. IV, 10, and PAT 1089. Cf. Duchâteau 2013, 121, where it is argued that Zeus Theos was instead assimilated with Bel. On a silver libation bowl found in one of the houses, dated to ad 232/3 and dedicated “to Zeus Theos who is in Adatha” (Διὶ Θεῶ τῶ ἐν Ἀδαθα), the god is - like the dedicant, who is also a non-Durene (“of Adatha, dwelling in Bethzena”, ἀπὸ Ἀδαθα οἰκῶν ἐν Βηθζηνα) - explicitly identified as coming from elsewhere. See Rostovtzeff 1934, 307-310, no. 610 with fig. 13; Baird 2014, 284.

35 Terms denoting a specific class of divine beings, such as gnyʾ (commonly associated with the Arabic word for divinity, jinn) and possibly šdʾ (“demon”?), are of course a different matter. See Hoftijzer and Jongeling 1995, I, s.v. “gny4”, and II, s.v. “šdy2”, respectively.

36 In this context, one may also draw attention to the thesis put forward by Kubiak-Schneider 2016, that Palmyrene dedications without theonym, most notably in the form of worship of “He whose name is blessed for ever,” should not be viewed as the cult of a so-called “anonymous deity,” but as a similar method to give prominence to actions of benediction instead. For Palmyrene religious mentality in general, see Kaizer 2004.

37 PAT 0321, CIS II, iii, tab. XVIII with no. 3975 (see fig. 9).

38 Seyrig 1941, p. 33-34 with pl. I, 2; Tanabe 1986, p. 175, pl. 142 (see fig. 10).

39 Thus Kaizer forthcoming, n. 28. See, however, for a similar relief of a figure mounting a dromedary, but without the divine sign on display, Seyrig 1941, 33-34 with pl. I, 3; Tanabe 1986, pl. 141.

40 RTP 381; Hvidberg-Hansen & Ploug 1993, 175 and 180, no. 155.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1.
Légende The three versions of the sign
Crédits © drawing by Signe Bruun Kristensen.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 36k
Titre Figure 2.
Légende Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 1 to 17
Crédits © RTP.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 243k
Titre Figure 3.
Légende Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 18 to 34
Crédits © RTP.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 297k
Titre Figure 4.
Légende Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 35 to 48
Crédits © RTP.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 353k
Titre Figure 5.
Légende Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 50 to 65
Crédits © RTP.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 293k
Titre Figure 6.
Légende Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 66 to 79
Crédits © RTP.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 301k
Titre Figure 7.
Légende Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 84 and 85
Crédits (drawing published in Archaeological Illustrator, 8 August 2011; http://archaeologicalillustrator.blogspot.com/​2011/​08/​tesserae-from-2011-palmyra-excavation.html).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 48k
Titre Figure 8.
Légende Tesserae carrying the symbol: cat. no. 86 and 87
Crédits (https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/399413060675261002 [no. 86] & https://www.pinterest.co.uk/​andreacanecane/​palmyra-art-artifacts-syrian-heritage/​ [no. 87]).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 100k
Titre Figure 9.
Légende Altar to Arsu
Crédits (CIS II, iii, tab. XVIII).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 245k
Titre Figure 10.
Légende Relief
Crédits © Ted Kaizer.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/7070/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 155k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Ted Kaizer et Rubina Raja, « Divine symbolism on the tesserae from Palmyra
Considerations about the so-called “symbol of Bel” or “signe de la pluie” »
Syria, 95 | 2018, 297-315.

Référence électronique

Ted Kaizer et Rubina Raja, « Divine symbolism on the tesserae from Palmyra
Considerations about the so-called “symbol of Bel” or “signe de la pluie” »
Syria [En ligne], 95 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2021, consulté le 14 mai 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/syria/7070 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/syria.7070

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Auteurs

Ted Kaizer

Durham University, Department of Classics & Ancient History

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Rubina Raja

Aarhus University, School of Culture and Society, Centre for Urban Network Evolutions

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