The body language of Palmyra and Rome

Glenys Davies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This paper focuses on the poses and gestures used in the funerary relief sculpture (primarily portrait busts) of Palmyra in the light of some of my other work on body language as represented in Roman art. I am very much indebted to Maura Heyn’s study of the gestures used on Palmyrene reliefs, which was based on a much better knowledge of the material than mine, and which raised most of the questions considered here. My aim is to build on Heyn’s observations and analysis by considering further the difference between ‘gesture’ and ‘body language’, the ways in which gender is indicated by pose and gesture, and the use of body language to indicate superior and subordinate status (in relation to gender). The paper also investigates further the similarities and differences between the Palmyrene portraits and the portrait reliefs from late republican and early imperial funerary contexts in Rome and its environs (often referred to as ‘freedman reliefs’): what might the significance of such affinities be, and should they be interpreted as indicating influence from Rome on the periphery of her empire? What implications might there be for the expression of ethnicity and Romanisation?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPositions and Professions in Palmyra
Subtitle of host publicationPalmyrene Studies Vol. 2
EditorsTracey Long, Annette Højen Sørensen
PublisherThe Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters
ISBN (Print)9788773044049
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2017

Publication series

NameScientia Danica. Series H, Humanistica, 4. Vol. 9
ISSN (Print)1904-5506


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