Ancient Roman Terracotta Tessera


An exceptional Palmyrene light terracotta token or tessera beautifully decorated on both sides. The front features the depiction of two priests standing each at one side of a central basin, holding branches in their hands and reaching for the central basin with the other hand. Next to each figure a thymiaterion, a type of incense burner, and an amphora. A raised medallion holding the depiction of a nude male figure is depicted over the basin.  On the reverse, a priest is depicted at a celestial banquet, reclined under a fruit tree and wearing a modius, a type of flat-topped cylindrical headdress; the lower border features a Samaritan inscription. The level and delicacy of detail makes this item truly outstanding. Tokens, known in Greek as σύμβολα, of Palmyra are tiles with various shapes, made almost exclusively of clay, comprising embossed designs on both sides. These objects held an important role in Palmyra’s religious festivals, since they were used to access ceremonial meals or in distributions following certain sacrifices. They provide important information on the deities of Palmyra and Semitic religious history in general.

Date: Circa 2nd-3rd Century AD
Condition: Extremely fine, some weathering to surface due to ageing.


SKU: CS-290 Category: Tags: ,

Palmyra was founded in the 3rd Millennium BC in modern day Syria. It was a very important trading post between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean Sea. The Greco-Roman tradition and the city’s location on the borders of Roman and Parthian territory created the conditions for a particular culture to develop there, with an interesting syncretism visible in its art. In the 3rd Century AD it became the capital of the short-lived splinter state of the Roman Empire, the Palmyrene Empire, ruled by the legendary queen Zenobia. In 270, Zenobia quickly conquered most of the Roman east, aiming to maintain relations with Rome as a legitimate power, but when she claimed the imperial title for both herself and her son, the Roman emperor Aurelian reacted by conquering Palmyra and capturing the self-proclaimed Empress. When a year later the Palmyrenes rebelled, Aurelian decided to destroy the city. Despite its brief existence, the Palmyrene Empire is remembered for having been ruled by one of the most ambitious and powerful women in late antiquity.

Weight 9.7 g
Dimensions L 2.9 cm

Pottery and Porcelain


Reference: For a similar item, The Metropolitan Museum, item number 55.109

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