9.08.2014

The Tomb of Hamrath at Suweida: A Warrior Woman

This is the best example of a tomb decorated with sculpted relief shields - and also armour - but which belonged to a woman.

I'm still post flood, my books are either in storage or hiding, so I'll copy and paste the small section of my PhD dissertation that dealt with it below; the engraving above is from Lawrence. Yes Syria was on the margins of the Greek world, but I'll cover the Macedonian tombs and female warriors in a day or two.



The tomb of Hamrath was recorded as near whole in the 19th century, but turning into ruins by 1905 when Butler photographed it (source); the way things are going in Syria, it will not be surprising if much more is destroyed.


        Perhaps one of the most interesting examples of the decorative use of armour comes from the early first century BC Tomb of Hamrath at Suweida  in Syria,[1]  no longer extant. Relief circular and oval shields, corselets, and helmets decorated the five intercolumniations on each side. The bilingual inscription, in Greek and Aramaic, identifies it as having been built for her by her husband Odainath. The Greek word used to designate the tomb is sthlh,  while the Aramaic calls it NPS, which means soul and by extension personification. Shields alone may well have been decorative, but armour suggests a warrior. Although armour would at first seem an inappropriate decorative attribute for a woman, one should bear in mind the long history of warrior-queens in the pre-Islamic Near East. Not just restricting ourselves to this area, one can note a number of examples, from Samiramis through Tomyris, the two Artemisias, Dynamis, and culminating in the much later Zenobia.[2]  So although women were marginalised in mainstream Greek society, the countries on its fringes were more prepared to regard a martial leader, who could acquire power regardless of their sex, and thus Hamrath may well have been a warrior. The basalt structure was a square with sides of ca. 11 metres, with engaged Doric columns, a Doric entablature, and surmounted by a pyramidal roof. The device of intercolumnar shields is taken one step further by the inclusion of helmets and corselets, as well as a number of different forms of shields.


[1]

Lawrence 1983, p. 287, fig. 266; Fedak 1990, pp. 148-9, fig. 221; Gawlikowski 1970, pp. 22-3, fig. 6; Markle 1994, pp. 89-91; Stucchi 1987b, fig. 14, p. 255; de Vogüé 1865, pp. 29-31, pl. 1. The town is now known as Es-Suweda. Outer intercolumniation w. 1.80, interior intercolumniations w. 1.84. W. of columns at base 0.89, ht. 4.61. Inscription = CIS I 162. [Addendum: the best publication to look at is

Gawlikowski 1970 = M. Gawlikowski, Monuments Funéraires de Palmyre, Etudes et Travaux 9, 1970.]

[2] 

See Abbott 1941; Fraser 1988, pp. 14-26, 107-128.

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