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The Aphrodite of Emesa: miniature marble sculpture and religious life in Roman Syria

Kropp, Andreas



The sculpture of Roman Syria is a mighty tree with roots so deep and branches so far-flung that they have defied all attempts at systematic and comprehensive study. This article deals with one of these branches of artistic traditions, a series of unusual marble Aphrodite statuettes found in Roman Syria, and in particular at Emesa . In what little attention these statuettes have received, scholars have listed up to 10 extant specimens, but a closer look has uncovered dozens, many of which have surfaced on the art market in recent years. In all likelihood, they reproduce a cult statue of Aphrodite at Emesa. They merit attention on a number of levels. Unlike much of the marble statuary of the Roman Near East, they do not reproduce an opus nobile from the Graeco-Roman canon; the Emesa Aphrodites, although based on Graeco-Roman divine iconography, draw on a Roman Venus type, while their style has much in common with local sculpture made of basalt, sandstone and limestone. This study examines, first, the character, origins and development of this statuary type and its links to well-established Graeco-Roman Aphrodite types. Many years ago, M. Bieber identified these statuettes as miniature versions of the statue of Venus Genetrix created by Arkesilaos for the Temple of Venus in the Forum of Julius Caesar. As there is still no consensus on the exact appearance of that famous statue, I will also comment on this question. Second, I look at the statuettes in context. Through their unusual style, format and iconography, they portray an Aphrodite of a distinct and unique character that raises questions about the significance of marble sculpture in the religious life of Roman Syria.


Kropp, A. (2016). The Aphrodite of Emesa: miniature marble sculpture and religious life in Roman Syria. Journal of Roman Archaeology, 29, 193-222.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 7, 2016
Online Publication Date Oct 31, 2016
Publication Date 2016
Deposit Date Oct 11, 2019
Journal Journal of Roman Archaeology
Print ISSN 1047-7594
Electronic ISSN 2331-5709
Publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 29
Pages 193-222
Public URL
Publisher URL

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