During the mid-first century BC, Palmyra was incorporated into the Roman Empire, becoming a major trading station between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The collapse of Nabataean Petra under Trajan in AD 106 further shifted the trade routes in favour of Palmyra, so that by the mid-second century AD the Palmyrenes had established a sophisticated trade network that expended far out from their city, resulting in great prosperity for its inhabitants. Though Palmyra still held onto its eastern traditions and artistic vocabulary, nevertheless many elements of its art and society were heavily influenced by Greco-Roman culture, resulting in a unique merging of eastern and western styles.
The present tragic theatre masks present just such an example of this phenomenon – distinctly Greco-Roman in style, they would have formed part of the decoration on walls, either as a frieze or as part of the molding on a cornice. Such elaborate moldings were typical of the ostentatious private houses of the wealthy elite in Palmyra, who adorned their homes with lavish frescoes, mosaics, and marble panels. Ornamental stucco work with allusions to the high culture of the Greek and Roman theatre would have given added enrichment to these elaborate displays of personal wealth.
Private Collection, Geneva, 1970s.