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The Roman-controlled city of Palmyra (1st c. BCE–3rd c. CE), once a major economic hub in the Levant, is the source of thousands of inscriptions in a dialect of Aramaic, as well as many in Latin and Greek (Yon 2012). The entire corpus of Palmyrene Aramaic inscriptions known before 1996 has been collected in the comprehensive volume, Palmyrene Aramaic Texts (Hillers & Cussini 1996); those inscriptions discovered since 1996 have been recently published as well (Yon 2013; see also Yon 2012 for the Greek and Latin inscriptions from Palmyra). These studies have contributed greatly to the study of Palmyrene Aramaic, but none of them have directly addressed the development of the locally indigenous script (paleography), nor do the studies of Hillers & Cussini 1996 and Yon 2013 provide photographs or drawings of the inscriptions (in contrast, see Yon 2012 for photos of the Greek and Latin texts), nor do they provide translations. Previous studies of the script (paleography) have usually been limited to short, now outdated articles whose authors worked without the benefit of high-quality photographs and comprehensive textual editions (e.g., Naveh 1970; Klugkist 1983).
The immediate goal of the Wisconsin Palmyrene Aramaic Inscription Project (WPAIP) is to re-collate the corpus of Palmyrene Aramaic inscriptions as we are able, providing detailed photographic records and new editions of each epigraph. In this project, several facets of the inscriptions will be investigated. These facets include the development of and stylistic variation within the Palmyrene Aramaic script; the language represented in the epigraphs; the onomastic features (personal naming conventions) and prosopography (familial relations) exhibited in the epigraphs (e.g., Stark 1970; Piersimoni 1995); and the modes and avenues of the inscriptions' distribution through the antiquities market since the 19th century. These goals are commensurate with those of the Palmyra Portrait Project of Aarhus University in Denmark (link below), which is currently working to compile a comprehensive catalogue of Palmyrene portraiture. Yet, the compilation of the corpus of epigraphic texts for the purposes of research is important not only for its own sake, but because of its preservation of Syrian cultural heritage in the face of recent Syrian political unrest. This new danger poses a clear and immediate threat not only to the current Syrian population, but to Palmyrene antiquities as well, placing a major portion of Roman-era Syrian culture in jeopardy. The ruins of the ancient city are in danger, with increasing numbers of objects being sold on the black market. In light of the imminent threat to Palmyra and its unique cultural and linguistic heritage, the immediate goals of this project contribute to a much wider goal as well: the participants hope, in some small way, to make a lasting contribution to the preservation of Palmyrene history and culture.
In order to collect the photographs in this collection, the participants have employed a new photographic technique called Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI). This technique has rendered possible the detailed photographic preservation of inscriptional materials; with the correct software, someone viewing the photo is able to manipulate the light source within the digital photographic environment so that various contours of the inscription can be seen more clearly as the angle of the light moves (see "Cultural Heritage Imaging" link below). The photographs contained in this collection are all conventional photos, viewable on a normal web browser. However, many of them have been captured from various light settings in the RTI files. They are the beginnings of what we hope will eventually become a comprehensive collection of high quality photos of Palmyrene Aramaic inscriptions. We are thankful to the museums holding these pieces. Permission to post these photographs has been granted by the respective museums owning the pieces. Each entry lists the holding museum and provides a link to the museum's website. We encourage viewers to visit and support these museums, to take advantage of their education initiatives, and to support and applaud their continued endeavors to curate collections responsibly and legally (especially in light of the current threats posed by the black market in Syrian antiquities).
Finally, thank you for your interest in and support of Palmyrene antiquities. If you are interested in supporting this project of collating ancient materials and cultures at risk due to the situation in Syria, please feel free to contact the project organizers.