AA.VV.: (Thomas Maria Weber, M. Kalos, J. Dentzer-Feydy, F. Renel, A. Sartre-Fautriat et contributions diverses), Hauran IV. Sahr Al-Ledja. Die Skulpturen aus Sahr und die
Statuendenkmäler der römischen Kaiserzeit
in südsyrischen Heiligtümern, Recherches syro-européennes 1998-2008. Un sanctuaire du désert basaltique à l’époque romaine (BAH 184), En allemand, 264 pages, ISBN 978-2-35159-146-8, 53 euros
(Institut français du Proche-Orient, Beyrouth 2009)
Compte rendu par Ilona Skupinska-Lovset, University of Lodz, Poland

Nombre de mots : 1552 mots
Publié en ligne le 2010-02-26
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
Lien: http://histara.sorbonne.fr/cr.php?cr=872
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          The book reviewed here forms a part of the series devoted to the archaeology of  inland Syria (volume 184 of the Bibliothèque archéologique et historique). The research leading to the publication was supported by the Syro-European research program for the years 1998-2008. The printing of the volume is sponsored.


          It opens with a preface in French  by Jean-Marie Dentzer, chief editor of the series, followed by  a substantial list of literature with abbreviations (p. XI-XLII).


          The author, Thomas M. Weber,  has participated in the Syro-European research program on the sanctuary of Sahr al-Ledja from its beginning and has accumulated an impressive knowledge of the archaeology of the region, which he has also demonstrated in previous publications.


          The starting point of this publication is the sanctuary of Sahr al-Ledja, - but sculptures hailing from this important sanctuary have led to a search for parallels in the other, even quite distant regions of the Near East. The presentation of the Sahr al-Ledja sanctuary and its sculptural material, mentioned in the title, is found  on pages 22-96, and 179-219 (catalogue) of the reviewed publication. The aim of the work, presented on page 9, is to record the finds from the sanctuary of Sahr in their present state, to reconstruct and to interpret the monument and present it in a cultural and historical context. The documentation by Howard Crosby Butler, leader of the 1909 Princeton University Expedition to Syria, constituted the starting point for research.


          The “Introduction”, which unfortunately begins with the incorrectly spelled name of the author of the antiquarian drawing on page 4 (it should read: Wacław Rzewuski) stretches from page 4 to 22. It introduces the state of research on southern Syrian basalt sculpture; the history of research, question of dating, then the geographical context of the sanctuary of Sahr, its topographical lay-out and finally sets the sculptural material in this context. The substantial footnotes accompanying the text give further bibliography.


          The statuary identified as decorating the podium of the sanctuary is presented on pages 22-88. The illustrative material is rich and consists of photographs and drawings. They are often set in groups (fragments of a whole) but not all of them are numbered individually, which at times make reading difficult, also because their sizes of illustrations as a rule are is small, and sometimes a set is composed of illustrations varying in scale (a fact  not mentioned in the text). Comparative material is also copiously supplied, both in word and in picture.


          The description is chiefly of art-historical character and is helpful for the reconstruction and dating of the groups of statues and individual items. In certain cases, parallels for the chronologically earlier periods and geographically distant sites are given,  e.g. fig. 44 (XXIV-XXIII cent. B.C. Mesopotamian seals) or fig. 43 (XIII cent. B.C. goddess of Qadesh type), illustrating the author’s extensive knowledge of the archaeological material from the adjacent areas and pointing to the tradition of conceptual thinking on the part of the local leader of society who ordered the monuments .


          The reconstruction of the sculptural groups was not easy. Included in the book are interesting drawings showing phases in the process of reconstruction of the decoration of the podium from the first proposals to the final version, for instance on page 45 figs. 63-66.


          Of particular interest are cases where the author searches through the  literary evidence to find the meaning of the sculptural groups, for instance on pages 76-77. The author makes a connection with the text in Josephus Ant. XVII. 29-30,  proposing to see in the riders king Agrippa I or more probably his son Agrippa II with his officers. Thus, although highly theoretically, he may date the monument to the time span 60 A.D.-106 A.D.


          Very interesting , but inconclusive,  is the discussion of portraits of possible male representatives of the Herodian dynasty, and subsequently the Nabataean rulers. One would like to have at hand photographs of larger size and better quality in order to study this still insufficiently known subject.  In many cases there is just a proposed identification, relying on scarce documentation, but the reader  is constantly  seeking more detail.


          Part IV.3 deals with sculptures not connected with the podium (p. 89-93) and attributes them to  three groups. The first encompasses those belonging to a cultic composition reconstructed from few fragments, representing  a seated elderly, well-built man, identified with a local chief deity, flanked by two  young naked lampadophoroi (fig. 721-723). The group is reconstructed as placed in an arched adyton and in its general appearance it approaches the Julio-Claudian groups known from nymphea of the Imperial villas on the shores of the bay of Naples.  Is it probable that such compositionally and stylistically different sculpture was produced in basalt in this part of Syria? Who produced it? The fragments found during the archaeological work certainly look well modelled, but tell us nothing about the whole: comparative material is lacking.


          Secondly, the architectural decoration (eagle and Nike figures) of well known form is presented, and thirdly, sculptures considered as votive offerings (eagle). These groups have good analogies in the artistic production of the analyzed area.


          Chapter  IV.4  discusses monuments considered similar to those of the Sahr al- Ledja sanctuary in topographical order : in the territory of Trachonitis (p. 99-125), in Batanaea (p. 125-140), in Auranitis (p. 140-166), in Gaulanitis (p. 166-173), and at the end, sculptures without  provenience are presented.  The discussion of each region is organized by archaeological sites, which are first brieflypresented, followed by the sculptures from the place, chiefly fragments of quadrupeds, identified as horses or lions, fragments of carriages and figurines identified as the goddess Athena-Allat. Of the others statuae loricatae,  male reclining figures, naked children,  victories, and one portrait-head should be mentioned.  The sculptures are catalogued properly.


           The next chapter (p. 173-178) breaks with the territorial unity and brings up the question of the reception of Syrian sculptures in Arabia Felix. This author is of the opinion that this chapter outgrows  an already very detailed  discussion of the sculptures from the Sahr sanctuary presented in the context of southern Syria.  It would form an interesting publication of its own. By including this chapter the publication exceeds its set limits. Besides, the sculptures are not made of basalt.


          After the discussion follows a chapter  which is a catalogue of sculptures from Sahr. First the sculptures from Sahr al-Ledja are catalogued (p. 179-219). There are 30 entries. All sculptures are described in detail, there are photographs and drawings of the fragments, separately and in common reconstruction; some drawings are to scale. Still, in some cases it is difficult to obtain a correct impression of the fragments and of the whole, as the numbering on the drawings are only exceptionally repeated on the photos, which are as a rule not to scale. Aside from that, there is an extraordinary amount of work engaged in the presentation – it will be no doubt be of great help to understand the sculptures from the Sahr sanctuary – it lacks very little to be truly useful.


          Chapter IV.7 is a very short summary in six points of the goal reached by the publication - it also shows perspectives, the plans for the exhibition of the sculptures in the new impressive  Archaeological museum in the district capital Der`a (p. 221-224). 


          Chapter IV.8  is a very substantial summary,  first in French, then in English, followed by an index of places and names. The book also has a list of contents and a summary in Arabic, which the present author cannot read.


          To sum up this is a very engaged  and substantial work, which might well have formed three or even four separate publications.  It is most useful, not only as a  presentation of regional monuments but  also as an introductory illustration of the diffusion of Greco-Roman art and resistance to it as well,  shown by a preference for specific motives and the conservation of traditional modes of expression.  There are some typographical errors,  most often a misplaced hyphen in the centre of a word.