An exhaustive study of the terracotta figurines unearthed at the site of Dura-Europos

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Copyright © 2003, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted September 2003.

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Located above the Euphrates in modern Syria, Dura-Europus was founded as a Hellenistic military settlement. It was conquered repeatedly by Parthians, Romans, and Persians; but evidence from inscriptions, graffiti, and papyri suggests that, throughout all this upheaval, the Greco-Macedonian aristocracy maintained its sway over the city's society.
Susan B. Downey demonstrates how the terracotta figurines and plaques from Dura-Europus, relatively humble products, can shed light on religious beliefs and social practices in cities of mixed Greek and Semitic population. These artifacts reveal the stories of the city's people. Dura is exceptionally well preserved, due to the dry climate and to the fact that it was not re-inhabited after it fell to the Sasanian Persians in approximately C.E. 256. Approximately 300 figurines and plaques were discovered in the excavations of Dura, yet few have been published.
Properly determining the uses of artifacts like these is difficult. The terracottas might have functioned in a religious context, as talismans, or as toys--to name only a few possibilities. This exhaustive collection meticulously catalogues the Dura finds, offering the first complete listing of the terracottas and plaques. Combined with Downey's insightful analyses, the catalogue represents a monumental contribution to our knowledge of the lives and activities of the inhabitants of this important antique center of multiculturalism.
This book will prove an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the social history and religious life of Dura-Europus. Archaeologists, art historians, and general classicists alike will find it valuable.
Susan B. Downey is Professor of Art History, University of California, Los Angeles.