Altar Depicting Malakbel on A Chariot

Description

The altar is richly decorated from the three sides with individual scenes depicting three of the local Palmyrene deities; Ishtar the north Arabian goddess of fertility, Malakbel and the local caravan God Shia’ Alqoum who is often refereed to in the old Palmyrene literature as the God who doesn’t drink wine.

This front scene is showing Malakbel the solar god seated on a chariot pulled by two winged lions. A male figure to the left of the scene holding a laurel crown against the divine’s head. We can’t confirm whether the male figure in this scene is a priest for can be also the person who dedicated this altar to the temple.

Malakbel was a sun god worshiped in Palmyra, frequently associated and worshiped with the moon god Aglibol as a party of a trinity involving the sky god Baalshamin. The name Malak-Bel means “Angel of Bel” attesting to his mythological role as Bel’s messenger.

The earliest known mention of Malakbel was an inscription which dates back to 17 BC and associates him with the lunar god Aglibol. Several other inscriptions made by the Bene Komare (one of the four dominant tribes in Palmyra) also associate him with Aglibol, including a bilingual inscription from 122 AD in which Aglibol and Malakbel sponsor a citizen by the name of Manai for his piety. (*)

Attestations of Malakbel’s worship can be found in Rome, (**) and as far as the province of Numidia in north Africa, as attested by a circa 178 AD inscription in the town of El Kantara, currently north east of Algeria, where Palmyrene archers were stationed. (*)

Malakbel in Rome

A shrine of Malakbel is attested around the early 2nd century AD in Rome. (**) The shrine was located on the right bank of the Tiber river, in the vicinity of several wine warehouses. There, Malakbel was frequently identified with the Roman divinity Sol, known as Deus Sol Sanctissimus, and occasionally bore the epithet “Invictus”.

In 274, following his victory over the Palmyrene Empire, emperor Aurelian dedicated a large temple to Sol Invictus in Rome; most scholars consider Aurelian’s Sol Invictus to be of Syrian origin, (***) either a continuation of the cult of Sol Invictus Elagabalus, or Malakbel of Palmyra, as Malakbel was frequently identified with the Roman god Sol and bore the epithet Invictus. (**) Another one of his names, “Sanctissimus”, was an epithet Aurelian bore on an inscription from Capena. (**)

The relation between Malakbel and Sol Invictus, if any, can not be confirmed and will probably remain unresolved

A close up image for the central scene of Malakbek seated in the heavenly chariot

  • Material: Limestone.

  • Date: first half of 2nd century.

  • Item Dimensions:  H. 53 cm, W. 33 cm,

  • Excavated from: Palmyra- Nebo Temple

  • Archaeological Mission: Swiss Archaeological Mission 1955

  • Archaeological Museum Of Palmyra – 2011

Excavation Site Location

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(*) Smith II, Andrew M. (2013). Roman Palmyra: Identity, Community, and State Formation. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-986110-1.

(**) Watson, Alaric (2004) [1999]. Aurelian and the Third Century. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-90815-8.

(***) Hijmans, Steven Ernst (2009). Sol: The Sun in the Art and Religions of Rome. University Library Groningen. ISBN 978-9-036-73931-3.

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