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The Roman Marble Sculptures from the North Hall of the East Baths at Gerasa

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In 1984, Jordanian archaeologists discovered five Roman marble sculptures in the North Hall of the East Baths at ancient Gerasa (modern Jerash, Jordan). Traditionally, in the Roman Near East, marble sculptures have been studied as objets d'art, while their role as cultural artifacts has often been overlooked. Nothing could be clearer evidence of "cultural choice," however, than the importation and display of Roman marble sculptures, carved in non-native stone and sculpted in non-local Graeco-Roman style. Because their architectural, artistic, and social contexts are largely preserved, these sculptures offer an ideal case study for cultural assimilation, urbanization, and the decoration of baths. They were displayed in the basilical hall of an imperial-style bath, indicating that the Gerasenes adopted the Roman cultural institution of bathing and its architecture. Their sculptural style, carving technique, and isotopic data reveal origins in Thasos and Asia Minor, demonstrating the participation of Arabia in the imperial marble trade. Sixteen statue bases (found with the sculptures) preserve information about the patrons, honorees, and subjects. The sculptural installation suggests that the North Hall may have been constructed and decorated in the second half of the second century A.D. with a possible renovation in the early third century. By the third century, the display included mythological figures, portraits of local elite, a governor of Arabia, and Caracalla, revealing the desires of the Gerasenes to participate in Roman political and social arenas. Thus, the sculptures of the East Baths demonstrate the prominent role of statuary in urbanization and Romanization of Arabia and the ancient Near East.

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DOI: 
10.3764/aja.107.3.413