The Roman theatre – small but beautiful.
The Great Colonnade.
Tower tomb of Elahbel.
The Qalaat Ibn Maan.
Oasis and ancient ruined town in central Syria, 200 km west of the Euphrates river and 150 km east of the Orontes river, and 210 northeast of Damascus.
Palmyra is from Greek, and means “city of palm trees”. The original pre-Semitic name was Tadmur, which is still used as the local Arabic name.
According to tradition, Palmyra was founded by Solomon, but the town is mentioned in sources 9 centuries older.
The total area of today’s ruins is impressive, giving a fair indication of the size of the original city. The network of main streets are still there, with the 1,2 km long main colonnaded street running from west to east, ending in the Temple of Bel. Immediately to the south of this street lies the Senate, the Agora and the theatre. The latter still stands in almost full glory. The architecture is predominantly Corinthian, but there are clear influences from Mesopotamia and Persia.
To the southwest lies a fascinating area of tower and underground tombs. Most of the tower tombs dates back to the pre-Roman period, while the underground tombs were in use until 251 CE.
Palmyra’s trade reached as far as India in the east, Egypt in the south and Rome in the west. Palmyra’s wealth came from a combination of taxation and the establishment of local trading stations. The process of taxation was effective in Palmyra because all caravans had to pass through or near the city: Caravans needed to stock up on water at the point they passed Palmyra.
The language of Palmyra was Aramaic. Two types of writings were used, a local monumental script and Mesopotamina cursive.
The religion of Palmyra was dominated by the Babylonian, but there were several local developments. The main god was Bol, or Bel, probably a regional equivalent of Baal. The people of Palmyra assimilated Bol and the Babylonian god Marduk. Bol was the lord and master of the universe, the creator of the world and the leader of the gods. Bol actions could be detected in the movements of the starts. Through the stars, the fate of man and nation were defined, and from the stars the Palmyrans believed they could interpret the future.
Bel formed a triad with the lesser sun god Yarhibol and moon god Aglibol.
In the 2nd century CE, a new cult emerged with a god without a proper name, but who was referred to as “he whose name is blessed forever, the merciful and good”. This cult fits with the core of Christianity or Judaism, or it could be a cult derived from any of these religions.
19th century BCE: Palmyra is mentioned on tablets found at Mari, and in an Assyrian text.
10th century: Palmyra is mentioned in the Bible as part of King Solomon’s territory.
3rd century: A route is established through the desert, created for trade between Mesopotamia and the Levant. This route would eventually be paved, and known as Strata Dioceltiana.
Around 30 CE: Palmyra comes under Roman control. The city is developed into a strong trading post.
Around 106: Rome takes better control over the Middle East, involving that much of the trade running through Petra moves to Antioch, leaving Palmyra right on the track. A period of great prosperity for Palmyra starts.
129: Emperor Hadrian declares Palmyra a “free city”, involving liberties of free settlement and great trade privileges.
194: Palmyra becomes the main city of the province Syria Phoenice.
217: Emperor Caracalla makes Palmyra a “colonia”, involving the exemption from paying taxes to the empire.
227: The new rulers of Persia, the Sassanians, close the caravan road going through Palmyra, after taking control over Persia and southern Mesopotamia. The impact on Palymra’s wealth is dramatic, but trade with cities in Mesopotamia continue.
255: Septimus Odaenathus (Semitic: Odeinat) is appointed governor of Syria Phoenice, based in Palmyra.
260: Odaenathus is appointed Corrector totius Orientis (governor of all the East).
267 or 268: Odaenathus and his son, the heir apparent, are assassinated. Odaenathus is succeeded by his infant son Vaballath. It is however Odaenathus’s wife, Zenobia, that becomes the effective ruler. Zenobia, half-Greek/half-Arab (or possibly half-Jewish) claimed to be descended from Cleopatra.
271: Zenobia’s forces are defeated at Antioch and Homs.
272: Zenobia is captured by the Roman emperor Aurelius, after having fled as far east as the Euphrates river. Zenobia was then sent off to Rome, where she was paraded as Aurelius’ trophy. There are two stories of her last days; she either lived comfortably in Rome in a villa provided for by the emperor, or she starved herself to death.
273: Palmyra is razed, and the inhabitants slaughtered. This was a retaliation of a rebellion where locals massacred the 600 Roman archers in town.
6th century: Palmyra’s defences are rebuilt by emperor Justinian.
634: Palmyra is captured by the Muslims, and becomes part of the Muslim empire.
1089: A strong earthquake destroys Palmyra completely.
17th century: The Qalaat ibn Maan is constructed by a Lebanese emir, in the attempt to control the region of Palmyra.
1678: Palmyra is “rediscovered” by two English merchants living in Aleppo.
1924: Excavations begin.
1980: Palmyra is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.