Palmyra (/ˌpɑːlˈmaɪrə/; Palmyrene: Tadmor; Arabic:
تَدْمُر Tadmur) is an ancient Semitic city in present-day
Homs Governorate, Syria. Archaeological finds date back to the
Neolithic period, and the city was first documented in the early
second millennium BC.
Palmyra changed hands on a number of occasions
between different empires before becoming a subject of the Roman
Empire in the first century AD.
The city grew wealthy from trade caravans; the Palmyrenes were
renowned merchants who established colonies along the
Silk Road and
operated throughout the Roman Empire. Palmyra's wealth enabled the
construction of monumental projects, such as the Great Colonnade, the
Temple of Bel, and the distinctive tower tombs. The Palmyrenes were a
mix of Amorites, Arameans, and Arabs. The city's social structure was
tribal, and its inhabitants spoke Palmyrene (a dialect of Aramaic);
Greek was used for commercial and diplomatic purposes. The culture of
Palmyra was influenced by
Greco-Roman culture and produced distinctive
art and architecture that combined eastern and western traditions. The
city's inhabitants worshiped local Semitic deities, Mesopotamian and
By the third century AD,
Palmyra was a prosperous regional center
reaching the apex of its power in the 260s, when Palmyrene King
Odaenathus defeated Persian Emperor Shapur I. The king was succeeded
by regent Queen Zenobia, who rebelled against Rome and established the
Palmyrene Empire. In 273, Roman emperor
Aurelian destroyed the city,
which was later restored by
Diocletian at a reduced size. The
Palmyrenes converted to
Christianity during the fourth century and to
Islam in the centuries following the conquest by the Rashidun
Caliphate, after which the Palmyrene and Greek languages were replaced
Before AD 273,
Palmyra enjoyed autonomy and was attached to the Roman
province of Syria, having its political organization influenced by the
Greek city-state model during the first two centuries AD. The city
became a Roman colonia during the third century, leading to the
incorporation of Roman governing institutions, before becoming a
monarchy in 260. Following its destruction in 273,
Palmyra became a
minor center under the Byzantines and later empires. Its destruction
by the Timurids in 1400 reduced it to a small village. Under French
Mandatory rule in 1932, the inhabitants were moved into the new
village of Tadmur, and the ancient site became available for
Syrian Civil War
Syrian Civil War in 2015,
Palmyra came under the control of
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and subsequently
changed hands several times between the militant group and the Syrian
Army who retook the city on 2 March 2017. ISIL sabotaged many
artifacts and destroyed a number of buildings, considerably damaging
the ancient site.
2 Location and city layout
3 People, language and society
4.1 Art and architecture
5.2 Notable structures
5.2.1 Public buildings
5.2.3 Other buildings
5.3 Destruction by ISIL
6.1 Early period
6.2 Hellenistic and Roman periods
6.2.1 Autonomous Palmyrene region
6.2.2 Palmyrene kingdom
22.214.171.124 Persian wars
126.96.36.199 Palmyrene empire
6.2.3 Later Roman and Byzantine periods
6.3 Arab caliphates
Umayyad and early Abbasid periods
6.4 Mamluk period
Al Fadl principality
6.5 Ottoman era and later periods
6.5.1 Syrian Civil War
7.1.1 Relations with Rome
Malakbel and the Roman Sol Invictus
11 See also
14 External links
The name "Tadmor" is known from the early second millennium BC;
eighteenth century BC tablets from Mari written in cuneiform record
the name as "Ta-ad-mi-ir", while Assyrian inscriptions of the eleventh
century BC record it as Ta-ad-mar. Aramaic Palmyrene inscriptions
themselves showed two variants of the name; TDMR (i.e. Tadmar) and
TDMWR (i.e. Tadmor). The etymology of the name is unclear; the
standard interpretation, supported by Albert Schultens, connects it to
the Semitic word for "date palm", tamar (תמר),[note 1] thus
referring to the palm trees that surrounded the city.
The Greek name Παλμύρα (Latinized Palmyra) is first recorded by
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder in the 1st century AD. It was used throughout the
Greco-Roman world. It is generally believed that "Palmyra" derives
from "Tadmor" and two possibilities have been presented by linguists;
one view holds that
Palmyra was an alteration of Tadmor. According
to the suggestion by Schultens, "Palmyra" could have arisen as a
corruption of "Tadmor", via an unattested form "Talmura", changed to
"Palmura" by influence of the
Latin word palma (date "palm"), in
reference to the city's palm trees, then the name reached its final
form "Palmyra". The second view, supported by some philologists,
such as Jean Starcky, holds that
Palmyra is a translation of "Tadmor"
(assuming that it meant palm), which had derived from the Greek word
for palm, "Palame".
An alternative suggestion connects the name to the Syriac tedmurtā
(ܬܕܡܘܪܬܐ) "miracle", hence tedmurtā "object of wonder", from
the root dmr "to wonder"; this possibility was mentioned favourably by
Franz Altheim and Ruth Altheim-Stiehl (1973), but rejected by Jean
Starcky (1960) and Michael Gawlikowski (1974). Michael Patrick
O'Connor (1988) suggested that the names "Palmyra" and "Tadmor"
originated in the Hurrian language. As evidence, he cited the
inexplicability of alterations to the theorized roots of both names
(represented in the addition of -d- to tamar and -ra- to palame).
According to this theory, "Tadmor" derives from the Hurrian word tad
("to love") with the addition of the typical Hurrian mid vowel rising
(mVr) formant mar. Similarly, according to this theory, "Palmyra"
derives from the Hurrian word pal ("to know") using the same mVr
Location and city layout
The northern Palmyrene mountain belt
Palmyra is 215 km (134 mi) northeast of the Syrian capital,
Damascus, in an oasis surrounded by palms (of which twenty
varieties have been reported). Two mountain ranges overlook the
city; the northern Palmyrene mountain belt from the north and the
southern Palmyrene mountains from the southwest. In the south and
Palmyra is exposed to the Syrian Desert. A small wadi
(al-Qubur) crosses the area, flowing from the western hills past the
city before disappearing in the eastern gardens of the oasis.
South of the wadi is a spring, Efqa.
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder described the
town in the 70s AD as famous for its desert location, the richness of
its soil, and the springs surrounding it, which made agriculture
and herding possible.[note 2]
Palmyra began as a small settlement near the Efqa spring on the
southern bank of
Wadi al-Qubur. The settlement, known as the
Hellenistic settlement, had residences expanding to the wadi's
northern bank during the first century. Although the city's walls
originally enclosed an extensive area on both banks of the wadi, the
walls rebuilt during Diocletian's reign surrounded only the
Most of the city's monumental projects were built on the wadi's
northern bank. Among them is the Temple of Bel, on a tell which
was the site of an earlier temple (known as the Hellenistic
temple). However, excavation supports the theory that the tell was
originally located on the southern bank, and the wadi was diverted
south of the tell to incorporate the temple into Palmyra's late first
and early second century urban organization on the north bank.
Also north of the wadi was the Great Colonnade, Palmyra's
1.1-kilometre-long (0.68 mi) main street, which extended from
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel in the east, to the Funerary Temple no.86 in the
city's western part. It had a monumental arch in its eastern
section, and a tetrapylon stands in the center. The Baths of
Diocletian, built on the ruins of an earlier building which might have
been the royal palace, were on the left side of the colonnade.
Nearby were residences, the Temple of Baalshamin, and the
Byzantine churches, which include "Basilica IV", Palmyra's largest
church. The church is dated to the Justinian age, its columns
are estimated to be 7 metres (23 ft) high, and its base measured
27.5 by 47.5 metres (90 by 156 ft).
The Temple of
Nabu and the Roman theater were built on the colonnade's
southern side. Behind the theater were a small senate building and
the large Agora, with the remains of a triclinium (banquet room) and
the Tariff Court. A cross street at the western end of the
colonnade leads to the Camp of Diocletian, built by Sosianus
Hierocles (the Roman governor of Syria). Nearby are the Temple of
Al-lāt and the
People, language and society
Palmyrene dialect and Palmyrene alphabet
Palmyrene funerary portrait
At its height during the reign of Zenobia,
Palmyra had more than
200,000 residents. Its earliest known inhabitants were the
Amorites in the early second millennium BC, and by the end of the
Arameans were mentioned as inhabiting the area.
Arabs arrived in the city in the late first millennium BC. The
soldiers of the sheikh Zabdibel, who aided the
Seleucids in the battle
of Raphia (217 BC), were described as Arabs; Zabdibel and his men were
not actually identified as Palmyrenes in the texts, but the name
"Zabdibel" is a Palmyrene name leading to the conclusion that the
sheikh hailed from Palmyra. The Arab newcomers were assimilated by
the earlier inhabitants, used Palmyrene as a mother tongue, and
formed a significant segment of the aristocracy. The city also had
a Jewish community; inscriptions in Palmyrene from the necropolis of
Beit She'arim in
Lower Galilee confirm the burial of Palmyrene
Jews. Occasionally and rarely, members of the Palmyrene families
took Greek names while ethnic Greeks were few; the majority of people
with Greek names, who did not belong to one of the city's families,
were freed slaves. The Palmyrenes seem to have disliked the
Greeks, considered them foreigners, and restricted their settlement in
Alphabetic inscription in Palmyrene alphabet
Until the late third century AD, Palmyrenes spoke a dialect of Aramaic
and used the Palmyrene alphabet.[note 3] The use of
minimal, but Greek was used by wealthier members of society for
commercial and diplomatic purposes, and it became the dominant
language during the Byzantine era. After the Arab conquest, Greek
was replaced by Arabic, from which a Palmyrene dialect
Palmyra's society was a mixture of the different peoples inhabiting
the city, which is seen in Aramaic,
Arabic and Amorite clan
Palmyra was a tribal community but due to the
lack of sources, an understanding of the nature of Palmyrene tribal
structure is not possible. Thirty clans have been documented;
five of which were identified as tribes (
Phyle (φυλή)) comprising
several sub-clans.[note 5] By the time of
Palmyra had four
tribes, each residing in an area of the city bearing its name.
Three of the tribes were the Komare, Mattabol and Ma'zin; the fourth
tribe is uncertain, but was probably the Mita. In time, the
four tribes became highly civic and tribal lines blurred;[note 6]
by the second century clan identity lost its importance, and it
disappeared during the third century.[note 7] Even the four tribes
ceased to be important by the third century as only one inscription
mentions a tribe after the year 212; instead, aristocrats played the
decisive role in the city's social organization. During the
Palmyra was mainly inhabited by the Kalb tribe.
Benjamin of Tudela
Benjamin of Tudela recorded the existence of 2,000 Jews in the city
during the twelfth century.
Palmyra declined after its destruction
Timur in 1400, and was a village of 6,000 inhabitants at the
beginning of the 20th century; although surrounded by Bedouin, the
villagers preserved their dialect.
Palmyra maintained the life of
a small settlement until its relocation in 1932.
The scarce artifacts found in the city dating to the
Bronze Age reveal
Palmyra was most affiliated with western Syria.
Palmyra had a distinctive culture, based on a local
Semitic tradition, and influenced by Greece and Rome.[note 8]
To appear better integrated into the Roman Empire, some Palmyrenes
Greco-Roman names, either alone or in addition to a second
native name. The extent of Greek influence on Palmyra's culture is
debated. Scholars interpreted the Palmyrenes' Greek practices
differently; many see those characters as a superficial layer over a
local essence. Palmyra's senate was an example; although Palmyrene
texts written in Greek described it as a "boule" (a Greek
institution), the senate was a gathering of non-elected tribal elders
(a Near-Eastern assembly tradition). Others view Palmyra's culture
as a fusion of local and
Palmyrene loculi (burial chambers) reassembled in İstanbul
The culture of Persia influenced Palmyrene military tactics, dress and
Palmyra had no large libraries or publishing
facilities, and it lacked an intellectual movement characteristic of
other Eastern cities such as
Edessa or Antioch. Although Zenobia
opened her court to academics, the only notable scholar documented was
Palmyra had a large agora.[note 9] However, unlike the Greek Agoras
(public gathering places shared with public buildings), Palmyra's
agora resembled an Eastern caravanserai more than a hub of public
life. The Palmyrenes buried their dead in elaborate family
mausoleums, most with interior walls forming rows of burial
chambers (loculi) in which the dead, laying at full length, were
placed. A relief of the person interred formed part of the
wall's decoration, acting as a headstone.
Sarcophagi appeared in
the late second century and were used in some of the tombs. Many
burial monuments contained mummies embalmed in a method similar to
that used in Ancient Egypt.
Art and architecture
Further information: Palmyrene funerary reliefs
Interior of the Tower of Elahbel, in 2010
Although Palmyrene art was related to that of Greece, it had a
distinctive style unique to the middle-
Euphrates region. Palmyrene
art is well represented by the bust reliefs which seal the openings of
its burial chambers. The reliefs emphasized clothing, jewelry and
a frontal representation of the person depicted,
characteristics which can be seen as a forerunner of Byzantine
art. According to Michael Rostovtzeff, Palmyra's art was
influenced by Parthian art. However, the origin of frontality that
characterized Palmyrene and Parthian arts is a controversial issue;
while Parthian origin has been suggested (by Daniel Schlumberger),
Michael Avi-Yonah contends that it was a local Syrian tradition that
influenced Parthian art. Little painting, and none of the bronze
statues of prominent citizens (which stood on brackets on the main
columns of the Great Colonnade), have survived. A damaged frieze
and other sculptures from the Temple of Bel, many removed to museums
Syria and abroad, suggest the city's public monumental
Many surviving funerary busts reached Western museums during the 19th
Palmyra provided the most convenient Eastern examples
bolstering an art-history controversy at the turn of the 20th century:
to what extent Eastern influence on
Roman art replaced idealized
classicism with frontal, hieratic and simplified figures (as believed
Josef Strzygowski and others). This transition is seen as a
response to cultural changes in the Western Roman Empire, rather than
artistic influence from the East. Palmyrene bust reliefs, unlike
Roman sculptures, are rudimentary portraits; although many reflect
high quality individuality, the majority vary little across figures of
similar age and gender.
Like its art, Palmyra's architecture was influenced by the Greco-Roman
style, while preserving local elements (best seen in the Temple of
Bel).[note 10] Enclosed by a massive wall flanked with
traditional Roman columns, Bel's sanctuary plan was
primarily Semitic. Similar to the Second Temple, the sanctuary
consisted of a large courtyard with the deity's main shrine off-center
against its entrance (a plan preserving elements of the temples of
Ebla and Ugarit).
Further information: Tower of Elahbel
Valley of Tombs in 2010
Baths of Diocletian
The statue of
Al-lāt (equated with Athena) found in its temple
(destroyed in 2015)
The Funerary Temple no.86
West of the ancient walls, the Palmyrenes built a number of
large-scale funerary monuments which now form the Valley of
Tombs, a 1-kilometre-long (0.62 mi) necropolis. The
more than 50 monuments were primarily tower-shaped and up to four
stories high. Towers were replaced by funerary temples in the
first half of the second century AD, as the most recent tower is dated
to AD 128. The city had other cemeteries in the north, southwest
and southeast, where the tombs are primarily hypogea
Further information: Camp of
Diocletian and Roman Theatre at Palmyra
The senate building is largely ruined. It is a small building that
consists of a peristyle courtyard and a chamber that has an apse at
one end and rows of seats around it.
Much of the Baths of
Diocletian are ruined and do not survive above
the level of the foundations. The complex's entrance is marked by
four massive Egyptian granite columns each 1.3 metres (4 ft
3 in) in diameter, 12.5 metres (41 ft) high and weigh 20
tonnes. Inside, the outline of a bathing pool surrounded by a
colonnade of Corinthian columns is still visible in addition to an
octagonal room that served as a dressing room containing a drain in
Palmyra is part of a complex that also includes the
tariff court and the triclinium, built in the second half of the first
century AD. The agora is a massive 71 by 84 metres (233 by
276 ft) structure with 11 entrances. Inside the agora, 200
columnar bases that used to hold statues of prominent citizens were
found. The inscriptions on the bases allowed an understanding of
the order by which the statues were grouped; the eastern side was
reserved for senators, the northern side for Palmyrene officials, the
western side for soldiers and the southern side for caravan
The Tariff Court is a large rectangular enclosure south of the agora
and sharing its northern wall with it. Originally, the entrance
of the court was a massive vestibule in its southwestern wall.
However, the entrance was blocked by the construction of a defensive
wall and the court was entered through three doors from the
Agora. The court gained its name by containing a 5 meters long
stone slab that had the Palmyrene tax law inscribed on it.
Triclinium of the
Agora is located to the northwestern corner of
Agora and can host up to 40 person. It is a small 12 by
15 metres (39 by 49 ft) hall decorated with Greek key motifs that
run in a continuous line halfway up the wall. The building was
probably used by the rulers of the city; Henri Arnold Seyrig
proposed that it was a small temple before being turned into a
triclinium or banqueting hall.
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel was dedicated in AD 32; it consisted of a large
precinct lined by porticos; it had a rectangular shape and was
oriented north-south. The exterior wall was 205-metre
(673 ft) long with a propylaea, and the cella stood on a
podium in the middle of the enclosure.
Temple of Baalshamin
Temple of Baalshamin dates to the late 2nd century BC in its
earliest phases; its altar was built in AD 115, and it was
substantially rebuilt in AD 131. It consisted of a central cella
and two colonnaded courtyards north and south of the central
structure. A vestibule consisting of six columns preceded the
cella which had its side walls decorated with pilasters in Corinthian
The Temple of
Nabu is largely ruined. The temple was Eastern in
its plan; the outer enclosure's propylaea led to a 20 by 9 metres (66
by 30 ft) podium through a portico of which the bases of the
columns survives. The peristyle cella opened onto an outdoor
The Temple of
Al-lāt is largely ruined with only a podium, a few
columns and the door frame remaining. Inside the compound, a giant
lion relief (Lion of Al-lāt) was excavated and in its original form,
was a relief protruding from the temple compound's wall.
The ruined Temple of
Baal-hamon was located on the top of Jabal
al-Muntar hill which oversees the spring of Efqa. Constructed in
AD 89, it consisted of a cella and a vestibule with two columns.
The temple had a defensive tower attached to it; a mosaic
depicting the sanctuary was excavated and it revealed that both the
cella and the vestibule were decorated with merlons.
The Great Colonnade was Palmyra's 1.1-kilometre-long (0.68 mi)
main street; most of the columns date to the second century AD and
each is 9.50 metres (31.2 ft) high.
The Funerary Temple no.86 (also known as the House Tomb) is located at
the western end of the Great Colonnade. It was built in the
third century AD and has a portico of six columns and vine patterns
carvings. Inside the chamber, steps leads down to a vault
crypt. The shrine might have been connected to the royal family
as it is the only tomb inside the city's walls.
Tetrapylon was erected during the renovations of
Diocletian at the
end of the third century. It is a square platform and each corner
contains a grouping of four columns. Each column group supports a
150 tons cornice and contains a pedestal in its center that originally
carried a statue. Out of sixteen columns, only one is original
while the rest are from reconstruction work by the Syrian
Directorate-General of Antiquities in 1963, using concrete. The
original columns were brought from Egypt and carved out of pink
The city's current walls were erected during the reign of Diocletian
whose fortification of the city enclosed about 80 hectares, a much
smaller area than the original pre-273 city. The
Diocletianic walls had protective towers and fortified gateways.
The pre-273 walls were narrow and while encircling the whole city,
they do not seem to have provided real protection against an
invasion. No signs of towers or fortified gates exist and it
cannot be proven that the walls enclosed the city as many gaps appears
to have never been defended. The earlier walls seem to have been
designed to protect the city against Bedouins and to provide a costume
Destruction by ISIL
See also: Destruction of cultural heritage by ISIL § Palmyra
Bel's temple entrance arch remains after the destruction of the cella
According to eyewitnesses, on 23 May 2015 the militants destroyed the
Al-lāt and other statues; this came days after the militants
gathered the citizens and promised not to destroy the city's
monuments. ISIL destroyed the
Temple of Baalshamin
Temple of Baalshamin on 23 August
2015 according to Syria's antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim and
activists. On 30 August 2015, ISIL destroyed the cella of the
Temple of Bel. On 31 August 2015, the United Nations confirmed
the temple was destroyed; the temple's exterior walls and
entrance arch remain.
It became known on 4 September 2015 that ISIL had destroyed three of
the best preserved tower tombs including the Tower of Elahbel. On
5 October 2015, news media reported that ISIL was destroying buildings
with no religious meaning, including the Arch of Triumph. On 20
January 2017, news emerged that the militants had destroyed the
tetrapylon and part of the theater. Following the March 2017
Palmyra by the Syrian Army, Maamoun Abdulkarim, director of
antiquities and museums at the Syrian Ministry of Culture, stated that
the damage to ancient monuments may be lesser than earlier believed
and preliminary pictures showed almost no further damage than what was
already known. Antiquities official Wael Hafyan stated that the
Tetrapylon was badly damaged while the damage to the facade of the
Roman theatre was less serious in relativity.
Digital reconstruction of the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel (New
In response to the destruction, on 21 October 2015, Creative Commons
started the New
Palmyra project, an online repository of
three-dimensional models representing the city's monuments; the models
were generated from images gathered, and released into the public
domain, by the Syrian internet advocate
Bassel Khartabil between 2005
and 2012. Consultations with the UNESCO, UN specialized
agencies, archaeological associations and museums produced plans to
restore Palmyra; the work is postponed until the violence in Syria
ends as many international partners fear for the safety of their teams
as well as ensuring that the restored artifacts will not be damaged
again by further battles. Minor restorations took place; two
Palmyrene funerary busts, damaged and defaced by ISIL, were sent off
to Rome where they were restored and sent back to Syria. The
restoration of the Lion of
Al-lāt took two months and the statue was
displayed in 1 October 2017; it will remain in the National Museum of
Regarding the restoration, the discoverer of Ebla, Paolo Matthiae,
stated that: "The archaeological site of
Palmyra is a vast field of
ruins and only 20-30% of it is seriously damaged. Unfortunately these
included important parts, such as the Temple of Bel, while the Arc of
Triumph can be rebuilt." He added: "In any case, by using both
traditional methods and advanced technologies, it might be possible to
restore 98% of the site".
Efqa spring, which dried up in 1994 
The site at
Palmyra provided evidence for a
Neolithic settlement near
Efqa, with stone tools dated to 7500 BC. Archaeological
sounding in the tell beneath the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel uncovered a mud-brick
structure built around 2500 BC, followed by structures built during
Middle Bronze Age
Middle Bronze Age and Iron Age.
The city entered the historical record during the
Bronze Age around
2000 BC, when Puzur-Ishtar the Tadmorean (Palmyrene) agreed to a
contract at an Assyrian trading colony in Kultepe. It was
mentioned next in the Mari tablets as a stop for trade caravans and
nomadic tribes, such as the Suteans, and was conquered along with
its region by
Yahdun-Lim of Mari. King
Shamshi-Adad I of Assyria
passed through the area on his way to the Mediterranean at the
beginning of the 18th century BC; by then,
Palmyra was the
easternmost point of the kingdom of Qatna, and it was attacked by
Suteans who paralyzed the traffic along the trade routes.
Palmyra was mentioned in a 13th-century BC tablet discovered at
Emar, which recorded the names of two "Tadmorean" witnesses. At
the beginning of the 11th century BC, King
Tiglath-Pileser I of
Assyria recorded his defeat of the "Arameans" of "Tadmar";
according to the king,
Palmyra was part of the land of Amurru.
The city became the eastern border of Aram-
Damascus which was
conquered by the
Neo-Assyrian Empire in 732 BC.
The Hebrew Bible (Second
Book of Chronicles 8:4) records a city by the
name "Tadmor" as a desert city built (or fortified) by King
Josephus mentions the Greek name "Palmyra",
attributing its founding to
Book VIII of his Antiquities of
the Jews. Later
Arabic traditions attribute the city's founding
to Solomon's Jinn. The association of
Solomon is a
conflation of "Tadmor" and a city built by
Judea and known
as "Tamar" in the
Books of Kings
Books of Kings (1 Kings 9:18). The biblical
description of "Tadmor" and its buildings does not fit archaeological
findings in Palmyra, which was a small settlement during Solomon's
reign in the 10th century BC.
Hellenistic and Roman periods
The Temple of Baalshamin's interior (destroyed in 2015)
Hellenistic period under the
Seleucids (between 312 and 64
Palmyra became a prosperous settlement owing allegiance to the
Seleucid king. In 217 BC, a Palmyrene force led by Zabdibel
joined the army of King
Antiochus III in the
Battle of Raphia
Battle of Raphia which
ended in a Seleucid defeat by Ptolemaic Egypt. In the middle of
the Hellenistic era, Palmyra, formerly south of the al-Qubur wadi,
began to expand beyond its northern bank. By the late second
century BC, the tower tombs in the Palmyrene Valley of Tombs and
the city temples (most notably, the temples of Baalshamin,
the Hellenistic temple) began to be built.
In 64 BC the
Roman Republic conquered the Seleucid kingdom, and
the Roman general
Pompey established the province of Syria.
Palmyra was left independent, trading with Rome and Parthia but
belonging to neither. The earliest known Palmyrene inscription is
dated to around 44 BC;
Palmyra was still a minor sheikhdom,
offering water to caravans which occasionally took the desert route on
which it was located. However, according to
wealthy enough for
Mark Antony to send a force to conquer it in 41
BC. The Palmyrenes evacuated to Parthian lands beyond the eastern
bank of the Euphrates, which they prepared to defend.
Autonomous Palmyrene region
Cella of the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel (destroyed in 2015)
Palmyra's theater (damaged in 2017)
Arch of Triumph in the eastern section of Palmyra's colonnade
(destroyed in 2015)
Palmyra became part of the
Roman Empire when it was conquered and paid
tribute early in the reign of Tiberius, around 14 AD.[note
11] The Romans included
Palmyra in the province of
Syria, and defined the region's boundaries; a boundary marker
laid by Roman governor Silanus was found 75 kilometres (47 mi)
northwest of the city at Khirbet el-Bilaas. A marker at the
city's southwestern border was found at Qasr al-Hayr al-Gharbi,
and its eastern border extended to the
Euphrates valley. This
region included numerous villages subordinate to the center such as
al-Qaryatayn (35 other settlements have been identified by
2012). The Roman imperial period brought great
prosperity to the city, which enjoyed a privileged status under the
empire—retaining much of its internal autonomy, being ruled by a
council, and incorporating many Greek city-state (polis)
institutions into its government.[note 12]
The earliest Palmyrene text attesting a Roman presence in the city
dates to 18 AD, when the Roman general
Germanicus tried to
develop a friendly relationship with Parthia; he sent the Palmyrene
Alexandros to Mesene, a Parthian vassal kingdom.[note 13] This
was followed by the arrival of the Roman legion
Legio X Fretensis
Legio X Fretensis the
following year.[note 14] Roman authority was minimal during the
first century AD, although tax collectors were resident, and a
Palmyra and Sura was built in AD 75.[note 15] The
Romans used Palmyrene soldiers, but (unlike typical Roman cities)
no local magistrates or prefects are recorded in the city.
Palmyra saw intensive construction during the first century, including
the city's first walled fortifications, and the Temple of Bel
(completed and dedicated in 32 AD). During the first century
Palmyra developed from a minor desert caravan station into a leading
trading center,[note 16] with Palmyrene merchants establishing
colonies in surrounding trade centers.
Palmyrene trade reached its apex during the second century, aided
by two factors; the first was a trade route built by Palmyrenes,
and protected by garrisons at major locations, including a garrison in
Dura-Europos manned in 117 AD. The second was the Roman conquest
of the Nabataean capital
Petra in 106, shifting control over
southern trade routes of the
Arabian Peninsula from the
Palmyra was visited by Hadrian, who named it "Hadriane Palmyra"
and made it a free city.
Hadrian promoted Hellenism
throughout the empire, and Palmyra's urban expansion was modeled
on that of Greece. This led to new projects, including the
theatre, the colonnade and the Temple of Nabu. Roman garrisons
are first attested in
Palmyra in 167, when the cavalry Ala I Thracum
Herculiana was moved to the city.[note 18] By the end of the
second century, urban development diminished after the city's building
In the 190s,
Palmyra was assigned to the province of Phoenice, newly
created by the Severan dynasty. Toward the end of the second
Palmyra began a steady transition from a traditional Greek
city-state to a monarchy due to the increasing militarization of the
city and the deteriorating economic situation; the Severan
ascension to the imperial throne in Rome played a major role in
The Severan-led Roman–Parthian War, from 194 to 217, influenced
regional security and affected the city's trade. Bandits began
attacking caravans by 199, leading
Palmyra to strengthen its military
The new dynasty favored the city, stationing the Cohors I Flavia
Chalcidenorum garrison there by 206.
colonia between 213 and 216, replacing many Greek institutions with
Roman constitutional ones. Severus Alexander, emperor from 222 to
Palmyra in 229.
See also: List of Palmyrene monarchs
Bust, presumably of Odenaethus; it depicts a man wearing a laurel
wreath, which suggests a Roman-style ruler
The rise of the
Sasanian Empire in Persia considerably damaged
Palmyrene trade. The Sasanians disbanded Palmyrene colonies in
their lands, and began a war against the Roman empire. In an
inscription dated to 252
Odaenathus appears bearing the title of
exarchos (lord) of Palmyra. The weakness of the Roman empire and
the constant Persian danger were probably the reasons behind the
Palmyrene council's decision to elect a lord for the city in order for
him to lead a strengthened army.
Odaenathus approached Shapur I
of Persia to request him to guarantee Palmyrene interests in Persia,
but was rebuffed. In 260 the Emperor Valerian fought Shapur at
the Battle of Edessa, but was defeated and captured. One of
Valerian's officers, Macrianus Major, his sons
Quietus and Macrianus,
and the prefect
Balista rebelled against Valerian's son Gallienus,
usurping imperial power in Syria.
Odaenathus formed an army of Palmyrenes and Syrian peasants against
Shapur.[note 19] According to the Augustan History, Odaenathus
declared himself king prior to the battle. The Palmyrene leader
won a decisive victory near the banks of the
Euphrates later in 260
forcing the Persians to retreat. In 261
against the remaining usurpers in Syria, defeating and killing Quietus
and Balista. As a reward, he received the title Imperator Totius
Orientis ("Governor of the East") from Gallienus, and ruled
Syria, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Anatolia's eastern regions as the
Palmyra itself remained officially
part of the empire but Palmyrene inscriptions started to describe it
as a "metrocolonia", indicating that the city's status was higher than
normal Roman colonias. In practice,
Palmyra shifted from a
provincial city to a de facto allied kingdom.
Odaenathus launched a new campaign against Shapur,
reclaiming the rest of Roman Mesopotamia (most importantly, the cities
Nisibis and Carrhae), sacking the Jewish city of Nehardea,[note
20] and besieging the Persian capital Ctesiphon.
Following his victory, the Palmyrene monarch assumed the title King of
Kings.[note 21] Later,
Odaenathus crowned his son
Hairan I as
King of Kings
King of Kings near
Antioch in 263. Although he did not take
the Persian capital,
Odaenathus drove the Persians out of all Roman
lands conquered since the beginning of Shapur's wars in 252. In a
second campaign that took place in 266, the Palmyrene king reached
Ctesiphon again; however, he had to leave the siege and move north,
accompanied by Hairan I, to repel Gothic attacks on Asia Minor.
The king and his son were assassinated during their return in
267; according to the
Augustan History and Joannes Zonaras,
Odaenathus was killed by a cousin (Zonaras says nephew) named in the
History as Maeonius. The
Augustan History also says that Maeonius
was proclaimed emperor for a brief period before being killed by the
soldiers. However, no inscriptions or other evidence
exist for Maeonius' reign.
Zenobia as Augusta, on the obverse of an Antoninianus.
Odaenathus was succeeded by his son; the ten-year-old
Vaballathus. Zenobia, the mother of the new king, was the de
facto ruler and
Vaballathus remained in her shadow while she
consolidated her power.
Gallienus dispatched his prefect
Heraclian to command military operations against the Persians, but he
was marginalized by
Zenobia and returned to the West. The queen
was careful not to provoke Rome, claiming for herself and her son the
titles held by her husband while guaranteeing the safety of the
borders with Persia and pacifying the
Tanukhids in Hauran. To
protect the borders with Persia,
Zenobia fortified different
settlements on the
Euphrates including the citadels of
Zalabiye. Circumstantial evidence exist for confrontations with
the Sasanians; probably in 269
Vaballathus took the title Persicus
Maximus ("The great victor in Persia") and the title might be linked
with an unrecorded battle against a Persian army trying to regain
control of Northern Mesopotamia.
Main article: Palmyrene Empire
The Palmyrene empire in AD 271
Zenobia began her military career in the spring of 270, during the
reign of Claudius Gothicus. Under the pretext of attacking the
Tanukhids, she conquered Roman Arabia. This was followed in
October by an invasion of Egypt, ending with a Palmyrene
victory and Zenobia's proclamation as queen of Egypt. Palmyra
Anatolia the following year, reaching
Ankara and the pinnacle
of its expansion.
The conquests were made behind a mask of subordination to Rome.
Zenobia issued coins in the name of Claudius' successor Aurelian, with
Vaballathus depicted as king;[note 22] since
occupied with repelling insurgencies in Europe, he tolerated the
Palmyrene coinage and encroachments. In late 271,
Vaballathus and his mother assumed the titles of Augustus (emperor)
and Augusta.[note 23]
The following year,
Aurelian crossed the
Bosphorus and advanced
quickly through Anatolia. According to one account, Roman general
Marcus Aurelius Probus
Marcus Aurelius Probus regained Egypt from Palmyra;[note 24]
Aurelian entered Issus and headed to Antioch, where he defeated
Zenobia in the Battle of Immae.
Zenobia was defeated again at the
Battle of Emesa, taking refuge in
Homs before quickly returning to her
capital. When the Romans besieged Palmyra,
Zenobia refused their
order to surrender in person to the emperor. She escaped east to
ask the Persians for help, but was captured by the Romans; the city
capitulated soon afterwards.
Later Roman and Byzantine periods
Aurelian spared the city and stationed a garrison of 600 archers, led
by Sandarion, as a peacekeeping force. In 273
under the leadership of Septimius Apsaios, declaring Antiochus (a
relative of Zenobia) as Augustus.
Aurelian marched against
Palmyra, razing it to the ground and seizing the most valuable
monuments to decorate his Temple of Sol. Palmyrene buildings
were smashed, residents massacred and the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel pillaged.
Palmyra was reduced to a village and it largely disappeared from
historical records of that period.
Aurelian repaired the Temple
of Bel, and the Legio I Illyricorum was stationed in the city.
Shortly before 303 the Camp of Diocletian, a castra in the western
part of the city, was built. The 4-hectare (9.9-acre) camp was a
base for the Legio I Illyricorum, which guarded the trade routes
around the city.
Palmyra became a Christian city in the decades
following its destruction by Aurelian. In late 527, Justinian I
ordered its fortification and the restoration of its churches and
public buildings to protect the empire against raids by Lakhmid king
Al-Mundhir III ibn al-Nu'man.
Palmyra was conquered by the
Rashidun Caliphate after its 634 capture
Muslim general Khalid ibn al-Walid, who took the city on his
way to Damascus; an 18-day march by his army through the Syrian Desert
from Mesopotamia. By then
Palmyra was limited to the Diocletian
camp. After the conquest, the city became part of Homs
Umayyad and early Abbasid periods
Palmyra prospered as part of the
Umayyad Caliphate, and its population
grew. It was a key stop on the East-West trade route, with a
large souq (market), built by the Umayyads, who also
commissioned part of the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel as a mosque. During this
Palmyra was a stronghold of the
Banu Kalb tribe. After
being defeated by
Marwan II during a civil war in the caliphate,
Sulayman ibn Hisham fled to the
Banu Kalb in
Palmyra, but eventually pledged allegiance to Marwan in 744; Palmyra
continued to oppose Marwan until the surrender of the
Banu Kalb leader
al-Abrash al-Kalbi in 745. That year, Marwan ordered the city's
In 750 a revolt, led by Majza'a ibn al-Kawthar and
Abu Muhammad al-Sufyani, against the new
Abbasid Caliphate swept
across Syria; the tribes in
Palmyra supported the rebels.
After his defeat Abu Muhammad took refuge in the city, which withstood
an Abbasid assault long enough to allow him to escape.
Fortifications at the Temple of Bel
Abbasid power dwindled during the 10th century, when the empire
disintegrated and was divided among a number of vassals. Most of
the new rulers acknowledged the caliph as their nominal sovereign, a
situation which continued until the Mongol destruction of the Abbasid
Caliphate in 1258.
In 955 Sayf al-Dawla, the Hamdanid prince of Aleppo, defeated the
nomads near the city, and built a kasbah (fortress) in response
to campaigns by the Byzantine emperors
Nikephoros II Phokas
Nikephoros II Phokas and John I
Tzimiskes. After the early-11th-century Hamdanid collapse, the
Homs was controlled by the successor Mirdasid dynasty.
Palmyra in 1068 and 1089. In the 1070s
Syria was conquered by the Seljuk Empire, and in 1082, the
Homs came under the control of Khalaf, the head of the
Mala'ib tribe. The aforementioned was a brigand and was removed
and imprisoned in 1090 by the Seljuq sultan Malik-Shah I.
Khalaf's lands were given to Malik-Shah's brother, Tutush I, who
gained his independence after his brother's 1092 death and established
a cadet branch of the Seljuk dynasty in Syria.
Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle
During the early 12th century
Palmyra was ruled by Toghtekin, the
Burid atabeg of Damascus, who appointed his nephew governor.
Toghtekin's nephew was killed by rebels, and the atabeg retook the
city in 1126.
Palmyra was given to Toghtekin's grandson,
Shihab-ud-din Mahmud, who was replaced by governor Yusuf ibn
Firuz when Shihab-ud-din Mahmud returned to
Damascus after his father
Taj al-Muluk Buri succeeded Toghtekin. The Burids transformed the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel into a citadel in 1132, fortifying the city,
and transferring it to the Bin Qaraja family three years later in
exchange for Homs.
During the mid-12th century,
Palmyra was ruled by the Zengid king Nur
ad-Din Mahmud. It became part of the district of Homs, which
was given as a fiefdom to the Ayyubid general
Shirkuh in 1168 and
confiscated after his death in 1169.
Homs region was conquered by
the Ayyubid sultanate in 1174; the following year,
Homs (including Palmyra) to his cousin Nasir al-Din Muhammad as a
fiefdom. After Saladin's death, the Ayyubid realm was divided and
Palmyra was given to Nasir al-Din Muhammad's son
(who built the castle of
Palmyra known as Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle
around 1230). Five years earlier, Syrian geographer Yaqut
al-Hamawi described Palmyra's residents as living in "a castle
surrounded by a stone wall".
Palmyra was used as a refuge by
Shirkuh II's grandson, al-Ashraf Musa,
who allied himself with the Mongol king
Hulagu Khan and fled after the
Mongol defeat in the 1260
Battle of Ain Jalut
Battle of Ain Jalut against the
Mamluks. Al-Ashraf Musa asked the Mamluk sultan
Qutuz for pardon
and was accepted as a vassal. Al-Ashraf Musa died in 1263 without
an heir, bringing the
Homs district under direct Mamluk rule.
Al Fadl principality
Al Fadl clan (a branch of the
Tayy tribe) were loyal to the
Mamluks, and in 1281, Prince Issa bin Muhanna of the
Al Fadl was
appointed lord of
Palmyra by sultan Qalawun. Issa was succeeded
in 1284 by his son Muhanna bin Issa who was imprisoned by sultan
al-Ashraf Khalil in 1293, and restored two years later by sultan
al-Adil Kitbugha. Muhanna declared his loyalty to
Ilkhanate in 1312 and was dismissed and replaced with his brother
Fadl by sultan an-Nasir Muhammad. Although Muhanna was forgiven
by an-Nasir and restored in 1317, he and his tribe were expelled in
1320 for his continued relations with the Ilkhanate, and he was
replaced by tribal chief Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr.
Muhanna was forgiven and restored by an-Nasir in 1330; he remained
loyal to the sultan until his death in 1335, when he was succeeded by
his son. Contemporary historian Ibn Fadlallah al-Omari described
the city as having "vast gardens, flourishing trades and bizarre
Al Fadl clan protected the trade routes and
Bedouin raids, raiding other cities and fighting
among themselves. The Mamluks intervened militarily several
times, dismissing, imprisoning or expelling its leaders. In 1400
Palmyra was attacked by Timur; the Fadl prince Nu'air escaped the
battle and later fought Jakam, the sultan of Aleppo. Nu'air was
captured, taken to
Aleppo and executed in 1406; this, according to Ibn
Hajar al-Asqalani, ended the
Al Fadl clan's power.
Ottoman era and later periods
The village, within the Temple of Bel, during the early 20th century
Syria became part of the
Ottoman Empire in 1516, and
a center of an administrative district (sanjak).[note 25] During
the Ottoman era,
Palmyra was a small village in the courtyard of the
Temple of Bel. After 1568 the Ottomans appointed the Lebanese
prince Ali bin Musa Harfush as governor of Palmyra's sanjak,
dismissing him in 1584 for treason.
Palmyra came under the authority of another Lebanese prince,
Fakhr-al-Din II, who renovated
Shirkuh II's castle (which became
known as Fakhr-al-Din al-Maani Castle). The prince fell from
grace with the Ottomans in 1633 and lost control of the village,
which remained a separate sanjak until it was absorbed by Zor Sanjak
in 1857. The village became home to an Ottoman garrison to
Bedouin in 1867.
In 1918, as
World War I
World War I was ending, the
Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force built an
airfield for two planes,[note 26] and in November the Ottomans
retreated from Zor
Sanjak without a fight.[note 27] The Syrian
Emirate's army entered
Deir ez-Zor on 4 December, and Zor Sanjak
became part of Syria. In 1919, as the British and French argued
over the borders of the planned mandates, the British permanent
military representative to the
Supreme War Council
Supreme War Council Henry Wilson
Palmyra to the British mandate. However, the
British general Edmund Allenby persuaded his government to abandon
Syria (including Palmyra) became part of the French
Mandate after Syria's defeat in the
Battle of Maysalun
Battle of Maysalun on 24 July
Palmyra gained importance to French efforts to pacify the Syrian
Desert, a base was constructed in the village near the Temple of Bel
in 1921. In 1929 the general director of antiquities in Syria,
Henri Arnold Seyrig, began excavating the ruins and convinced the
villagers to move to a new, French-built village next to the
site. The relocation was completed in 1932; ancient Palmyra
was ready for excavation as its villagers settled into the new village
of Tadmur. During World War II, the Mandate came under the
authority of Vichy France, who gave permission to
Nazi Germany to
use the airfield at Palmyra; forces of Free France, backed by
British forces, invaded
Syria in June 1941, and on 3 July 1941,
the British took control over the city in the aftermath of a
Syrian Civil War
Palmyra offensive (May 2015),
Palmyra offensive (December 2016), and
The Lion of
Al-lāt (first century AD), which stood at the entrance of
the Temple of Al-lāt
As a result of the Syrian Civil War,
Palmyra experienced widespread
looting and damage by combatants. In 2013, the façade of the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel sustained a large hole from mortar fire, and colonnade
columns have been damaged by shrapnel. According to Maamoun
Syrian Army positioned its troops in some
archaeological-site areas, while
Syrian opposition fighters
positioned themselves in gardens around the city.
On 13 May 2015, ISIL launched an attack on the modern town of Tadmur,
sparking fears that the iconoclastic group would destroy the adjacent
ancient site of Palmyra. On 21 May, some artifacts were
transported from the
Palmyra museum to
Damascus for safekeeping; a
Greco-Roman busts, jewelry, and other objects looted from
the museum have been found on the international market. ISIL
Palmyra the same day. Local residents reported
that the Syrian air force bombed the site on 13 June, damaging the
northern wall close to the Temple of Baalshamin. Palmyra's
theatre was used as a place of public executions of ISIL opponents;
videos were released by ISIL showing the killing of Syrian prisoners
in front of crowds. On 18 August, Palmyra's retired
Khaled al-Asaad was beheaded by ISIL after being
tortured for a month to extract information about the city and its
treasures; al-Asaad refused to give any information to his
Syrian government forces supported by Russian airstrikes recaptured
Palmyra on 27 March 2016 after intense fighting against ISIL
fighters. According to initial reports, the damage to the
archaeological site was less extensive than anticipated, with numerous
structures still standing. Following the recapture of the city,
Russian de-mining teams began clearing mines planted by ISIL prior to
their retreat. Following heavy fighting, ISIL briefly reoccupied
the city on 11 December 2016, prompting an offensive by the
Syrian Army which retook the city on 2 March 2017.
Inscription in Greek and Aramaic honoring the strategos Julius
From the beginning of its history to the first century AD
a petty sheikhdom, and by the first century BC a Palmyrene
identity began to develop. During the first half of the first
Palmyra incorporated some of the institutions of a Greek
city (polis); the concept of citizenship (demos) appears in an
inscription, dated to AD 10, describing the Palmyrenes as a
community. In AD 74, an inscription mentions the city's boule
(senate). The tribal role in
Palmyra is debated; during the first
century, four treasurers representing the four tribes seems to have
partially controlled the administration but their role became
ceremonial by the second century and power rested in the hands of the
The Palmyrene council consisted of about six hundred members of the
local elite (such as the elders or heads of wealthy families or
clans),[note 28] representing the city's four-quarters. The
council, headed by a president, managed civic
responsibilities; it supervised public works (including the
construction of public buildings), approved expenditures, collected
taxes, and appointed two archons (lords) each year.
Palmyra's military was led by strategoi (generals) appointed by the
council. Roman provincial authority set and approved
Palmyra's tariff structure, but the provincial interference in
local government was kept minimal as the empire sought to ensure the
continuous success of Palmyrene trade most beneficial to Rome. An
imposition of direct provincial administration would have jeopardized
Palmyra's ability to conduct its trading activities in the East,
especially in Parthia.
With the elevation of
Palmyra to a colonia around 213–216, the city
ceased being subject to Roman provincial governors and taxes.
Palmyra incorporated Roman institutions into its system while keeping
many of its former ones. The council remained, and the strategos
designated one of two annually-elected magistrates. This duumviri
implemented the new colonial constitution, replacing the
archons. Palmyra's political scene changed with the rise of
Odaenathus and his family; an inscription dated to 251 describes
Hairan I as "Ras" (lord) of
Palmyra (exarch in the
Greek section of the inscription) and another inscription dated to 252
Odaenathus with the same title.[note 29]
probably elected by the council as exarch, which was an unusual
title in the Roman empire and was not part of the traditional
Palmyrene governance institutions. Whether Odaenathus' title
indicated a military or a priestly position is unknown, but the
military role is more likely. By 257
Odaenathus was known as a
consularis, possibly the legatus of the province of Phoenice. In
Odaenathus began extending his political influence, taking
advantage of regional instability caused by Sasanian aggression;
this culminated in the Battle of Edessa, Odaenathus' royal
elevation and mobilization of troops, which made
The monarchy continued most civic institutions, but the
duumviri and the council were no longer attested after 264; Odaenathus
appointed a governor for the city. In the absence of the monarch,
the city was administered by a viceroy. Although governors of the
eastern Roman provinces under Odaenathus' control were still appointed
by Rome, the king had overall authority. During Zenobia's
rebellion, governors were appointed by the queen. Not all
Palmyrenes accepted the dominion of the royal family; a senator,
Septimius Haddudan, appears in a later Palmyrene inscription as aiding
Aurelian's armies during the 273 rebellion. After the Roman
destruction of the city,
Palmyra was ruled directly by Rome, and
then by a succession of other rulers, including the Burids and
Ayyubids, and subordinate
Bedouin chiefs—primarily the
Fadl family, who governed for the Mamluks.
Relief in the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel depicting Palmyrene war gods
Due to its military character and efficiency in battle,
Irfan Shahîd as the "
Sparta among the cities of the
Orient, Arab and other, and even its gods were represented dressed in
military uniforms." Palmyra's army protected the city and its
economy, helping extend Palmyrene authority beyond the city walls and
protecting the countryside's desert trade routes. The city had a
substantial military; Zabdibel commanded a force of 10,000 in the
third century BC, and
Zenobia led an army of 70,000 in the Battle
of Emesa. Soldiers were recruited from the city and its
territories, spanning several thousand square kilometers from the
Homs to the
Euphrates valley. Non-Palmyrene soldiers
were also recruited; a Nabatean cavalryman is recorded in 132 as
serving in a Palmyrene unit stationed at Anah. Palmyra's
recruiting system is unknown; the city might have selected and
equipped the troops and the strategoi led, trained and disciplined
The strategoi were appointed by the council with the approval of
Rome. The royal army in the mid 3rd century AD was under the
leadership of the monarch aided by generals, and was modeled
on the Sasanians in arms and tactics. The Palmyrenes were noted
archers. They used infantry while a heavily armored cavalry
(clibanarii) constituted the main attacking force.[note 30]
Palmyra's infantry was armed with swords, lances and small round
shields; the clibanarii were fully armored (including their
horses), and used heavy spears (kontos) 3.65 metres (12.0 ft)
long without shields.
Relations with Rome
Citing the Palmyrenes' combat skills in large, sparsely populated
areas, the Romans formed a Palmyrene auxilia to serve in the Imperial
Vespasian reportedly had 8,000 Palmyrene archers in
Judea, and Trajan established the first Palmyrene
Auxilia in 116
(a camel cavalry unit, Ala I Ulpia dromedariorum
Palmyrenorum). Palmyrene units were deployed throughout
the Roman Empire,[note 31] serving in Dacia late in Hadrian's
reign, and at
El Kantara in
Moesia under Antoninus
Pius. During the late second century Rome formed the Cohors
XX Palmyrenorum, which was stationed in Dura-Europos.
Right to left: Bel, Yarhibol,
Aglibol and Baalshamin
Aglibol (left) and
Altar found in
Trastevere dedicated to
Malakbel bearing the epithet
Palmyra's gods were primarily part of the northwestern Semitic
pantheon, with the addition of gods from the Mesopotamian and Arab
pantheons. The city's chief pre-Hellenistic deity was called
Bol, an abbreviation of
Baal (a northwestern Semitic
honorific). The Babylonian cult of
Bel-Marduk influenced the
Palmyrene religion and by 217 BC the chief deity's name was changed to
Bel. This did not indicate the replacing of the northwestern
Semitic Bol with a Mesopotamian deity, but was a mere change in the
Second in importance after the supreme deity, were over sixty
ancestral gods of the Palmyrene clans.
Palmyra had unique
deities, such as the god of justice and Efqa's guardian
Yarhibol, the sun god Malakbel, and the moon god
Aglibol. Palmyrenes worshiped regional deities, including the
greater Levantine gods Astarte, Baal-hamon,
Atargatis; the Babylonian gods
Nabu and Nergal, and the Arab
Azizos, Arsu, Šams and Al-lāt.
The deities worshiped in the countryside were depicted as camel or
horse riders and bore Arab names. The nature of those deities is
uncertain as only names are known, most importantly Abgal. The
Palmyrene pantheon included ginnaye (some were given the designation
"Gad"), a group of lesser deities popular in the
countryside, who were similar to the Arab jinn and the Roman
genius. Ginnaye were believed to have the appearance and behavior
of humans, similar to Arab jinn. Unlike jinn, however, the
ginnaye could not possess or injure humans. Their role was
similar to the Roman genius: tutelary deities who guarded individuals
and their caravans, cattle and villages.
Although the Palmyrenes worshiped their deities as individuals, some
were associated with other gods. Bel had Astarte-Belti as his
consort, and formed a triple deity with
became a sun god in his association with Bel).
part of many associations, pairing with Gad Taimi and
Aglibol, and forming a triple deity with
Palmyra hosted an
Akitu (spring festival) each
Nisan. Each of the city's four-quarters had a sanctuary for a
deity considered ancestral to the resident tribe;
Aglibol's sanctuary was in the Komare quarter. The Baalshamin
sanctuary was in the Ma'zin quarter, the
Arsu sanctuary in the
Mattabol quarter, and the
Atargatis sanctuary in the fourth
tribe's quarter.[note 32]
The priests of
Palmyra were selected from the city's leading
families, and are recognized in busts through their headdresses
which have the shape of a polos adorned with laurel wreath or other
tree made of bronze among other elements. The high priest of
Bel's temple was the highest religious authority and headed the clergy
of priests who were organized into collegia each headed by a higher
priest. The personnel of Efqa spring's sanctuary dedicated to
Yarhibol belonged to a special class of priests as they were
oracles. Palmyra's paganism was replaced with
Christianity as the
religion spread across the Roman Empire, and a bishop was reported in
the city by 325. Although most temples became churches, the
Al-lāt was destroyed in 385 at the order of Maternus
Cynegius (the eastern praetorian prefect). After the Muslim
conquest in 634
Islam gradually replaced Christianity, and the last
known bishop of
Palmyra was consecrated in 818.
Malakbel and the Roman Sol Invictus
In 274, following his victory over Palmyra,
Aurelian dedicated a large
Sol Invictus in Rome; most scholars consider
Sol Invictus to be of Syrian origin, either a
continuation of emperor
Elagabalus cult of
Sol Invictus Elagabalus, or
Malakbel of Palmyra. The Palmyrene deity was commonly identified
with the Roman god Sol and he had a temple dedicated for him on the
right bank of the
Tiber since the second century. Also, he bore
the epithet Invictus and was known with the name Sol "Sanctissimus",
the latter was an epithet
Aurelian bore on an inscription from
The position of the Palmyrene deity as Aurelian's
Sol Invictus is
inferred from a passage by
Zosimus reading: "and the magnificent
temple of the sun he (i.e. Aurelian) embellished with votive gifts
from Palmyra, setting up statues of
Helios and Bel". Three
Palmyra exemplified solar features: Malakbel, Yarhibol
and Shamash, hence the identification of the Palmyrene Helios
appearing in Zosimus' work with Malakbel. Some scholars criticize
the notion of Malakbel's identification with Sol Invictus; according
to Gaston Halsberghe, the cult of
Malakbel was too local for it to
become an imperial Roman god and Aurelian's restoration of Bel's
temple and sacrifices dedicated to
Malakbel were a sign of his
attachment to the sun god in general and his respect to the many ways
in which the deity was worshiped. Richard Stoneman suggested
another approach in which
Aurelian simply borrowed the imagery of
Malakbel to enhance his own solar deity. The relation between
Sol Invictus can not be confirmed and will probably
See also: Canalizations of Zenobia
Palmyra's Agora; the two front entrances lead to the interior, the
Palmyra's economy before and at the beginning of the Roman period was
based on agriculture, pastoralism, trade, and serving as a rest
station for the caravans which sporadically crossed the desert.
By the end of the first century BC, the city had a mixed economy based
on agriculture, pastoralism, taxation, and, most
importantly, the caravan trade. Taxation was an important source
of revenue for the Palmyrene government. Caravaneers paid taxes
in the building known as the Tariff Court, where a tax law dating
to AD 137 was exhibited. The law regulated the tariffs paid
by the merchants for goods sold at the internal market or exported
from the city.[note 33]
Classlcist Andrew M. Smith II suggests most land in
Palmyra was owned
by the city, which collected grazing taxes. The oasis had about
1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of irrigable land, which surrounded
the city. The Palmyrenes constructed an extensive irrigation
system in the northern mountains that consisted of reservoirs and
channels to capture and store the occasional rainfall. The most
notable irrigation work is
Harbaqa Dam which was constructed in the
late first century AD; it is located 48 km (30 mi)
southwest of the city and can collect 140,000 cubic metres
(4,900,000 cu ft) of water. The countryside was
intensively planted with olive, fig, pistachio and barley.
However, agriculture could not support the population and food was
After Palmyra's destruction in 273, it became a market for villagers
and nomads from the surrounding area. The city regained some of
its prosperity during the
Umayyad era, indicated by the discovery of a
Umayyad souq in the colonnaded street.
Palmyra was a minor
trading center until its destruction in 1400; according to Sharaf
ad-Din Ali Yazdi, Timur's men took 200,000 sheep, and the city
was reduced into a settlement on the desert border whose inhabitants
herded and cultivated small plots for vegetables and corn.
The Silk Road
During the first centuries AD, Palmyra's main trade route ran east to
Euphrates where it connected at the city of Hīt. The route
then ran south along the river toward the port of
Charax Spasinu on
the Persian Gulf, where Palmyrene ships traveled back and forth to
India. Goods were imported from India, China and
Transoxiana, and exported west to Emesa (or Antioch) then the
Mediterranean ports, from which they were distributed throughout
the Roman Empire. In addition to the usual route some Palmyrene
merchants used the Red Sea, probably as a result of the
Roman–Parthian Wars. Goods were carried overland from the
seaports to a
Nile port, and then taken to the Egyptian Mediterranean
ports for export. Inscriptions attesting a Palmyrene presence in
Egypt date to the reign of Hadrian.
Palmyra was not on the main trading route (which followed the
Euphrates), the Palmyrenes secured the desert route passing their
city. They connected it to the
Euphrates valley, providing water
and shelter. The Palmyrene route connected the
Silk Road with the
Mediterranean, and was used almost exclusively by the city's
merchants, who maintained a presence in many cities, including
Dura-Europos in 33 BC,
Babylon by AD 19,
Seleucia by AD 24,
Dendera, Coptos, Bahrain, the Indus River Delta,
The caravan trade depended on patrons and merchants. Patrons
owned the land on which the caravan animals were raised, providing
animals and guards for the merchants. The lands were located in
the numerous villages of the Palmyrene countryside. Although
merchants used the patrons to conduct business, their roles often
overlapped and a patron would sometimes lead a caravan. Commerce
Palmyra and its merchants among the wealthiest in the
region. Some caravans were financed by a single merchant,
such as Male' Agrippa (who financed Hadrian's visit in 129 and the 139
rebuilding of the Temple of Bel). The primary income-generating
trade good was silk, which was exported from the East to the
West. Other exported goods included jade, muslin, spices, ebony,
ivory and precious stones. For its domestic market Palmyra
imported variety of goods including slaves, prostitutes, olive oil,
dyed goods, myrrh and perfume.
Excavations at Palmyra, 1962, Polish archaeologist Kazimierz
Tetrapylon (destroyed in 2017)
Palmyra was visited by travelers such as
Pietro Della Valle
Pietro Della Valle (between
1616 and 1625),
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (in 1638) and many Swedish and
German explorers. Its first scholarly description appeared in a
1696 book by Abednego Seller. In 1751, an expedition led by
Robert Wood and James Dawkins studied Palmyra's architecture.
French artist and architect
Louis-François Cassas conducted an
extensive survey of the city’s monuments in 1785, publishing over a
hundred drawings of Palmyra’s civic buildings and tombs. Visits
by travelers and antiquarians continued, including one made by Lady
Hester Stanhope in 1813, and another by
Lady Strangford and
Carl Haag in 1859. Palmrya was photographed for the first
time in 1864 by Louis Vignes.
In 1882, the "Palmyrene Tariff", an inscribed stone slab from AD 137
in Greek and Palmyrene detailing import and export taxation, was
discovered by prince
Semyon Semyonovich Abamelik-Lazarev in the Tariff
Court. It has been described by historian John F. Matthews as
"one of the most important single items of evidence for the economic
life of any part of the Roman Empire". In 1901, the slab was
gifted by the Ottoman Sultan
Abdul Hamid II
Abdul Hamid II to the Russian Tsar and is
now in the
Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
Palmyra's first excavations were conducted in 1902 by Otto Puchstein
and in 1917 by Theodor Wiegand. In 1929, French general director
of antiquities of
Syria and Lebanon
Henri Arnold Seyrig began
large-scale excavation of the site; interrupted by World War II,
it resumed soon after the war's end. Seyrig started with the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel in 1929 and between 1939 and 1940 he excavated the
Daniel Schlumberger conducted excavations in the Palmyrene
northwest countryside in 1934 and 1935 where he studied different
local sanctuaries in the Palmyrene villages. From 1954 to 1956, a
Swiss expedition organized by
UNESCO excavated the Temple of
Baalshamin. Since 1958, the site has been excavated by the Syrian
Directorate-General of Antiquities, and Polish expeditions led by
many archaeologists including
Kazimierz Michałowski (until 1980) and
Michael Gawlikowski (until 2011). The stratigraphic sounding
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel was conducted in 1967 by Robert du Mesnil du
Buisson, who also discovered the Temple of
Baal-hamon in the
The Polish expedition concentrated its work in the Camp of Diocletian
while the Syrian Directorate-General of Antiquities excavated the
Temple of Nabu. Most of the hypogea were excavated jointly by the
Polish expedition and the Syrian Directorate, while the area of
Efqa was excavated by
Jean Starcky and Jafar al-Hassani. The
Palmyrene irrigation system was discovered in 2008 by Jørgen
Christian Meyer who researched the Palmyrene countryside through
ground inspections and satellite images. Most of
remains unexplored especially the residential quarters in the north
and south while the necropolis has been thoroughly excavated by the
Directorate and the Polish expedition. Excavation expeditions left
Palmyra in 2011 due to the Syrian Civil War.
In 1980, the historic site including the necropolis outside the walls
was declared a
World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. In November
2010 the Austrian media manager Helmut Thoma admitted looting a
Palmyrene grave in 1980, stealing architectural pieces for his
home; German and Austrian archaeologists protested against the
Ancient Near East portal
Aureliano in Palmira
Crisis of the Third Century
Palmyrene (Unicode block)
Thirty Tyrants (Roman)
^ The Semitic word T.M.R is the common root for the words that
designate palm dates in Arabic, Hebrew, Ge'ez and other Semitic
Schultens argued that in the Bible (1 Kings 9:18), the name is written
"Tamor" in the text and "Tadmor" in the margin. Schultens
considered "Tamor" to be the original name and derived from
"Tamar". However, the inclusion of a -d- in "Tamar" cannot be
^ Pliny mentioned that
Palmyra was independent, but by AD 70, Palmyra
was part of the Roman empire and Pliny's account over Palmyra's
political situation is dismissed by modern scholars, as it is
considered to rely on older accounts, dating to the period of
Palmyra was independent.
^ The last inscription written in Palmyrene is dated to 279/280.
^ E.g for Aramaic: Gaddibol and Yedi'bel.
E.g for Arab: Bene Ma'zin.
E.g for Amorite: Zmr' and Kohen-Nadu.
Phyle are the Bene Mita, Komare, Mattabol, Ma'zin and
^ In general, a civic tribe (Phyle) is a collection of people chosen
from the collective population and ascribed a deity as a tribal
ancestor, then assigned a territory for them to reside in. The Phyles
were united by their citizenship instead of origin.
^ The clans might have gathered under the name of the four tribes
causing them to disappear.
^ E.g. by the second century AD, Palmyrene goddess
portrayed in the style of the Greek goddess Athena, and named
Athena-Al-lāt. However, this assimilation of
not extend beyond iconography.
^ In the Hellenistic tradition, the agora was the center of athletic,
artistic, spiritual and political life of the city.
^ There are hints of Greek training; the names of three Greeks who
worked on the construction of the
Temple of Bel
Temple of Bel are known through
inscriptions, including a probably Greek architect named Alexandras
(Αλεξάνδρας). However, some Palmyrenes adopted
Greco-Roman names and native citizens with the name Alexander are
attested in the city.
^ The attribution of
Palmyra annexation to
Tiberius was supported by
Seyrig and became the most influential. However, other dates have been
suggested ranging from as early as Pompey's era to as late as
^ The exact year for when
Palmyra first made use of some Greek
institutions is not known; the evidence that specifically identify
Palmyra as a polis is not extensive, and the earliest known reference
is an inscription dated to AD 51, written in Palmyrene and Greek,
mentioning the "City of the Palmyrenes" in its Greek section.
^ Despite his Greek name, Alexandros was probably a native
There is no evidence that
Germanicus visited Palmyra.
^ The legion was part of Germanicus' eastern campaign and was not
stationed in the city as a garrison.
^ Commissioned by Traianus.
^ The transformation already began in the first century BC.
Palmyra benefiting from the annexation of
Petra is a
mainstream view, it should be noted that Palmyra's trade was mostly
with the East, while Petra's trade counted on southern Arabia. In
addition to the fact that
Petra traded in different
articles, hence the annexation of
Petra might have not had a real
effect on Palmyra's trade.
^ The Ala I Thracum Herculiana was a milliaria. Generally, a
milliaria consisted of a thousand horsemen.
^ No evidence exist for Roman units serving in the ranks of
Odaenathus; whether Roman soldiers fought under
Odaenathus or not is a
matter of speculation.
^ The Mesopotamian Jewish population was regarded by the Palmyrenes as
loyal to the Persians.
^ The first decisive evidence for the use of this title for Odaenathus
is an inscription dated to 271, posthumously describing
"King of Kings". Known inscriptions dating to his reign
address him as king. However, Odaenathus' son Hairan I, is directly
attested as "King of Kings" during his lifetime.
Hairan I was
proclaimed by his father as co-ruler and was assassinated during the
same assassination incident that took the life of
Odaenathus and it is
Odaenathus was simply a king while his son held the King
of Kings title.
^ Claudius died in August 270, shortly before Zenobia's invasion of
^ Scholarly is divided whether this was an act of independence
declaration, or a usurpation of the Roman throne.
^ All other accounts indicate that a military action was not
necessary, as it seems that
Zenobia withdrawn her forces in order to
^ Named in Ottoman system "Salyane Sanjak", which is a
Sanjak that had
an annual allowance from the government, in contrast to the Khas
Sanjaks, which yielded a land revenue.
^ The British did not occupy the area and the local Bedouins agreed to
protect the field.
^ Neither the British, French or Arab armies attacked the Sanjak.
^ The number of 600 is hypothetical.
Hairan I was described as "Ras" in 251 indicating that Odaenathus
was promoted at that time as well.
^ The Palmyrene army that invaded Egypt was mainly composed of
clibanarii supported by archers.
^ A Palmyrene monument was discovered near Newcastle in England, it
was set by a Palmyrene named Baratas, who was either a soldier or a
^ The fourth tribe's name is not certain but most likely the
^ Richard Stoneman proposes that the law regulated taxes imposed on
goods destined for the internal market and did not cover the transit
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^ a b Smith II 2013, p. 63.
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^ a b c Crawford 1990, p. 123.
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^ a b c Gawlikowski 2005, p. 55.
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