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Durham University

Department of Classics and Ancient History


Publication details for Professor Ted Kaizer

Kaizer, Ted (2016). Religion, Society and Culture at Dura-Europos. Yale Classical Studies 38. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Author(s) from Durham


The small fortress town of Dura-Europos is known, since the great Russian scholar Mikhaïl Rostovtzeff, as the ‘Pompeii of the Syrian desert’. Situated on the Middle Euphrates river, it was founded as a Macedonian colony by one of the successors to Alexander the Great. Towards the end of the second century BC, Dura-Europos came under Parthian control and is thought to have remained so – with a brief interruption during Trajan's Parthian war – until it passed definitely under Roman rule in AD 165. Nearly a century later, in ca. AD 256, the defending Roman forces were defeated following a gruesome siege by the Sasanian army of Shapur I, who destroyed the town and left it to disappear under the sand. By the time the emperor Julian the Apostate passed by the area during his ill-fated Persian campaign in the early 360s, Dura had long been deserted.

The History of the Exploration of Dura-Europos

Before it had been identified as the town that Isidorus of Charax lists in his Parthian Stations as ‘Dura, city of Nikanor, a foundation of the Macedonians, called Europos by the Greeks’, the ruins at Salihiyeh had been briefly noted in two late nineteenth-century travel reports, first by Engineer Josef Černik and then by John Punnett Peters, the Director of the University of Pennsylvania Expedition to Babylonia, in whose time the site was known under the Turkish name of Kan Kalessi, ‘Bloody Castle’. A lengthy description of ‘die namenlose Stadt’ then followed as the fruit of four visits, between 1898 and 1912, by the team of Ernst Herzfeld, Friedrich Sarre and Bruno Schulz, but still no proper exploration took place. This would finally change when British troops, camped at the ruins in March 1920, discovered the first fresco in what later came to be known as the temple ‘of the Palmyrene gods’. James Henry Breasted, the leading Orientalist scholar from the University of Chicago who by chance had just returned to Syria towards the end of April from an expedition to the Upper Tigris river, was instantly asked to undertake a mission to Salihiyeh in order to examine the newly revealed paintings.