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Durham University

Department of Classics and Ancient History


Publication details for Professor Ted Kaizer

Kaizer, Ted. (2009). Religion and language in Dura-Europos. In From Hellenism to Islam Cultural and Linguistic Change in the Roman Near East. Cotton, H.M., Hoyland, R.G., Price, J.J. & Wasserstein, D.J. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 235-254.

Author(s) from Durham


Dura-Europos was rich in gods and rich in languages. The unique religious and linguistic situation of this fortress town on the Middle Euphrates reflected its vicissitudes. Founded as the Macedonian colony Europos on a plateau overlooking the river, Dura was under Parthian control (with a brief Roman interlude in 116/7 CE) from the late-second century BCE until 165 CE. Lucius Verus' campaigns brought in the Roman troops who, nearly a century later, would be defeated by the Sasanians in 256 CE. Throughout most of the Parthian and Roman phases a large Palmyrene contingent was to be found in the town too. The now legendary excavations from the 1920s and 1930s by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres revealed a wide spectrum of pagan cults, coming from different spheres of influence, in addition to a synagogue (famous because of its unique murals, with their illustrations of scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures) and a Christian house church. Graffiti and inscriptions, as well as the remains of writing on more perishable material, show an even more remarkable diversity of languages and dialects in use, with the classical languages supplemented by Aramaic (including Palmyrenean, Hatrean and Syriac), Hebrew, Parthian and Middle Persian, and the ancient north Arabian dialect known as Safaitic. Though not one of the grand Levantine cities, Dura-Europos was no marginal outpost either, and the abundance of archaeological findings makes it potentially our best case study for social and religious life in a normal Near Eastern small town under the early and high Empire. So far, however, neither the religious life nor the language situation has received the attention that has long been due.