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Ancient Cities – Palmyra II
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  9/13/11
By: Yona Williams

The extensive trade activity surrounding Palmyra helped keep it in the forefront – gaining esteem and respect from the Romans and other cultures. In this article, you will continue to learn about the history of the city, as well as some of the ruins left behind that still keep tourists coming.

In 217, Palmyra enjoyed the luxury of not having to pay taxes to the empire when Emperor Caracalla gave the city status that what was known as a colonia. The ‘golden age’ of Palmyra took place during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The Romans helped the region flourish with progressive trading connections and increasing status. However, like all lucrative wells, the money does run its course. Trade associated with Palmyra started to decline in the early 3rd century when the Persian Sassanids took over the region located at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates. Eventually, they shut down the caravan road that passed into Palmyra in 227.

Changes in rulers would also affect Palmyra. In 255, Septimus Odaenathus was appointed governor of Syria Phoenice, which was based in the city. In 260, he was given the position of Governor of all the East. In 266, Odaenathus and his eldest son were assassinated, and the reign of the land fell on the shoulders of his son, who was an infant at the time. Because of his age, his wife Zenobia effectively ruled.

Zenobia was ambitious and some even say she orchestrated the assassination of her husband and son. Claiming to be a descendant of Cleopatra, Zenobia was believed to have been half-Greek and half-Arab. She was highly intelligent, attractive, and spoke Palmyrian, Greek and Egyptian languages. When she held court, there were philosophers, scholars and theologians always in her presence. As queen, she was a successful ruler, and under her control, the army conquered most of Anatolia (Asia Minor) in 270. The city was also able to claim their independence from Rome. Before Zenobia was able to claim Antioch as her own, she was captured in 272.

They sent the queen to Rome, where she was paraded in chains made out of gold. Emperor Aurelian displayed her like she was his trophy. What exactly happened to Zenobia is not known. Some say that she lived out her last days in comfort in a Roman villa, while others believe she starved or poisoned herself to death. A year later, the city of Palmyra was destroyed and all that lived there were slaughtered.
Palmyra’s defenses were revived in the 6th century with the help of Emperor Justinian. A couple of Byzantine churches were also constructed, but for the most part – the city remained in ruins. Other historical highlights regarding the city include:

•    In 634, Palmyra was taken by the Muslim Arabs. A castle was constructed on top of a mountain that overlooked the oasis. A moat surrounded the property and the only access into the castle was by crossing a drawbridge.
•    In 1089, a major earthquake destroyed what was left behind of Palmyra.
•    Two English merchants “rediscovered” Palmyra in 1678.
•    In 1924, excavations of the city took place.
•    The ruins of the ancient city were given World Heritage Site status in 1980 by UNESCO.

When visiting the ruins, tourists come to see the influences in architecture and art (including Mesopotamian and Iranian features), monuments and tombs associated with Roman and Persian empires, the Grand Colonnade street decorated with 1,500 Corinthian columns, a museum located between the ruins and the new town, and Diocletian’s Camp.


 

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