Founding: Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) was a pivotal figure in ancient history because he conquered so much of the known world, including the empire of the Achaemenid Persians, and spread the Greek or Hellenistic culture even further. Almost a quarter of a century after his early demise, the Macedonian Greeks, who now controlled formerly Persian territory, colonized Dura-Europus or Dura-Europos. This city, founded around 300 B.C., in modern-day Syria, in ancient times would have become home to a succession of Hellenistic Greek, Roman, and Persian administrators, on the backs of the native populations. It was situated by the Euphrates River, where it could control travel from Antioch (which was on the Orontes River) and Seleucia (which was on the Tigris River), other Syrian cities Seleucus had founded along the Silk Road, that famous trade route that allowed two-way influence from places as far apart as China and Rome. Dura-Europos, with its multiple cultures, languages, and religions, has been called the crossroads of antiquity.
Name: Seleucus I Nicator, the eponymous founder of the Seleucid Dynasty in Asia, named the city Europos in honor of the Macedonian town in which he had been born. The name Dura came from the name of the citadel, Dawara, that had been created in the middle of the second millennium B.C.
Archaeological Excavations: Between 1922 and 1937 archaeologists excavated Dura-Europos, first under Franz Cumont (Belgian archaeologist and historian) and then under the authority of Yale University. Since the 1980s, the research director for the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) (French National Center for Scientific Research), Pierre Leriche, has led the more recent excavations. The city seems likely to have started as a small garrison at the citadel, with an administrative building called the Strategeion, becoming a real city only after a century and a half.
Successive Rulers: Dura-Europus fell into Parthian hands in about A.D. 113, although, in 115, Dura-Europos came into Roman hands, briefly, under Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117); and then in 165, more permanently, under the emperor Lucius Verus (A.D. 130-169), at which time a Mithraeum was built for worshipers of the cult of Mithras, which was popular with Roman soldiers. (Archaeologists have also unearthed an ancient synagogue and a Christian church.) In about 256, the Sassanid Persians gained control. It is thought that they used chemical warfare to defeat the Romans. [See: Chemical Warfare at Dura Europos Redux for more on the topic, including reference to Adrienne Mayor's treatment of the topic.]
- Review of Adrienne Mayor's Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs
- Seleucids Quiz
- Seleucid War
- The Seleucids and Their Dynasty
- Ancient Sources on the History of Ancient India
- Dura-Europos, from Archaeology at About.com
- Doura-Europos sur l'Euphrate Pierre Leriche Directeur de recherche au CNRS
- "The Role of Sculpture in Worship at the Temples of Dura-Europos," by Susan B. Downey; The Sculptural Environment of the Roman Near East, edited by Yaron Z. Eliav, Elise A. Friedland, and Sharon Herbert, 2008.