views updated Jun 11 2018


Ancient and modern caravan center of the Syrian Desert between Damascus (150 miles SW) or Homs (100 miles W) and Deir ez-Zor (130 miles E). "Palmyra" is apparently (Greek via Latin) from the Semitic "date palm" (Hebrew tāmār; Aramaic tamrā; Arabic tamrun ); the modern name Tadmor may be a variant (or another Semitic root with common prefix t -); but it is scarcely solomon's Tadmor that is mentioned in 2 Chr8.4, where the reading should be Tamar (Thamar), a town in southern Juda (Ez 47.9; 48.28), as in 1 Kgs 9.18 [see J. Starcky, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. L. Pirot, 5:1068]. The only mention of a pre-Hellenistic Tadmor may be in Mari documents (c. 1750 b.c.) or in inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser I (11161078 b.c.); see P. Dhorme, Revue biblique 53 (1924) 106.

The far-flung surviving ruins, cleared by T. Wiegand's German expedition, come from a period beginning c. 200 b.c.. In 44 a.d. the settlement was already "monumental" as known from the visit of Tiberius' nephew Germanicus and from a Bel temple inscription of 32 (Stoneman, p. 52), but still with a mostly unstable nomadic population (Browning, p. 28). But colonnaded Palmyra's magnificence is chiefly due to Hadrian's visit (a.d. 129)especially the major temple of Bel (baal), distinct from a smaller temple of Belšamin (Baal-šamayim); see A. Collart, Annales archéologiques de Syrie 7 (1957) 6794. Several hundred of the original 750 sandstone columns are still erect, stretching 1,240 yards from a monumental gateway (now partly reconstructed) past a theater (built c. a.d. 140) in the heart of the cityunlike most Roman-Syrian parallels; see E. Frezouls, Syria 36 (1959) 202.

Palmyra's most characteristic contribution to world culture is its funerary sculpture, showing the whole family of the deceased reunited around a festive banquet table, framed by rows of busts of near relatives that seal their respective burials [see Parlasca; E. Ruprechtsberger, Ausstellung Linz 1987 ; H. Ingholt, Studier (Copenhagen 1928)]. These sculptured burials were arranged either in several stories of a tower, of which a good number survive, notably those of Elahbel (a.d. 103) and Jamblichus (a.d. 80)see E. Will, Syria 26 (1949) 87116, 258312; cf. 34 (1957) 262277or in underground chambers, most of which have been transferred to museums, especially Yarhai's (a.d. 108), reconstructed in Damascus [see R. Amy and H. Seyrig, Syria 17 (1936) 229; Annales archéologiques de Syrie 1 (1951) 3240]. Some of the tombs contain inscriptions in the Palmyrene language (see bibliography), closely related to Nabataean and the Aramaic of the dead sea scrolls (see aramaic language, 1).

Rome built up Palmyra's strength to a maximum under the local ruler Odeinat; but after his death (a.d.268) his widow Zenobia declared her independence and successfully resisted sporadic attacks by the Roman legions until a strong army was sent against her. She was captured and made to grace Aurelian's triumph in Rome (thus earning him the bad name of "general who conquered a woman"), then comfortably ended her days in a villa at Tivoli.

The desert ruins of Palmyra are now dominated by a castle named for Ibn Maan but really built by Fakhr-al-Dīn II al-Ma'nī (c. a.d. 1600).

See Also: arabia, 3

Bibliography: r. stoneman, Palmyra and Its Empire: Zenobia's Revolt against Rome (Ann Arbor 1992). i. browning, Palmyra (1979). m. gawlikowski, "Palmyra," Anchor Bible Dictionary 5 (1992) 136137. p. parlasca, "Die palmyrenische Grabkunst," Mitteilungen der archäologischen Gesellschaft Steyermark 94 (198990) 112136. m. colledge, The Art of Palmyra (1976). h. j. w. drijvers and m. versteegh, "Palmyra," Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römische Welt 2.8 (1977) 837863; h. drijvers, The Religion of Palmyra (Leiden 1976). j. teixidor, The Pantheon of Palmyra (Leiden 1974). w. macdonald, Architecture of the Roman Empire (New Haven 1965). e. will, Les Palmyreniens (Paris 1992). j. starcky, Palmyre (Paris 1952); Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928 ) 6:10661103. h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéololgie chrétienne et de liturgie 13 (1957) 962. t. wiegand, ed., Palmyra: Ergebnisse der Expedition von 19021917, 2 v. (Berlin 1932). m. i. rostovtsev, Caravan Cities, tr. d. and t. talbot rice (Oxford 1932) 91152. Palmyrene language. d. hillers, Zeitschrift für Althebraistik 8 (1995) 5562. j. cantineau, Grammaire du palmyrénien épigraphique (Cairo 1935). f. rosenthal, Die Sprache der palmyrenischen Inschriften (Leipzig 1936).

[r. north]


views updated May 21 2018


ancient city in an oasis of the northern syrian desert at the site of present-day tadmur.

The first mention of Tadmur (or Tamar, city of dates), Palmyra's ancient and modern name, goes back to the nineteenth century b.c.e. It was probably a Caananite town that later came under Aramaic influence. In the third century b.c.e., the city achieved international prominence when the Seleucids made it a transfer point of east-west trade. Through trade contacts, the city absorbed Hellenic culture and the Greek language, which was spoken alongside Aramaic, Arabic, Syriac, and other languages. From the time of the reign of Emperor Tiberius (1437 c.e.), the city came under Roman control and was renamed Palmyra (city of palms). During the Pax Romana and with the benefit of paved Roman roads, the city's commercial fortunes expanded.

Palmyra's golden age was the third century c.e. Emperor Caracalla (211217 c.e.) granted Palmyra the status of a Roman colony, exempting it from taxes. The city became the chief way station between Damascus and the Euphrates river. Goods came on caravans of camels from Rome, Egypt, India, the Persian Gulf, and from China along the silk route. Some Palmyran merchants owned ships that sailed the Indian Ocean. Palmyra's busy bazaars and ruling institutions were housed in fine Roman and Mesopotamian stone buildings with Corinthian colonnades, whose ruins remain in good condition today. Palmyra became the seat of the personal empire of Septimius Odaenathus, a member of a local Arab tribe, who gained the title Emperor of the East after saving the Roman Emperor Valerian in 260 from capture by the Sassanian king, Shahpur I.

From 267 to 272 c.e., the city was ruled by Queen Zenobia. Under her vigorous rule, Palmyra in 270 conquered Syria, Egypt, and Anatolia. Zenobia

then declared the empire of Palmyra independent of Rome, but two years later, Roman Emperor Aurelian reconquered all the territory and plundered the city of Palmyra. Zenobia tried to flee by camel toward the Euphrates, but was captured and taken to Rome, where she lived the rest of her days. Palmyra was reduced from a capital to a small frontier city after the destruction caused by Aurelian's reconquest in 273.

Ancient Palmyrenes worshiped the deity Bol (also Baal or Bel) who presided over the movements of the stars. Bol's chief sanctuary, shared with the sun and moon gods Yarhibol and Algibol, still stands. Greek and Roman deities were incorporated into the local belief system. In the second century, the worship of a single unnamed god became important, and by 325, a Palmyra bishop attended the Nicaean Council.

In 634, Khalid ibn al-Walid conquered Palmyra and assimilated it into the expanding Muslim caliphate. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1089 and reportedly had a mere two thousand inhabitants in the twelfth century. After the city was sacked by Tamerlane at the end of the fourteenth century, it fell into ruins. In the seventeenth century, Fakhr al-Din of Lebanon used Palmyra as a military training ground and erected a castle on a hill nearby.

The city was first excavated in 1929, and restorations have continued since then. Today, Tadmur is a city of thirty thousand inhabitants, the site of tourist facilities and a prison.


Bulliet, Richard W. The Camel and the Wheel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Starcky, J., and Gawlikowski, M. Palmyre, revised edition. Paris: Librairie d'Amérique et d'Orient, 1985.

elizabeth thompson


views updated May 17 2018

Palmyra (Tadmur, City of Palms) Ancient oasis city, in the Syrian Desert. By the 1st century bc, it had become a city-state by controlling the trade routes between Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. In 30, it became a Roman dependency. By the 2nd century ad, Palmyra's influence had spread to Armenia. In 267, Zenobia became queen, the empire expanded, and she severed the state's links with Rome. In ad 273, Roman Emperor Aurelian laid waste to the city, which was afterwards largely forgotten. Today, tourists visit its extensive ruins.


views updated May 29 2018

Palmyra an ancient city of Syria, an oasis in the Syrian desert north-east of Damascus on the site of present-day Tadmur. First mentioned in the 19th century bc, Palmyra was an independent state in the 1st century bc, becoming a dependency of Rome between the 1st and 3rd centuries ad. A flourishing city on a trade route between Damascus and the Euphrates, it regained its independence briefly under Zenobia. The name is a Greek form of the city's modern and ancient pre-Semitic name Tadmur or Tadmor, meaning ‘city of palms’.


views updated May 29 2018

palmyra palm, Borassus flabellifer. XVII. Formerly palmero, palmeiro — Pg. palmeira, Sp. palmera, It. palmero, f. palma PALM1; the present sp. suggests assim. to Palmyra, name of a city in Syria.