the middle of the Syrian Desert is without doubt the most beautiful
and magnificent of the Syrian historic sites, Palmyra. This Arab
commercial metropolis, which has now turned pink with age, used to
be on the old Silk Road.
Called Tadmor by the Arabs, Palmyra appeared for the first time in
the 2nd millennium BC in the archives of Mari
and in an Assyrian text. It was also mentioned in the Bible as a
part of Solomon's territory.
The Seleucids practically ignored Tadmor and it became
independent. It flourished through trade with Persia, the Indian
subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula. In 41 BC it had become rich
enough to attract the Romans and Anthony attempted to occupy it but
failed because of the Palmyreans escaping to the other side of the
was fully occupied by the Romans under Tiberius, Augustus' successor
and was integrated into the Province of Syria between 14-37 AD.
During the next 100 years of Roman rule Palmyra prospered greatly as
a trade route linking the East Asian empires of Persia, India,
China, and the Parthians who were Rome's enemy for a long time. They
managed this by keeping good ties with both the Romans and the
Parthians. In 129 AD Hadrian visited Palmyra and was quite
enthralled by it and named it Palmyra Hadriana and proclaimed it a
free city. In 212 AD Palmyra was considered as a colony of the Roman
Empire and Palmyra took a higher military role and caravan trade
diminished. Trade diminished even more when the Sassanians took over
and occupied the mouth to the Tigris and Euphrates.
leader Septimus Odeinat (Odenathus) became quite favored by Rome and
in 256/7 was appointed by the Emperor Valerian as Consul and
Governor of the province of Syria Phoenice which Palmyra had been
transferred to in 194. A few years later Valerian was captured and
murdered by the Sassanian Persians, and in redemption Odeinat
campaigned as far as the Sassanian capital Ctesiphon.
Palmyra's greatest days however were after the murder of Odeinat,
when his wife Zenobia started ruling Palmyra on behalf of her son
Vaballath. Zenobia with the help of her Prime Minister Longinus
extended Palmyrean power to the west and took over Bosra and
occupied as far as Egypt (269-270), then she headed for the north
and attempted to take Antioch. This sudden expansion posed a threat
for the Romans, and after two years in 272 of being flexible
Aurelian retaliated and took back Antioch then Emesa (Homs) and then
Palmyra itself. Zenobia tried to escape but was captured and was
taken back to Rome as a prisoner.
After this Rome kept a close eye on Palmyra and it was forced to
become a military area and let go of its reputation as a trade
center. It was expanded under emperor Diocletian to harbor Roman
legions and it was walled in defense from the Sassanian threat.
Later in the Byzantine period a few churches were built and added
to the much ruined city. It was then taken by the Arabs under Khalid
Ibn Al Walid who was leader of the Arab army under the Caliph Abu
Bakr. It played a minor defensive role during the Islamic periods
although the Umayyads built the two Qasr Al Heirs. Later Temple
of Bel was fortified and the Arab Castle of Fakhredin
Al Maany was built. Since then it has had no major roles and the
ruins have fallen victim to natural erosion