Palmyra - History and Facts | History Hit


Palmyra, Homs, Syria

Palmyra was an ancient city which became part of the Roman Empire. Its impressive ruins are located in Syria.

Peta Stamper

10 Aug 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Palmyra

Along with many other historical sites in the region, the ancient site of Palmyra is reported to have been heavily damaged in the current conflicts. This page will stand as a live-archived article until it is again possible to assess the state of the Palmyra ruins.

Palmyra was a thriving city of the ancient world, whose impressive UNESCO-listed ruins are located in Syria. Originally known by the Semitic name of Tadmor meaning ‘date palm’  – which is now the name of the neighbouring modern town – Palmyra was once a commercial hub along a busy trade route.

References to Palmyra appear in the Bible as well as in other historical writings, some dating as far back as the 2nd millennium BC. However, it was from the 1st century BC that affluent caravan owners stopped there along the old Silk Road, contributing to its wealth.

Palmyra history

In addition to helping the city flourish, Palmyra’s central location also made it a target for invaders including the Assyrians, the Persians and then the Seleucids. It was under Rome however that Palmyra experienced its peak. As the Roman Empire expanded in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC, Palmyra became one of its provinces. The relationship between the city and Rome developed over time, with Palmyra managing to retain a high level of independence.

The city’s most infamous figure was Queen Zenobia. Following the assassination of her husband, King Odainat, Zenobia claimed control of the region on behalf of the couple’s young son, Vabalathus. After a mighty attempt to claim independence from Rome, in 272 AD, Zenobia’s rule ended when she was taken to Rome. Not long after this, Palmyra’s fortunes began to decline, especially after its people were massacred for rising up against Rome, resulting in the destruction of much of the city.

Successive emperors, such as Diocletian and Justinian, fortified its remains, turning Palmyra into a military outpost and Palmyra was later taken over by Muslim forces, but it never regained its original glory.

Palmyra today

Most of the extensive ruins of Palmyra today – that have not been destroyed during the Syrian Civil War – date back to its time under Roman rule, particularly the 2nd and 3rd centuries.

One of the most imposing and important ruins of Palmyra is the Temple of Bel, a stunningly well-preserved temple to a revered Babylonian deity. Other important sites at Palmyra include the Colonnade of the Decumanus, the Baths of Diocletian, the Tetrapylon, the theatre, the arched gates, the agora, the Senate House and its many funereal monuments and burial sites, some pre-Roman.

Massive restoration efforts are in motion led by UNESCO and world archaeologists to gradually repair the incredible ruins of Palmyra as the conflict allows.

Getting to Palmyra

It is currently not recommended to travel to Syria and since 2019, visitors have require special permissions.

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