The Big Picture
The Big Picture
It is now twenty years since Fergus Millar highlighted the importance of the spectacular archaeological discoveries made at the ancient city known today as Dura-Europos. While praising the energy of the original excavators, he set out the shortcomings of the limited available publications, and called for ‘the entire corpus of material from Dura’, published and unpublished, ‘to be systematically reviewed’ (Millar 1998, 474). Research and publication had, in fact, never entirely ceased, and a new generation of scholars was already busy on both archive and site when Millar wrote. Since then, both the scale and pace of work have sharply increased, effectively developing into a renaissance in Dura studies. It is hoped that what follows will constitute a significant contribution to this wider current enterprise, regarding a key aspect of the city in the final century of its existence: the highly obtrusive Roman military presence. Imperial soldiers were always central to the story of Dura- Europos on the Syrian Euphrates. Founded by soldiers of one empire, it was eventually destroyed in conflict between those of two more, and was even revealed to modern scholarship by troops of a fourth. In 1920 Indian soldiers of the British empire, on what we would now call counter-insurgency operations, camped in the ruins known as Salhiyeh, the ancient name of which was unknown. They started digging defensive trenches, and were surprised to discover wall paintings, one of which depicted a Roman auxiliary regiment making sacrifice (Breasted 1924). The military tribune Julius Terentius, named in Latin, is seen offering incense before three Palmyrene gods, and the Tychai of Palmyra and Dura. Thus the name—as it turned out, one of the twin names—of the city was rediscovered, as was the fact that it had a Roman garrison, here on the eastern fringe of Rome’s empire. Subsequent scientific excavations revealed its other name given by its original Macedonian soldier-settlers: Europos. They also revealed that, in the decades before Dura’s violent destruction by the Sasanians (AD c.256) and permanent abandonment, one of the most prominent features inside its walls was a sprawling Roman military base.
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