Ancient city situated on the west bank of the Middle Euphrates, today known as Tell Ṣāliḥiyya, some 90 km. south-east of Dayr al-Zor, Syria. King Seleucus Nicator founded the city at a place known as Dura around 300 BC and gave it the name of his birthplace in Macedonia, Europos. In antiquity, either the name Dura or Europos was used; the combined name Dura-Europos is a modern invention.
After having been ruled by the Macedonians and Greeks, the city was conquered by the Parthians around 113 BC and remained a military outpost of the Parthian Empire until AD 165. In that year the city came under Roman rule and was to play an important role in the defense of the Roman Empire. Around 250, the Sasanians took hold of the city. Following its destruction, in 256, the city was abandoned and fell into oblivion. Rediscovered in 1920, Dura was excavated mainly by a French-American team between 1928 and 1937. Work was interrupted by the Second World War and was only resumed in 1986, now by a Syrian-French mission.
Both its military role and its function as a commercial center in the trade between East and West explain the presence of many sojourners of various origins, having different religions and speaking different languages. Greek, in all likelihood, was the main language for official purposes throughout the history of the city and most inscriptions are in Greek. In addition, various Aramaic language forms must have been spoken and written, although it has not been possible to pinpoint the local dialect of Dura. In the inscriptions of the synagogue, Jewish Aramaic is found, and the Palmyrene community of Dura used the Palmyrene Aramaic language and script. A few inscriptions are in Syriac, comparable to the non-Christian inscriptions of Edessa (most recently Bertolino, 54–8). In recent years Dura has received much scholarly attention for the ways in which different religious communities co-existed and interacted (Dirven; Elsner; Kaizer), while the exceptionally rich iconography of the Jewish synagogue has been studied in connection with early Christian art (Weitzman and Kessler).
Among the many important archeological discoveries there is a Christian assembly house with a baptistery annexed to it. The baptistery is decorated with wall paintings, representing scenes from the OT (e.g., Adam and Eve, David and Goliath) as well as from the NT (e.g., the Good Shepherd, Christ walking on the water, Resurrection scenes). Inscriptions are in Greek; a graffito from the courtyard, however, may be interpreted as a Syriac alphabet (Bertolino, 57). A unique Greek parchment fragment containing some verses of the Diatessaron provides a further reference to Christianity in this garrison town around the middle of the 3rd cent.
More significant for Syriac studies is the discovery, early in 1933, of a Syriac parchment (catalogued as P. Dura 28) describing the purchase made by a resident of Ḥarran of a twenty-eight year old female slave from an Edessene lady. The transaction is dated in ‘the month of Iyyar, the year 554 by the former reckoning’ and in ‘the year 31 of the Freedom of ... Edessa ...’, which is AD 243 (the Freedom of Edessa refers to the city gaining the status of a Roman colonia in 213). This document bears witness to the use of Syriac as the language of official transactions in Edessa and its environs, in the middle of the 3rd cent. Situated outside the realm of Edessene Christianity, the language of this document is the continuation of the language used in inscriptions of Edessa and Osrhoene. Two more Syriac legal documents from the Middle Euphrates area, also dating from the early 240s, which came to light in the 1980s, provide further evidence to the use of Syriac for secular purposes (see Old Syriac documents).
- R. Bertolino, Corpus des inscriptions sémitiques de Doura-Europos (2004).
- L. Dirven, The Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos. A study of religious interaction in Roman Syria (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World 138; 1999).
- L. Dirven, ‘Religious competition and the decoration of sanctuaries. The case of Dura-Europos’, ECA 1 (2004), 1–20.
- eadem, ‘Paradise lost, paradise regained: The meaning of Adam and Eve in the baptistery of Dura-Europos’, ECA 5 (2008), 43–57.
- Drijvers and Healey, The Old Syriac inscriptions, 231–48.
- J. Elsner, ‘Cultural resistance and the visual image: The case of Dura-Europos’, Classical Philology 96 (2001), 269–304.
- J. A. Goldstein, ‘The Syriac bill of sale from Dura-Europos’, JNES 25 (1966), 1–16.
- C. Hopkins, The discovery of Dura-Europos, ed. B. Goldman (1979).
- T. Kaizer, ‘Religion and language in Dura-Europos’, in From Hellenism to Islam. Cultural and linguistic change in the Roman Near East, ed. H. M. Cotton et al. (2009), 235–53.
- C. H. Kraeling and C. Bradford Welles, The Christian Building (The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report, VIII, 2; 1967).
- Millar, Roman Near East, 478–81.
- K. Weitzmann and H. L. Kessler, The frescoes of the Dura Synagogue and Christian art (1990).
How to Cite This Entry
Footnote Style Citation with Date:
Lucas Van Rompay, “Dura-Europos,” in Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition, edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay (Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018), https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Dura-Europos.
Bibliography Entry Citation:
Van Rompay, Lucas. “Dura-Europos.” In Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage: Electronic Edition. Edited by Sebastian P. Brock, Aaron M. Butts, George A. Kiraz and Lucas Van Rompay. Digital edition prepared by David Michelson, Ute Possekel, and Daniel L. Schwartz. Gorgias Press, 2011; online ed. Beth Mardutho, 2018. https://gedsh.bethmardutho.org/Dura-Europos.
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