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Arsacid (Parthian) Dynasty (248 BCE - 224 CE)

Dura Europas

(Parthian Evidence)


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The city of Dura Europos was founded around 300 BCE by Seleucids, soon after Alexander overthrew Achaemenid Persian Empire in 330 BCE. It was alternatively known to local people as Dura, 'the fortress' (the modern compound name Dura-Europos was not used in Antiquity). By the first century BCE it had been absorbed into the Arsacid Parthian empire. In the CE 160s it was seized by the Romans, and then in the 250s was destroyed by the new Persian empire, the Sasanians.


Its history was always dominated by great imperial powers based in the Mediterranean and Iran. in 100 BCE Arsacid Iran liberated Dura from Seleucid dominance, and  after two and half centuries of Arsacid dominance in the CE 160s, aggressive Roman wars against the Parthian empire led to the permanent seizure of Dura and parts of Mesopotamia to its north. From the early 200s, it became a major forward base for repeated Roman aggressions against the crumbling Arsacid power. But by the 230s, Rome occupiers were on the defensive; Parthia collapsed, and in her place arose a new Persian empire, the fourth Iranian dynasty, under the Sasanians, which proved a much tougher proposition.


Within the walls, many of the most important visible archaeological remains belong to Dura’s last decades. The city became more and more dominated by the presence of the Roman army, which took over many buildings and the entire northern part of the town as a garrison cantonment, while its economy was apparently undermined by constant wars and the severing of trade down-river into Persian territory.


Ironically, it was the prolonged and devastating series of wars between Rome and Persia during the third century which resulted in the survival of all this rich testimony down to our times; for things like the wall-paintings of the synagogue and baptistry, behind the city wall between Tower 19 and the Palmyrene Gate, were buried by the Romans in their drastic preparations to withstand an anticipated Persian siege. Once the city fell, the remains were left undisturbed because the region became ‘no-man’s-land’ between the two states.


The Persians built a great siege ramp, and dug several mines under the walls, including one at Tower 19. Here, the Romans tried to stop them undermining the walls, by digging a countermine; but in a sharp underground battle, the Romans were beaten, and the Persians persisted in their task.


"Dura Europos, 'Pompeii of the Syrian Desert'",


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