, Ptol. 5.15
. § § 19, 24, 8.20.10; Appian, App. BC 5.9
, J. AJ 8.2
; and Palmira, Plin. Nat. 5.25. s. 21
: Eth. Palmyrenus
, or Palmirenus, Id. l.c.), a city of Syria, situated in 34° 24′ N. lat., and 38° 20′ E. long. Its Hebrew name, Tadmor, or Thadmor, denotes, like its Greek one, a city of palms; and this appellation is preserved by the Arabs, who still call it Tedmor.
Tadmor was built, or more probably enlarged, by Solomon in the tenth century B.C. (1 Kings,
9.18; 2 Chron.
8.4), and its identity with Palmyra is shown in the passage of Josephus before cited.
It is seated in a pleasant and fruitful oasis of the great Syrian desert, and is well watered by several small streams; but the river mentioned by Ptolemy is nowhere to be found. Its situation is fine, under a ridge of hills towards the W., and a little above the level of an extensive plain, which it commands on the E. (Wood, Ruins of Parlmyra,
p. 5), at a distance of about 140 miles ENE. of Damascus.
It is not mentioned by Xenophon, who must have passed near it, nor in the accounts of the conquests of Alexander the Great.
The first historical notice that we find of it is in Appian, who tells us that M. Antony, under pretence of punishing its equivocal conduct, but in reality to enrich his troops with the plunder of a thriving commercial city, directed his march towards it, but was frustrated of his object by the inhabitants removing their goods to the other side of the Euphrates. (B. Civ.
This account shows that it must have been a town of considerable wealth; and indeed its advantageous situation must have long rendered it an entrepôt
for the traffic between the east and Damascus and the Phoenician cities on the Mediterranean. Yet its name is not mentioned either by Strabo or Mela. Under the first Roman emperors it was an independent city; and its situation on the borders of the Roman and Parthian empires gave it a political importance, which it seems to have preserved by a well-judged course of policy, though naturally exposed to much danger in the quarrels of two such formidable neighbours. ( “Inter duo imperia summa, et prima--in discordia semper utrinque cura,” Plin. l.c.
) It is called a colonia
on the coins of Caracalla, and Ulpian mentioned it in his first book de Censibus
as having the Jus Italicum.
It appears, from an inscription, to have assisted the emperor Alexander Severus in his wars against the Persians. (Wood, Inscr.
It is not, however, till the reign of Gallienus that we find Palmyra playing any important part in history; and at this period we have notices of it in the works of Zosimus, Vopiscus, and Trebellius Pollio. Odenathus, a noble of Palmyra, and according to Procopius (B. Pers.
2.100.5) prince of the Saracens who inhabited the banks of the Euphrates, for his great and splendid services against the Persians, received from Gallienus the title of Augustus, and was acknowledged by him as his colleague in the empire.
After the assassination of Odenathus by his nephew Maeonius, the celebrated Zenobia, the wife of the former, whose prudence and courage had been of great assistance to Odenathus in his former successes, ascended the vacant throne, and, assuming the magnificent title of Queen of the East, ruled with a manly vigour during a period of five years. Under this extraordinary woman, whose talents and accomplishments were equalled by her beauty, and whose love of literature is shown by her patronage of Longinus, Palmyra attained the highest pitch of its prosperity.
She claimed to be descended from the Macedonian kings of Egypt, and her achievements would not have disgraced her ancestry; though, according to other accounts, she was a Jewess. (Milman, Hist. of the Jews,
iii. p. 175.) Besides the sovereignty of Syria and Mesopotamia, she is said to have extended her sway over Egypt (Zosim. 1.100.44); but by some critics this fact has been questioned. Claudius, the successor of Gallienus, being engaged in the Gothic War, tacitly acknowledged her authority.
But after the termination of the short reign of that emperor, the progress of Zenobia in Asia Minor was regarded by Aurelian with jealousy and alarm. Her arms and intrigues already menaced the security of Bithynia (IB.C. 50), when Aurelian marched against her, and defeated her in two great battles near Antioch and Emesa, at both of which she commanded in person. Zenobia now retreated to Palmyra, and prepared to defend her capital with vigour.
The difficulties of the siege are described by Aurelian himself in an original letter preserved by Vopiscus. (Aurel.
After defying for a long time the arms of the Roman emperor, Zenobia, being disappointed of the succour which she expected to receive from the Persians, was ultimately compelled to fly, but was. overtaken on the banks of the Euphrates by the light horse of Aurelian, and brought back a prisoner. Shortly after this event her capital surrendered, and was treated with clemency by the conqueror, who, however, sullied his fame by the cruel execution of Longinus and some of the principal citizens, whom Zenobia had denounced to him.
The personal adventures of Zenobia we need not pursue, as they will be found related in the Dictionary of Biography and Mythology.
No sooner had Aurelian crossed the Hellespont than he was recalled by the intelligence that the Palmyrenians had risen against and massacred the small garrison which he had left in their city.
The emperor immediately marched again to Palmyra, which now paid the full penalty of its rebellion.
In an original letter Aurelian has himself recorded the unsparing execution, which extended even to old men, women, and children. (Vopisc. Aur.
100.31.) To the remnant of the Palmyrenians, [p. 2.537]
indeed, he granted a pardon, with permission to repair and inhabit their ruined city, and especially discovered much solicitude for the restoration of the Temple of the Sun.
But the effects of the blow were too heavy to be retrieved. From this period (A.D. 273) Palmyra gradually dwindled into an insignificant town, and at length became only a place of refuge for a few families of wandering Arabs.
It served indeed for some years as a Roman military station; and Diocletian partially restored some of its buildings, as appears from an inscription preserved by Wood. About the year 400 the first Illyrian legion was quartered there (Not. Imp.
); and Procopius tells us that it was fortified by Justinian (de Aed.
But this is the last that we hear of Palmyra under the Romans; and the sinking for-tunes of their empire probably soon led them to abandon it.
The remains of the buildings of Palmyra are chiefly of the Corinthian order, which was the favourite style of architecture during the two or three centuries which preceded Diocletian; whence we may infer that the splendour which it once exhibited was chiefly owing to Odenathus and Zenobia. For many centuries even the site of Palhyra remained totally unknown except to the roving Arabs of the desert, whose magnificent accounts of its ruins at length excited the curiosity of the English merchants settled at Aleppo. Under the auspices of the Levant Company, an expedition started in 1678 for the purpose of exploring them; but the persons who composed it were robbed and ill-treated by the Arabs, and compelled to return without having accomplished their object. In 1691 the expedition was renewed with better success, and an account of the discoveries then made was published in the transactions of the Royal Society. (Sellers, Antiquities of Palmyra,
Pref.) Subsequently Palmyra was visited in 1751 by Wood and Dawkins, who published the results of their journey in a large folio volume with magnificent engravings.
The account in Volney (vol. ii.) is chiefly taken from this work. Among the more recent descriptions may be mentioned that of Irby and Mangles (Travels,
ch. v.), who visited Palmyra in 1816.
According to these travellers the plates of Wood and Dawkins have done more than justice to the subject; and although the view of the ruins from a distance, with their line of dazzling white columns extending between one and two miles, and relieved by the contrast of the yellow sand of the desert, is very striking, yet, when examined in detail, they excite but little interest. Taken separately, not a single column or architectural member is worthy of admiration. None of the former exceed 40 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter, and in the boasted avenue they are little more than 30 feet high.
The remains of the Ternmple of the Sun form the most magnificent object, and being of the Ionic order, relieve the monotony of the prevailing Corinthian style.
These columns, which are 40 feet high and 4 feet in diameter, are fluted, and formed of only three or four pieces of stone; and in former times were surmounted by brazen Ionic capitals.
The facade of the portico consists of 12 columns, like that of the temple of Baalbec, besides which there are other points of resemblance. On the whole, however, the ruins are far inferior to those at Baalbec.
At the time of Messrs. Irby and Mangles' visit the peristyle court of the Temple of the Sun was occupied by the Arabian village of Tadmor;
but with this exception, and the Turkish burial ground, the space was unencumbered, and there was nothing to obstruct the researches of the antiquary.
In some places the lines of the streets and the foundations of the houses were distinctly visible.
The sculptures are uniformly coarse and bad; the stone is of a perishable description, and scarcely deserves the name of marble.
The sepulchres outside the walls formed perhaps the most interesting part of the remains.
These consist of square towers, from three to five stories high, forming sepulchral chambers, with recesses for the reception of the bodies.
In these tombs mummies and mummy cloths are found, prepared very much after the Egyptian manner; but there are no paintings, and on the whole they are far from being so interesting as the Egyptian sepulchres.
There was a sculptured tablet in bas-relief, with seven or eight figures standing and clothed in long robes, supposed to represent priests. Several Greek and Palmyrene inscriptions, and two or three in Latin and Hebrew, have been discovered at Palmyra. They will be found in Wood's Ruins of Palmyra,
and the following works may also be consulted: Bernard and Smith, Inscriptiones Graecae Palmyrenorum,
Utrecht, 1698; Giorgi, De Inscriptionibus Palmyrenis quae in Musaeo Capitolino adservantur interpretandis Fpistola,
Rome, 1782; Barthélemy, in Mém de l'Académie des Inscr.
tom. xxiv.; and Swinton, in the Philosophical Transactions,
With regard to the general history and antiquities of Palmyra, besides the works already cited in this article, the following may be consulted: Seller, Antiquities of Palmyra,
London, 1696; Huntington in the Philosophical Transactions,
vol. xix. Nos. 217, 218; a Dissertation by Dr. Halley in the same work; Gibbon's Decline and Fall.
ch. xi.; St. Mart, Hist. de Palmyre,
Paris, 1823; Addison's Damascus and Palmyra;
Cassas, Voyage Pittoresque de la Syrie;
Laborde, Voyage en Orient;