When first established around 300 B.C., Dura-Europos stood as a Hellenistic settlement created by the Macedonian Greeks. The city, located in the Syrian desert alongside the Euphrates River, remained in service for more than four centuries as first, an extension of the Iranian Parthians followed by a campsite for Roman troops to guard the eastern side of their growing empire. Midway through the third century, however, the grounds were taken over by the invading Persian Sasanians. This annexation left the once flourishing city in ruins, depopulated, and deserted. Over the years to follow, Dura-Europos became nothing but a large area of land buried beneath wind-blown sand and rubble.
Dura-Europos, overlooking the Euphrates River (top right)
|A view of Dura from the air (Yale University Art Gallery)|
In April 1920, just after the conclusion of the first World War, a group of British soldiers stumbled across pieces of a mural painting in, what they thought to be, the middle of nowhere. After scraping off excess dirt and grime around the area, the troops realized that they might be standing upon something greater than just a painting left out in the middle of the desert. Archeologists from both France and America were called to the scene to find what would become one of the most famous archeological discoveries of the twentieth century.
As it turns out, those smaller pieces of paintings were originally from the Temple of the Palmyrene Gods, a large sanctuary on the far northwest edge of the city, and there were many more paintings to be found. By 1928, the primary exploration of Dura-Europos was handed over to Yale University with the collaboration of the French Academy of Inscriptions. One Yale faculty member on the expedition was Mikhail Rostovtzeff, a professor of Ancient History, who recalls the early discoveries in his book, Dura-Europos and its Art. Rostovtzeff writes from his point of view, recalling his reactions to discoveries and the beauty that was lost beneath the dust. In one portion of his book, specifically recalling the paintings found, he states,
“I may add that at Dura, as at Pompeii, the walls of public and private buildings, whether painted or not, are literally covered with inscriptions and drawings scratched or traced upon them. No excavated city, except once more Pompeii, has yielded these in such numbers and variety” (Rostovtzeff, 3).
|This synagogue wall painting shows Mordechai and Esther, |
biblical heroes who rescued the Jews from the wrath
of the evil Persian Haman. (Yale University Art Gallery)
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Hopkins, Clark, and Bernard Goldman. "Foreward/The Paintings." The Discovery of Dura-Europos. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979. Print. 13 Mar. 2013.
Matheson, Susan B. Dura-Europos: The Ancient City and the Yale Collection. New Haven: Yale Univ. Art Gallery. Print. 13 Mar. 2013
Perkins, Ann Louise. The Art of Dura-Europos. Oxford [Eng.: Clarendon, 1973. Print.
Rostovtzeff, Michael Ivanovitch. Dura-Europos and Its Art. Oxford: Clarendon, 1938. Print. 15 Mar. 2013.
Silver, Carly. "Dura-Europos: Crossroad of Cultures." Archaeology Magazine. Dura-Europos: Magazine Archive. 2010. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.
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