ISIS Captures Syrian City of Palmyra

Archaeology news


The Temple of Bel in the historic Syrian city of Palmyra. Photo: Odilia’s image is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The historic city of Palmyra in Syria has fallen to the Islamic State—known as ISIS or ISIL—after a seven-day siege, according to reports. Located in the Syrian desert 134 miles northeast of Damascus, ancient Palmyra, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, sat along important trade routes.

The city of Palmyra is called by its Semitic name, Tadmor, in early historical records. In the early-second millennium B.C.E. Mari tablets, the oasis is referenced as a caravan stop.
Palmyra’s historical importance is summarized in the July/August 1999 issue of Archaeology Odyssey:

From 1900 to 100 B.C.E., Palmyra served as a stopover for caravans making their way from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. After the Roman invasion of Syria in 100 B.C.E., it became a prosperous Roman colony; merchants from all over the Eastern Empire traveled there to trade in spices, perfume, silks, glassware and objets d’art.

The city’s floruit continued until 270 C.E., when the brilliant and powerful Syrian Queen Zenobia spearheaded a disastrous insurrection against Rome. No match for the mighty legions of the Emperor Aurelian, Zenobia’s armies were crushed; the Syrian queen was arrested and Palmyra was stripped of its riches and transformed into a drab imperial garrison.

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palmyra-mapDuring the Roman imperial period, the city of Palmyra grew into a prosperous settlement, boasting walled fortifications, a temple to Bel, a theater, an agora, colonnaded streets and urban quarters. The splendor of the once-thriving ancient city is apparent in the monumental ruins that remain—for now.

ISIS seems to have taken control of major facilities in Palmyra, the Guardian reports. Local residents have been evacuated from the area, and, according to the BBC, hundreds of statues have been moved to a secure location. In the last year, the extremist group has looted and destroyed major historic archaeological sites in Syria and Iraq, including Aleppo, Nineveh and Nimrud.

Trafficking in antiquities has been compared to other lucrative criminal enterprises, including the drugs and arms trade. Read more about the antiquities market in “Sold to the Highest Bidder: Antiquities as Cash Cows.”

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

ISIS Plants Explosives in Ancient City of Palmyra

ISIS Executes Antiquities Scholar in Syrian City of Palmyra

Temple of Baal Shamin in Palmyra Blown Up by ISIS

Satellite Images Confirm ISIS Destruction of Temple of Bel and Other Monuments in Palmyra

ISIS Destroys Antiquities in Mosul, Iraq

Archaeological Looting and the Destruction of Cultural Heritage

Ancient Coins and Looting

Digital Humanities and the Ancient World


7 Responses

  1. Arnie L. says:

    Sometimes the only difference between the ancients and we moderns is that we exchanged their idols for ours. When the destruction of a culture or a people, no matter how old or contemporary, gets excused with theological invention, that’s idolatry. I assumed only intelligent, fact seeking people subscribed to BAR. From a previous comment in this forum I guess I was wrong.

  2. Robin says:

    It is a shame what this group has done in other regions. I would suppose they might justify things on grounds of the objects being idolatry. The difference between the “temple to Bel” THEN and the temple to Bel NOW — is that it is an item of history, not of worship. I don’t think anyone seriously –attn: FRANCIS above — seriously believes in this or many other ancient deities in our day. The loss is meant to destroy culture, more than anything. And yes, ISIS is a cancer, as CHARLES H noted, which needs to be excised before it causes more damage. And FRANCIS, again, it might be so that “Christ is returning soon”m but Jesus said “it is not for you to know times or seasons” and that His coming will be at “an hour when no one expects.” (See Matt 24 and Acts.) Thus, it is hard to read much into the emergence of ISIS — except trouble, massacre, pain, and subjugation or death for many.

  3. Chuck Eypper says:

    ISIS represents a cancer that needs to be excised before it is too late. If our governments won’t stop the wanton desecration of ancient sites that belong to all of mankind, then perhaps a modern Western Crusade is needed to roll back the heathen, ensure the safety of the world’s heritage, and recover ancient sites already damaged before they are totally erased.

  4. Kurt says:

    A wilderness location where Solomon did building work sometime after 1017 B.C.E. (2Ch 8:1, 4) Tadmor is commonly identified with the city known to the Greeks and Romans as Palmyra. Its ruins lie in an oasis on the northern edge of the Syrian Desert about 210 km (130 mi) NE of Damascus. A nearby village is still called Tudmur by the Arabs. If correctly identified with Palmyra, Tadmor may have served as a garrison city for defending the distant northern border of Solomon’s kingdom and also as an important caravan stop.(Insight, Volume 2 it-2 pp. 1061-1062).
    Islamic State Captures Tadmur (Palmyra) in New Sudden Streak of Offensives.

  5. Francis says:

    ‘A temple to Bel’… Isn’t it Baal, instead? What if these criminal ISIS people were actually accomplishing God’s will in destroying the ancient city that had a temple to Baal? Christ is returning soon and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lord has already started judging and condemning the false gods, using bad people like ISIS to accomplish His perfect will.

  6. Gary Harper says:

    There is very little difference between ISIS and Communism: since they are not legitimate, they seek to remove any memory of the past, so that you have nothing to look backward to. Within a generation, you will know only their slavery, and nothing else. That has always been the Statists’ plan.

  7. E. Harding says:

    Thanks, Obama.

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