A Brief History of Looting and Modern Efforts to Prevent Plunder

لمحة تاريخيّة موجزة عن النهب، ومساعٍ حديثة لمنعه

Keynote speaker: Leila A. Amineddoleh

As violence rages in Afghanistan, many experts believe it will lead to increased looting of cultural artifacts and destruction of historic sites. Since ancient times, conflict has been accompanied by the looting and destruction of cultural sites. Unfortunately, this trend has persisted through the centuries. During the first two decades of the 21st century, looting has raged across the Middle East, in part due to the US invasion of Iraq, the Arab Spring, and other political unrest throughout the region.

The keynote speech will address looting throughout history (with an emphasis on the Middle East and Syria), as well as the long-term effects of looting and loss of historic record. The talk will then examine the development of legal tools used to prevent destruction and looting, and how those laws developed in concert with changing norms concerning both private and public ownership of heritage. Finally, the talk will address the current state of the law for heritage protection, dangers to archaeological sites, the market for looted artifacts, and difficult questions concerning the role of international institutions protecting objects and sites.


Monuments and Memory at Dura-Europos

معالم وذكرى في دورا-أوروبوس

Ted Kaizer

This paper will focus on the creation of various kinds of memories at Dura-Europos through monuments that are mainly preserved from the Parthian and Roman periods. Together, they have built up modern notions of culture and society at the Euphrates small town. But different monuments create different memories for different groups of people at different moments in time. Thus, memory creations regarding a Macedonian foundation (through the relief of the Gad of Dura, crowned by Seleucus Nicator), Trajan’s conquest (through the arch located outside the city walls), religious benefactions (through dedicatory inscriptions and murals in the temples), the Palmyrene homeland (through reliefs depicting Palmyrene deities), or the Jewish past (through the painted walls of the synagogue), will have acted as catalysts in different degrees. This paper will therefore ask questions as to the way in which these and other instances served to exhibit perceptions of the town’s historicity, in recognition of the fact that not all memory creations will have had similar impact on Durene society.

Staying at Home or Taking Away: Palmyrene Priestly Iconography as Expressions of Local Traditions

البقاء في المنزل أو الابتعاد عنه: الأيقنة الكَهَنوتيّة البالميريّة باعتبارها تعبيرًا عن العادات المحلّيّة

Rubina Raja

Within the corpus of the Palmyrene sculpture, consisting of about 4,000 objects, more than 350 objects depicting priests or their attributes are known. Only four objects depicting Palmyrene priests, however, have been found outside of Palmyra, all of them in Dura-Europos. Three of these objects are today in the collection at Yale University Art Gallery. This paper will focus on the overall consistent iconography used to represent Palmyrene priesthood across almost 300 years, but will also delve into the changes encountered over time, changes which underline the high awareness of trends and fashions and shifting attitude in Palmyrene elite society. The few objects depicting Palmyrene priests found in Dura-Europos enter the discussion as such outliers, symbolising that despite a strict focus on local religious practices in Palmyra, the depiction of priesthood could in some cases travel – at least as far as Dura-Europos – most likely since priesthood was as much a status symbol underlining high social standing as it was an actual office.

Local, Regional, and Long-Distance Economic Activity in Dura

النشاط الاقتصاديّ المحلّيّ والإقليميّ والنشاط الاقتصاديّ عن بُعد في دورا

Sitta von Reden

The role of Dura-Europos in long-distance trade has been debated since Michael Rostovtzeff’s influential description of Dura as a “caravan city” located at a strategic position on the Euphrates. More recent research has questioned this role by pointing to the almost complete absence of explicit evidence for the city’s involvement in long-distance trade. In 2016, Kai Ruffing established a middle ground by arguing that, in the third century at least, some Roman landowners of Dura with considerable spending power were involved in regional exchange that might have been interconnected with long-distance networks extending to the Gulf, and beyond.
This paper will aim to take the discussion further by analysing the evidence of the economic connectivity of Dura into the concepts of globalisation theory. This might help to break down unhelpful distinctions between local, regional, and long-distance economic activity in a cosmopolitan city like Dura-Europos.

The Problem of the “Semitic” World at Dura and in Ancient History

مشكلة العالم “الساميّ” في دورا وفي التاريخ القديم

Kevin van Bladel

A pervasive theme throughout the modern historiography of Dura is a putative enduring contrast between colonizers and natives, conceived as Greek and Semitic respectively. One finds, for example, historians writing about the Semitic speech of Dura, the Semitic gods of the place, the Semitic alphabets in use there. Although more recent scholars rightly distance themselves from the explicitly racial approaches of research on Dura of one half-century ago, some of the terms in use have endured sometimes without reflection. Without tedious scolding about Orientalism, this paper will investigate and historicize the term Semitic and other key-terms by which modern scholars have sought to answer the question, “Who were the people of Dura?” (and other inhabitants of Syria under Roman rule).


Dura and the Problem of Parthian Art A Hundred Years Later

دورا ومشكلة الفنّ البارثيّ بعد مئة عام

Henry Colburn

In 1935 Mikhail Rostovtzeff published his now classic essay ‘Dura and the Problem of Parthian Art.’ Written in the midst of the excavations of Dura-Europos, the essay was an attempt to define the characteristics of Parthian art. Although the details of his argument have not held up to critical scrutiny, his overall approach remains quite valuable. In particular, there are three elements of Rostovtzeff’s essay that are still especially relevant today. The first is his view that Parthian art was a cogent phenomenon, not the naïve eclecticism of imperial parvenus. The second is that the style of Parthian art was a deliberate choice, rather than a result of the gradual degradation of a Greek aesthetic. In other words, Parthian art looked the way it did for a reason. Third, Rostovtzeff used what might be termed a ‘black hole model’ of Parthian art. He believed that even in the absence of an excavated Arsacid imperial center, Parthian art could nevertheless be studied through its effect on adjacent artistic traditions, such as at Dura-Europos. Based on these three factors, Rostovtzeff’s essay remains the best lens through which to view the problem of Parthian art.

Rostovtzeff’s Dura

دورا في عين روستوفتسيف

Jaś Elsner

This paper explores Mikhail Rostovtzeff’s engagement with Dura Europos in the context of his larger range of intellectual projects both in America and beforehand. It examines what the special case of Dura brought to the bigger picture of Rostovteff’s scholarly programme and what he personally brought to the interpretative nexus that controlled the Preliminary Reports as well as the earliest of the Final Reports. That contribution moulded the interpretation of the site for ever, and not necessarily for the best, since it was tendentious in the extreme.

The Ruins that Remain: Remembering Dura-Europos in Salihiyeh

الآثار المتبقّية: استرجاع دورا-أوروبوس في الصالحيّة

Jennifer A. Baird

The legacy of Dura-Europos is well-known through hundreds of scholarly publications and continuing work in the archives of the excavations held by Yale University Art Gallery. The absences in the traditional accounts of Dura’s excavation history are also increasing evident, including the role of local archaeological labour, and the relationship between local Syrian communities such as that of Salihiyeh—the settlement on the Euphrates immediately beneath the plateau on which Dura sits—and the archaeological site. This talk will present preliminary results of oral history research conducted in partnership with Syrian colleagues which attempts to address such archival absences and speaks to alternative legacies. That research examines the relationship between local people of Salihiyeh and al Athar (‘the ruins’), including local responses to the catastrophic destruction in the years since the Syrian conflict began, and asks whether digital platforms might provide opportunities for 21 st century Syrian voices to become part of Dura’s continuing history.

The Bloody Genesis of Dura-Europos Studies: Colonialism and Violence at Salihiyeh 1916-1920

النشأة الدمويّة لِداراسات دورا-أوروبوس: الاستعمار والعنف في الصالحيّة 1916-1920

Simon T. James

Identification in 1920-22 of Salihiyeh as ancient Dura-Europos was an outcome of Anglo-French carve-up of the Middle East following collapse of Ottoman power in 1918. The first archaeological discovery in March 1920 was accidentally made by British Indian troops (sepoys) from Iraq, who had seized temporary control of the region during negotiation of the border line between future Iraq and Syria. Archaeologist James Breasted worked at Salihiyeh for a single day, when the sepoys revealed another painting, attesting the name ‘Doura’. This, 4 May 1920, is the symbolic birthday of Dura-Europos Studies. Breasted’s accounts record recent British fighting with Arab insurgents, but suggest uneasy peace during his visit. However, British military archives reveal a shockingly different picture. Transformation of Salihiyeh into a globally important archaeological heritage site began amidst prolonged and bloody fighting, involving pitched battles, shelling of villages, bombing of tented camps, and probably hundreds of deaths. The origins of Dura studies lay in the midst of a small colonial war, in which the people of the Middle Euphrates fought for an independence doomed, for decades to come, by the British and, soon after, the French. Archaeology at Dura was, then, from the outset morally compromised by entanglement with violent Western colonial domination of the region, and direct dependence on Imperial military power, also characterising Cumont’s work in 1922-3, and, slightly less blatantly, the Yale expedition. This stark reality has to be acknowledged. Yet there is more to the dark tale of violence at early twentieth-century Salihiyeh than a simplistic good guys vs bad guys narrative of Arab nationalist freedom fighters heroically resisting evil empires. Other evidence indicates that the people of the Salihiyeh region had been actively involved in far greater, almost unimaginably horrific acts just a few years before, in 1916. Modern scholarship, with Western roots but today increasingly global, reveals a recent history of the region in which few actors had clean hands…

The Pillaging of Dura Europos: ISIS and the Illicit Trade in Antiquities

نهب دورا-أوروبوس: داعش والتجارة غير المشروعة في القطع الأثريّة

Amr Al Azm

Syria’s cultural heritage has been an early casualty of this conflict through the systematic looting and deliberate destruction of many of its archaeological sites and monuments. So, when ISIS began to occupy large swathes of territory in Syria in the latter half of 2013 and early 2014, it came upon an already-thriving trade in looted antiquities.

Recognizing that as a potential source of income, ISIS institutionalized and intensified this process of looting in areas under its control at sites like Dura-Europos, and Mari. This coincided with an exponential increase in popularity of social media platforms like Facebook in the region which became one of the main routes to sell and traffic looted antiquities.

Then 2015 heralded a darker and more sinister manifestation of ISIS’s control and exploitation of cultural heritage, which can only be described as cultural atrocities. This included the destruction of numerous religious sites and monuments most famously, temple of Bel at Palmyra. This paper aims to trace the evolution of the systematic looting and destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage by ISIS and other groups through the site of Dura-Europos and the role of social media like Facebook in facilitating and amplifying this phenomenon.

New trends in Mithraic studies: Experiencing the Dura-mithraeum

اتّجاهات جديدة في الدراسات الميثرائيّة: خوض تجربة دورا-ميثرايوم

Lucinda Dirven

Since its discovery in 1934, the Dura-mithraeum has played a central role in studying all aspects of the cult of Mithras in the Roman Empire. Recently, a paradigm shift occurred in this field of study. An important aspect of this new approach is the trend to interpret material remains as evidence of individual religious experience and practices, instead of illustrations to religious ideas and theological concepts. The present paper sets out to interpret the rich archaeological record of the Dura-mithraeum in this light. Once more, this unique monument makes an important contribution to the discussion.

Carving, Writing, Touching, Gouging: Tactility and Interactivity in the Dura-Europos Synagogue

النحت والكتابة واللمس والتجويف: حاسّة اللمس والتفاعليّة في كنيس دورا-أوروبوس

Karen Stern Gabbay

Paintings from the Dura-Europos synagogue have dominated scholarship of the building since its discovery. Reasons for this are abundant and include the murals’ striking depictions and interpretations of biblical stories, which retain rare information about Jewish culture and ritual life in third-century Syria. Yet disproportionate attention to these paintings, in aggregate, has prioritized the ocular dimensions of synagogue life, re-inscribing visuality as the primary medium for historical engagement with the space. But seeing was not the only means of experiencing devotional landscapes in Dura. Indeed, there were other sensory means by which visitors to the Dura synagogue meaningfully engaged with their elaborately decorated surroundings to perceive, encounter, and interact with the holy and with each other. This paper re-imagines this reality, by considering the significance of additional types of sensory experiences historically conducted in the Dura synagogue, as mediated through properties of touch. It argues that the reconsideration of archaeological evidence for ancient peoples’ interfaces with the walls and architecture of the synagogue, as documented by unofficial inscriptions, drawings, and modifications to the paintings, allows us to theorize, in new ways, about ancient relationships—not only between visitors and the paintings they regarded— but also between visitors and the tactile dimensions of their built environment.

Debating the Domestic at Dura-Europos: The Christian Building in Context

مناقشة المسائل المحلّيّة في دورا-أوروبوس: العمارة المسيحيّة في السياق

Camille Angelo and Joshua Silver

At the ancient city of Dura-Europos, private homes were architecturally adapted across the late second and third century by different religious groups to serve the needs of their communities. Although the Christian Building, Synagogue, and Mithraeum all began as domestic structures and share a similar architectural development, the former’s domestic origins have received unique attention and ongoing emphasis. This has been cultivated and maintained across decades of scholarship, both through the use of terminology that presupposes a quasi-domestic character for the building, and in the efforts to situate the structure within a model of Christian architecture that endorses a direct progression from house-church to basilica. Through a critical reexamination of the archeological and material evidence for the architectural adaptations made to the building by a Christian community in the third century, this paper argues that the emphasis does not align with material reality, but is a product of modern assumptions about ancient space. A quantitative analysis of the architectural adaptations indicates that, following its renovation to accommodate Christian community use, the building did not bear a material relationship with the specific domestic structure that had preceded it. Comparison of three-dimensional reconstructions and daylight simulations of the structure before and after renovation reveal that the architectural adaptations reconfigured the space such that visitors could use and experience it in ways that were categorically different from its domestic antecedent and, importantly, effectively divested it of the key architectural features that constituted Durene household space. Disentangling the material reality of the structure from modern imaginings, the Christian Building emerges a product of its unique built environment. The long-held view of the structure as occupying a pivotal place in a seamless trajectory of Christian architectural development is thereby shown to be untenable, while the contextual approach emerges as fruitful not only for fresh consideration of early Christianity and ritual space, but for understanding religion and the built environment at Dura-Europos more broadly.

Military Communities from East to West: Understanding Local Contexts and Responses at Dura-Europos and Vindolanda

المجتمعات العسكريّة من الشرق إلى الغرب: فهم السياقات المحلّيّة والتجاوبات في دورا-أوروبوس وفيندولاندا

Elizabeth M. Greene and Craig Harvey

Through decades of exploration, both Dura-Europos and Vindolanda have offered unique and extraordinary opportunities to understand better the Roman army and the lives of soldiers serving Rome. From the Vindolanda tablets to the Dura papyri, together with dozens of exceptional artifacts practically unknown elsewhere, the sites have pushed scholars to reconsider how the Roman military operated in both war and peace. At the same time, the sites are extraordinarily different, which allows a robust comparison and the possibility to see a range of responses to community organization in the military environment. While Vindolanda was a purpose-built fort and extramural settlement on the northwest frontier in Britannia, Dura was a multicultural city on Rome’s eastern frontier with an urban military base, which integrated the army into the fabric of the city in a way that was mostly unseen in the western empire. Nevertheless, the two sites speak to the same questions concerning the composition of the extended military community and how that population supported the Roman army and its soldiers. This paper looks at the comparable archaeological evidence from both sites to understand how their unique situations directed the organization and composition of the communities that surrounded the Roman army. The differences between the two sites highlight the necessity to incorporate local contexts and responses into our understanding of life in the empire, while the similarities may reveal uniformity in military organization and social reality.

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