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History, Heritage and Archaeology – Archaeology in the Ancient World: Dura Europos

Year 9 Elective History




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Ancient Origins

Mosaics from the 5 th century AD, one depicting Noah’s ark and the other the parting of the Red Sea by Moses, have been excavated in an ancient Jewish village in Galilee, Israel. The synagogue in which the mosaics have been excavated show other scenes, including battle, possibly Alexander the Great visiting Palestine and a triumphal parade with elephant.


Dura Europos was a Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman border city built on an escarpment above the Euphrates river in eastern Syria. It was conquered in 114 AD and finally captured in 165 AD by the Romans (who greatly enlarged it as their easternmost stronghold in Mesopotamia) and destroyed after a Sassanian siege in 257 AD. After it was abandoned, it was covered by sand and mud and disappeared from sight.

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The Dura-Europos synagogue was an ancient synagogue uncovered at Dura-Europos, Syria, in 1932. The synagogue contains a forecourt and house of assembly with painted walls depicting people and animals, and a Torah shrine in the western wall facing Jerusalem.


Unique circumstances of preservation – including the construction of an earthen embankment to shore up the western city wall and the dry desert sands that packed the site after destruction – make Dura-Europos a rare archaeological resource. The city provides unparalleled glimpses into a multicultural religious life, the running of a military garrison, and domestic coexistence of different ethnic groups, and has preserved hundreds of organic materials that survive in the archaeological record from few other places

Founded in about 303 BCE by Macedonian settlers; typical Seleucid design with a central, colonnaded street, agridiron plan, walls following the contours of the landscape, and a separate citadel on a hill (cf. Apamea, Chalcis, Cyrrhus, Diocaesarea, and Damascus.)