Fort Zenobia

7 February 2009
The southern wall and the citadel

The southern wall and the citadel

The big wars between the Roman Empire and the Sasanian king Shapur in the mid-third century proved that Rome’s defenses on the Euphrates were insufficient. The Palmyrene rulers therefore built Fort Zenobia, named after their queen/empress, and now better known as Halebiye. It was rebuilt several times, a/o by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. This reconstruction is described in some detail by Procopius (Buildings, 2.8.8-25).

On the opposite bank is a similar fort, poorly preserved, now called Zalebiye. This gained some fame as the place of an Israeli air strike in September 2007.

A view from the citadel.

A view from the citadel.

Zenobia, which covers about twelve hectares, remains impressive: the fifteen massive towers and the praetorium are almost intact, just like Justinian’s fantastic walls. The southern wall is about 550 meters long and connects the citadel on the hill to the river; the northern wall is 350 meters long. The praetorium is adjacent to the northern wall, halfway up the hill: a multi-storeyed building with a very large hall that would have been called a knight room in more recent fortifications.

Less well preserved are the 385‑meter-long wall along the river, which had to contain the Euphrates, the bathhouse, the palaestra, the governor’s house, and the two basilicas. The East Basilica probably dates to the fifth century, the West Basilica was built by Justinian.

My new webpage is here. And it is little bit special, because it is the 3333rd page on the site.


15 November 2008
Bust from the Museum of Palmyra, said to be Odaenathus


This blog has some hundred hits every day, so I think there’s a reasonable chance that someone knows the answer to this question: is this man the Palmyrene ruler Odaenathus?

Probably, the answer is yes. In his Syria, Land of Civilizations (1999), Michel Fortin has no doubt about the identification, and I have not found any blatant errors in that beautiful book. The man who ordered the bust wears a laurel wreath, which also suggests that he is a Roman-style ruler. What worries me, though, is that the Museum of Palmyra does not add an explanatory sign that says that this bust represents the famous Palmyrene ruler who restored order in the Roman East. On the other hand, it is in a display that immediately attracts attention: a suitable place for so important a military leader. Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 352 other followers