Roman Palmyra: Identity, Community, and State Formation

Roman Palmyra: Identity, Community, and State Formation


By (author) Andrew M. Smith


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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Hardback | 320 pages
  • Dimensions: 160mm x 239mm x 30mm | 544g
  • Publication date: 21 February 2013
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0199861102
  • ISBN 13: 9780199861101
  • Illustrations note: 45 illus.
  • Sales rank: 1,123,973

Product description

In social, economic, and cultural terms, the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire was vastly complex, which has fueled considerable debate among scholars concerning the nature of the interactions between Romans and natives in the Near East. Notions of imperialism, specifically "cultural" imperialism, frame much of the debate. Through a detailed analysis of Palmyrene identity and community formation, Andrew M. Smith II presents a social and political history of Roman Palmyra, the oasis city situated deep in the Syrian Desert midway between Damascus and the Euphrates river. This city-state is unique in the ancient world, since it began as a humble community, probably no more than an isolated village, and grew-due in part to its role in the caravan trade-into an economically powerful, cosmopolitan urban center of Graeco-Roman character that operated outside of Roman rule, yet under Roman patronage. The book therefore focuses on two aspects of Palmyrene civilization during the first three centuries of the Common Era: the emergence and subsequent development of Palmyra as a commercial and political center in the desert frontier between Rome and Parthia (and later Persia), and the "making" of Palmyrenes. This study is thus concerned with the creation, structure, and maintenance of Palmyrene identity and that of Palmyra as an urban community in a volatile frontier zone. The history of Palmyra's communal development would be wholly obscure were it not for the archaeological and epigraphic materials that testify to Palmyrene achievements and prosperity at home and abroad. These, complemented by the literary evidence, also provide insight into the relatively obscure historical process of sedentarization and of the relationships between pastoral and sedentary communities in the Roman Near East. In addition to examining Palmyra as a frontier community, the book will move beyond Syria to explore the development and maintenance of Palmyrene identity in diaspora settings in Italy, north Africa, and Europe. This study is thus concerned with the creation, structure, and maintenance of Palmyrene identity and that of Palmyra as an urban community in a volatile frontier zone.

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Author information

Andrew M. Smith II is Assistant Professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at George Washington University.

Review quote

"This significant book presents a stimulating discussion of the way in which the unique local identity of Palmyra, the famous caravan city in the Syrian steppe, found expression in the Roman period. Its focus is both on the city's peripheral location, between Rome and Parthia, and on its own internal development as a community. Smith makes an important contribution to the on-going debate on Palmyrene tribalism, the city's role in the long-distance trade and its position in the frontier zone, and the identity of Palmyrenes abroad. The book will doubtless help in granting Palmyra its rightful place in the center of modern scholarship on the Classical world." --Ted Kaizer, Durham University"Andrew Smith provides a nuanced analysis of the Palmyrene social and cultural identity, and the means by which individuals self-identified as Palmyrene maintained their distinctive culture on the challenging frontier between Parthia and Rome. Inscriptional and archaeological evidence illuminate this rare example of a tribal society that integrated countryside and city." --John Peter Oleson, University of Victoria"An admirable study of Palmyra in the first through third centuries A.D. ...[Smith] draws richly and expertly on the epigraphical legacy of the Palmyrenes, not only in Syria but in Italy, Egypt, and Yemen." --The Classical Journal Online

Table of contents

Acknowledgments ; List of Figures ; List of Abbreviations ; Chapter 1: Framing the Narrative ; Chapter 2: Tribes and Tribalism ; Chapter 3: The Growth of Community ; Chapter 4: Mapping Social Identities ; Chapter 5: The Civic Institutions of Palmyra ; Chapter 6: The Palmyrene Diaspora ; Chapter 7: The Palmyrene Empire: A Crisis of Identity ; Chapter 8: Retrospect and Broader Implications ; Bibliography ; Index