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How did Palmyra thrive in the desert ?

Posted on Tuesday, 24 July, 2012 | Comment icon 29 comments

Image credit: CC 3.0 Zeledi

With a population of 200,000, the Roman city of Palmyra prospered despite its location in the desert.

Now a crumbling ruin, the once prosperous city would have been a bustling trade hub and oasis in the middle of what was otherwise a dry, infertile desert. To learn more about what made Palmyra so successful, archaeologists have been studying the surrounding area using ground inspections and satellite images. What they found was an extensive series of farming villages within less than a day's walk of the city along with man-made reservoirs and channels laid out between them.

It seems that not only was the area host to extensive farming but that the engineers of the day had found a way to provide water to the city as well. It is thought that the city prospered up until around 700 AD after which time it had started to fall in to ruin.

"Today it's a mirage-like expanse of monumental ruins."

  View: Full article |  Source: National Geographic

  Discuss: View comments (29)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #20 Posted by jules99 on 26 July, 2012, 13:18
I just wonder about the benefits of living in an desert area with predictable climate, good fertile soil and having good water management. Well; the local farmers here are never happy...its not enough rain, its too dry, its too much rain at the wrong time for the crops, its the wrong sort of rain too this too that etc etc. In the desert climate would be predictably dry and water management performed by the farmer as required....Thinking that with the water problem sorted farming might have been easy.
Comment icon #21 Posted by questionmark on 26 July, 2012, 15:26
It had nothing to do with climate or soil, it was simply a crossroads of several important ancient trade routes with plenty of water, that made it a stopover for all traders on those routes who did what they do when not traveling: trade.
Comment icon #22 Posted by lightly on 27 July, 2012, 1:07
Well, ya, i guess it would be predictably warm and sunny.. and most likely a frost free perpetual growing season? Sort of like California If they had lots of water and camel dung i'd think the results could be excellent? As the place was a bit out of the way, probably as much local food as possible was produced? I've been searching a little and see there are a lot of Awesome ruins and remains there... 'Hittite'... Roman.. Arab ... and now Hotels and Pools for sight seers . Very centrally located in the Syrian desert, below the fertile crescent . [click to enlarge] Color map... [More]
Comment icon #23 Posted by jules99 on 27 July, 2012, 22:22
Hi lightly; I dug up this quote; "was so fruitful, that it produced corn twice a year :- and the herdsmen were accustomed to drive their cattle from pasture, lest they should die of satiety. Strabo asserts, that it was covered with palms; and "as for its millet and wheat" say Herodotus, who travelled thither, the former grows to the height of a tree, and the latter produces more than two hundred fold. Of all regions, that I have seen, this is the most excellent" I was interested in the way the area had been terraformed, through water management. There could be ideas there... [More]
Comment icon #24 Posted by lightly on 27 July, 2012, 23:35
Hi Jules, sure enough... very productive. It's an interesting and beautiful place isn't it? I had barely heard of it. Very Ancient apparently, with other names before Palmyra. It had Hot Springs nearby too ! Sounds like some of those have dried up...
Comment icon #25 Posted by The Puzzler on 28 July, 2012, 11:09
I have an antique book an old lady once gave me called Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra by The Rev. William Ware, I've never read it but maybe I will now.
Comment icon #26 Posted by lightly on 28 July, 2012, 12:24
Hi Puzz, maybe you should Ancient History Sourcebook: Vopiscus: Aurelian's Conquest of Palmyra, 273 CEThis ores on Zenobia is a paraphrased excerpt from Hist.Aug. XXV-XXXIV. the Latin text is online at [thanks to Bill Thayer for tip.][Introduction (adapted from Davis)]During the disasters of the middle of the third century CE the Asiatic provinces of the Empire were nearly torn away, first by the Persians, then by the rulers of Palmyra, a thriving and powerful city situated upon an oasis in the Syrian desert. From 266 to 273 CE... [More]
Comment icon #27 Posted by The Puzzler on 28 July, 2012, 12:42
Yes, that's it, it's typed old and says: A Tale of the Roman Empire in the Days of The Emperor Aurelian. Sounds quite a tale, worth a read indeed.
Comment icon #28 Posted by The Puzzler on 28 July, 2012, 12:48
Zenobia (240 – c. 274) was a 3rd-century Queen of the in . She led a famous revolt against the . The second wife of King Septimius , Zenobia became queen of the Palmyrene Empire following Odaenathus' death in 267. By 269, Zenobia had expanded the empire, conquering and expelling the Roman prefect, Tenagino Probus, who was beheaded after he led an attempt to recapture the territory. She ruled over Egypt until 274, when she was defeated and taken as a hostage to Rome by Emperor . Zenobia in Chains by Harriet Hosmer

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