Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Religion and language in Dura-Europos

Kaizer, Ted

Religion and language in Dura-Europos Thumbnail



H.M. Cotton

R.G. Hoyland

J.J. Price

D.J. Wasserstein


Dura-Europos was rich in gods and rich in languages. The unique religious and linguistic situation of this fortress town on the Middle Euphrates reflected its vicissitudes. Founded as the Macedonian colony Europos on a plateau overlooking the river, Dura was under Parthian control (with a brief Roman interlude in 116/7 CE) from the late-second century BCE until 165 CE. Lucius Verus' campaigns brought in the Roman troops who, nearly a century later, would be defeated by the Sasanians in 256 CE. Throughout most of the Parthian and Roman phases a large Palmyrene contingent was to be found in the town too. The now legendary excavations from the 1920s and 1930s by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres revealed a wide spectrum of pagan cults, coming from different spheres of influence, in addition to a synagogue (famous because of its unique murals, with their illustrations of scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures) and a Christian house church. Graffiti and inscriptions, as well as the remains of writing on more perishable material, show an even more remarkable diversity of languages and dialects in use, with the classical languages supplemented by Aramaic (including Palmyrenean, Hatrean and Syriac), Hebrew, Parthian and Middle Persian, and the ancient north Arabian dialect known as Safaitic. Though not one of the grand Levantine cities, Dura-Europos was no marginal outpost either, and the abundance of archaeological findings makes it potentially our best case study for social and religious life in a normal Near Eastern small town under the early and high Empire. So far, however, neither the religious life nor the language situation has received the attention that has long been due.

Publication Date Sep 1, 2009
Deposit Date Jun 25, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jun 29, 2015
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Pages 235-254
Book Title From Hellenism to Islam : cultural and linguistic change in the Roman Near East.
Chapter Number 9
ISBN 9780521875813
Public URL


Accepted Book Chapter (296 Kb)

Copyright Statement
© Copyright Cambridge University Press 2009. This chapter has been published in a revised form, subsequent to editorial input by Cambridge University Press in Kaizer, Ted. "Religion and language in Dura-Europos", From Hellenism to Islam. Ed. Hannah M. Cotton, Robert G. Hoyland, Jonathan J. Price, and David J. Wasserstein. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. pp. 235-254.

You might also like

Downloadable Citations