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Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos

Author(s): David MacDonald

Source: Historia: Zeitschrift fr Alte Geschichte, Vol. 35, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 1986), pp. 45-68
Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag
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Zeitschrift fr Alte Geschichte.
I. 253?
Forty years ago Michael Rostovtzeff published an influential article in which
he attempted to elucidate the events surrounding the end of Dura-Europos.'
Rostovtzeff's major thesis hinges upon the interpretation of numismatic
evidence, and here Rostovtzeff relied entirely upon the conclusions of Andreas
Alfoldi, who hypothesized continuous activity by the Antioch mint from 253
to 25 8/9.2 According to this arrangement, no Sasanid capture of Antioch could
have taken place within that period, and the Res Gestae divi Saporis (RGDS),
the great inscription of the Sasanid king Sapor I, places the capture of Dura in
the same campaign as the capture of Antioch.' Rostovtzeff thus argued that a
capture of Antioch and so also of Dura must have come in 253, in the interval
between the last coinage of the Antioch mint in the name of Trebonianus
Gallus and the first coinage for Valerian.4 Rostovtzeff believed he found some
support for this arrangement of events in Zosimus and the Sibylline Oracle,
but he was constrained to admit that the chronological authority of these
sources is minimal.5
A major inconsistency confronted Rostovtzeff in the archaeological record
at Dura. Clear numismatic evidence indicated that the city did not fall until at
least 256 - the grave of a hastily buried victim of the Sasanid siege that took the
city contained the latest coins found there, part of the next-to-last issue of the
Antioch mint for Valerian, struck in 256 according to Alfoldi's arrangement.6
Moreover, unburied corpses in a siege-mine carried a variety of coins, the latest
specimens of which belong to the Antioch issuc lst prior to the latest coins
M. I. Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae divi Saporis and Dura," Berytus 8 (1943-4), pp. 17-60, here
particularly pp. 30-60.
2 A. Alfoldi, "Die Hauptereignisse der Jahre 253-261 n. Chr. im Orient im Spiegel der
Munzpragung," Berytus 4 (1937), pp. 42-45, 53-66.
Res Gestae divi Saporis, Greek version: line 17; Middle Persian version: illegible; Parthian
version: line 7. There is still no definitive edition of this important inscription; the best available
are M. Sprengling, Third Century Iran: Sapor and Kartir (Chicago, 1953); A. Maricq, "Classica et
Orientalia 5: Res Gestae divi Saporis," Syria 35 (1958), pp. 295-360; more convenient is M. Back,
Die Sassanidischen Staatsinschriften (Acta Iranica, Series 3, no. 18; Textes et Memoires, vol. VIII;
Leiden; 1978), pp. 284-371.
Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," pp. 46-60.
Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," pp. 46-60.
6 For the bases of Rostovtzeff's numismatic reasoning and details about the latest coins from
Dura, see the pendant article following immediately after that of Rostovtzeff: A. R. Bellinger,
"The Numismatic Evidence from Dura," Berytus 8 (1943-4), p.p. 64-71.
Historia, Band XXXV/1 (1986) ( Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden GmbH, Sitz Stuttgart
from the hasty burial.! Rostovtzeff was faced by a contradiction: Alfoldi's
arrangement of the coins, combined with the evidence of the RGDS, indicated
that Antioch and Dura both fell in 253, but the same arrangement of
numismatic evidence recovered at Dura placed the fall in 256. One apparently
could not reject one conclusion without also rejecting the other, and
Rostovtzeff was not willing to reject either. Rostovtzeff's way out was to
hypothesize that the invasion which included the conquest of both Antioch
and Dura did take place in 253 and was followed by a victory of Odenathus
over Sapor I which led to the Roman re-occupation of Dura. Finally,
according to Rostovtzeff, Dura was taken and destroyed in 256 during a minor
campaign, ignored by the RGDS and all other sources.8 After arriving at this
conclusion, Rostovtzeff then searched for archaeological confirmation at
Dura.9 The a priori character of Rostovtzeff's reasoning is apparent, but the
thesis cannot be simply dismissed. It has become generally accepted and
continues to exercise broad influences.'0 The evidence cited in support of the
thesis must be examined piece by piece.
Rostovtzeff adduced as proof the evidence of coin hoards, interpreted in
detail by A. R. Bellinger in an article published with that of Rostovtzeff.1'
Bellinger cites six coin hoards as evidence for the capture of the city in 253.
Two (6,20) consist entirely of eastern provincial base silver tetradrachms, and
two others (2,18) have a relatively few coins of other sorts mixed with a much
larger number of tetradrachms. In each instance, the latest coins are tetra-
drachms of Trebonianus Gallus, struck in 253. A fifth hoard (12) consists of
municipal bronzes, terminating again with a coin of Gallus. The sixth hoard (7)
was composed of tetradrachms to Philip I, denarii to Gordian III, and
antoniniani terminating with a specimen of Gallus. Twenty-one hoards and
hoard-like groups of coins were recovered at Dura, and, in Bellinger's words,
"it is certainly striking that six should give evidence of having been buried in
253, as against five (counting Hoard V and the coins with the corpses) buried
in 255-6 when we know the town was taken."'12
Rostovtzeff also sought to find evidence of a Sasanid conquest during 253 in
two wall paintings from Dura. The first is a badly damaged composition
7 Bellinger, "Numismatic," pp. 65-71; A. R. Bellinger, The Coins (The Excavations at Dura-
Europos: Final Report VI; New Haven, 1949), pp. 181 and 187.
"Res Gestae," pp.
9Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," pp. 56-60.
'? Q. v. infra p. 5 and nn. 20-22.
Bellinger, "Numismatic," pp. 64-71; fuller treatment of the hoards is to be found in A. R.
Bellinger, Two Roman Hoards from Dura-Europos (Numismatic Notes and Monographs no. 49;
New York, 1931); A. R. Bellinger, The Szxth, Seventh and Tenth Dura Hoards (Numismatic
and Monographs no. 69; New York, 1935); Bellinger, Coins, pp. 165-187, 209-210.
Bellinger, "Numismatic," p. 65.
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 47
covering the wall of a private house, showing in a naive but clearly Iranian
style a very fragmentary representation of a feast and below that a cavalry
battle in which lancers of apparently Sasanid type defeat figures whom
Rostovtzeff identified as Romans (Fig. 1). Figures in the battle are labeled in
Sasanid Middle Persian, but the condition of the dipinti has prevented any
consensus about their interpretation. Rostovtzeff sees in this mural a Sasanid
victory over the Romans, drawn by an Iranian artist, and he argues that this
could only have been executed during a Sasanid occupation of the city. Since
there was no evidence of Sasanid occupation after the final capture of the city
in 256, Rostovtzeff concluded that the painting must have been made in 253
and supposed the unfinished work remained undisturbed during the Roman
re-occupation in its relatively obscure location in a private house.'3
The second painting, or rather black-line drawing, was found on a wall in
the office of the actuarius of the Twentieth Palmyrene Cohort (Fig. 2).
Centrally, a male figure sacrifices to the god Jarhibol, whose statue is being
crowned by a Victory and an eagle. To the right is another smaller man
sacrificing at an altar and a large figure of Victory. To the left, a cavalryman in
elaborate Palmyrene dress advances on a horse toward the right; beneath the
horse are three rows of small circles. Between the horseman and the main
sacrificant stands a small figure with palm and perhaps a wreath. Rostovtzeff
interprets the scene as a sacrifice to Jarhibol by a chief officer of the Twentieth
Palmyrene Cohort, attended by Odenathus, in celebration of the recovery of
Dura after the Sasanid occupation of 253. The circles beneath the horse he sees
as gold coins strewn before Odenathus.i4
Rostovtzeff's initial thesis was further bolstered by subsequent study of
Parthian and Middle Persian dipinti and graffiti. Such inscriptions in the
famous Dura synagogue record the visits and viewings of the synagogue
paintings by a number of Iranian scribes. Some scribes bear good Mazdian
'3 Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," pp. 56-5; earlier publication of the "battle mural," A. M. G.
Little, "The Sassanian Fresco," The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Report of Fourth
Season of Work: October 1930-March 1931 (New Haven, 1933), pp. 182-206 and pl. XVIII; M. I.
Rostovtzeff and A. M. G. Little, "La Maison des fresques de Doura-Europos," Memoires de
l'institut national de France, Acadenmie des inscriptions et belles-lettres 43 (1933), 167-190; M. I.
Rostovtzeff, "Dura and the Problem of Parthian Art," Yale Classical Studies 5 (1935), pp. 283-288
and figs. 82-83; M. I. Rostovtzeff, "L'Art gr6co-iranien," Revue des arts asiatiques 7 (1931/32),
218-221. The work may be finished; the main subjects are painted, the lesser outlined with details
drawn. Rostovtzeff presumably felt all was to be painted and considered the sketched portions to
be preliminary drawings. The sketches, however, contain an abundance of detail not appropriate
for preliminary work.
'4 Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," pp. 58-59; for earlier publication of the painting, C. Hopkins,
"The Temple of Azzanathkona," in The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Report of Fifth
Season of Work: October 1931-March 1932 (New Haven, 1934), pp. 153-156 and pl. XXXVI;
Rostovtzeff, "Dura," pp. 249-252 and fig. 57.
9 11 -
S 7~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~L
ZQ : .\ .. e 1; . .
theophoric names; Kraeling, author of the final excavation report on the
synagogue, concludes that the scribes were not Jews.'5 Several of the dipinti are
dated, all those legible within a nine month period in the fourteenth and
fifteenth year of an unspecified reign. Since the synagogue was constructed in
the mid-240s and buried in the mound re-inforcing the city-wall, constructed
shortly before the destruction of the city about 256, the only possible reign of
sufficient length is that of the Sasanid King Sapor 1.16 According to W.
Ensslin's determination of Sapor I's coronation date, all of the legible dated
Iranian inscriptions in the synagogue were written in 253.17 If Dura were then
occupied by the Persians, it would seem to provide a context and explanation
for the inspection of the synagogue by Iranian scribes, who dated their
activities by the regnal dates of the Sasanid king."8
Rostovtzeff initially expressed his theory with utmost reserve:"
I feel hesitant about suggesting my hypothesis even as a mere possibility.
And yet it is perhaps better to mention it briefly, in order to make it
easier for fellow students to find another way out of the impasse to
which my analysis of the evidence has brought me.
Scholars have subsequently shown less caution, and the thesis that Dura fell
briefly to the Sasanids in 253 has been generally accepted, usually with little
hesitation or comment. It has influenced significantly the direction and tenor
of subsequent research both on Dura-Europos itself and also in such diverse
fields as Roman and Sasanid political history, numismatics, art history, and
linguistics.20 Further, it has become so much a part of the accepted historical
15 C. H. Kraeling, with contributions by C. C. Torrey, C. B. Welles, and B. Geiger, The
Synagogue (The Excavations at Dura-Europos: Final Report VIII, Part I; Yale, originally
published 1956; augmented edition 1979), pp. 336-339, also B. Geiger, "The Middle Iranian
Texts," in the same work, pp. 283-317.
1 Geiger, "Middle Iranian," pp. 300-317: dipinti dated to years fourteen and fifteen are nos.
42, 43, 45, 50; nos. 44 and 49 have been restored as such but the preserved traces are very
uncertain; nos. 46, 47, 48, and 51 are dated by day and month but not year; nos. 52-56 bear no
17 W. Ensslin, Zu den Kriegen des Sassaniden Schapur I (Sitzungsberichte der Bayerischen
Akademic der Wissenschaften, philosophisch-historische Klasse. Jahrgang 1947, Heft 5; Munich,
1949), pp. 6-8.
8 Kraeling, Synagogue, pp. 336-339 advances this argument with hesitation and reserve,
pointing out, among other things, that the date of Sapor I's accession is far from certain, q. v. infra
p. 61-62 and n. 65.
9 Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," p. 52.
The following, by no means comprehensive, citations indicate the breadth of works that
have accepted without substantial examination the hypothesis that Dura was captured in 253:
Kraeling, Synagogue, pp. 336-339; W. B. Henning in S. H. Taqizadeh and W. B. Henning, "The
Dates of Mani's Life," Asia Major 6 (1957), p. 119; W. B. Henning, "Mitteliranisch," in
Handbuch der Orientalistik (Abteilung 1: Der Nahe und Mittlere Osten; Band IV: Iranistik,
Abschnitt 1: Linguistik; Leidan, 1958), p. 46; R. A. G. Carson, "The Ham& Hoard and the
Eastern Mints of Valerian and Gallienus," Berytus 17 (1967-8), pp. 132-3; Hans Roland Baldus,
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 51
tradition that there is a tendency toward circularity of argument: Rostovtzeff
initially used his interpretation of the "battle mural" as one proof that Dura
was occupied in 253; in a recent study, Goldman and Little use the occupation
of 253 to help explain the "battle mural."'" The early chronology for Sapor I's
reign has been used to date the Middle Persian dipinti from the Dura
synagogue to an occupation of 253, and the thesis that the dipinti were written
during an occupation of 253 has been used to support the early chronology.22
The few doubts that have been expressed about the occupation lack specificity
and have had little influence.23
Rostovtzeff was led initially to hypothesize the occupation of 253 by
Alfoldi's interpretation of the numismatic remains and his own understanding
of the literary texts. More recent examinations of this evidence has lead to
substantial revisions, showing that the fall of Antioch occurred about 256,
rather than 253 as Rostovtzeff believed, and in good accord with the
numismatic dating of the final destruction of Dura.24 Moreover, Rostovtzeff's
Uranius Antoninus: Munzpragung und Geschichte (Antiquitas, Reihe 3, Band t1; Bonn, 1971),
pp. 263-265 (I hope to take up the question of the role of Uranius Antoninus/Sampsigeramus
elsewhere); C. J. Brunner, "The Iranian Epigraphic Remains from Dura-Europos,"Journal of the
American Oriental Society 92 (1972), pp. 492-7; B. Goldman and A. M. G. Little, "The Beginning
of Sassanian Painting and Dura-Europos," Iranica Antiqua 15 (1980), pp. 289-298. The most
recent examination, Erich Kettenhofen, Die romisch-persischen Kriege des 3.
n. Chr.
nach der Inschrift a-hpuhrs I. an der Ka'be-ye Zartost (?KZ) (Beihefte zum Tubinger Atlas des
Vorderen Orients, Reihe B (Geisteswissenschaften) Nr. 55; Wiesbaden, 1982) repeats, pp. 77-78
and 91-96, the doubts felt by others concerning the possible temporary occupation of Dura in 253
and the general chronological problems of Rostovtzeff's thesis, but falls back virtually without
question on the explanation provided by Baldus, Uranius Antoninus, pp. 263-5. See here n. 24.
21 Goldman and Little, "Beginning," pp. 289-298; Goldman and Little nowhere cite the article
of Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," in which he evolved the theory of an occupation of Dura in 253.
Kraeling, Synagogue, p. 337; Henning, "Dates," p. 119.
A. Perkins, The Art of Dura-Europos (Oxford, 1973), p. 6: "It is possible that the Sassanians
captured it [Dura] in 253 and held it briefly, although in the author's opinion the evidence for this
is not conclusive." C. Hopkins, The Discovery of Dura-Europos (New Haven, 1979), p. 71
concludes "the hoards of A. D. 253 are grim reminders of the price of a sucessful defense rather
than a defeat and occupation." Neither view has had much influence. Despite Hopkins' rejection
of Rostovtzeff's hypothesized occupation of 253, Hopkins seems to accept Rostovtzeff's date of
253 for the campaign described in the Res Gestae divi Saporis, mistakenly thinking the date is
derived from the document itself: Hopkins, Discovery, pp. 246 and 263.
24 A. Maricq in E. Honigmann and A. Maricq, Recherches sur les Res Gestae divi Saporis
(M6moires de l'Academie royale de Belgique, Lettres, t. XLVII, fasc. IV: Bruxelles, 1953),
pp. 131-142; On the dating of the final capture of Dura to 257 rather than 256, q. v. infra section
II. Baldus, Uranius Antoninus, pp. 263-265 and, following Baldus, Kettenhofen, Kriege, p. 91,
make an unsuccessful attempt to severe the linkage between the captures of Antioch and Dura.
Baldus argues that Sapor I's campaign lasted more than a single year, with Antioch falling in 253
and Dura in 256, and that the order of the captured cities preserved in the RGDS is defective,
requiring rearrangement. The phrase used to describe the campaign in the RGDS is ambiguous (?V
thesis contradicts the only textual description of the fall of the city. The Res
Gestae divi Saporis states that Dura and the other cities taken in the campaign
"all we burned with fire and devastated and ravaged."25 Rostovtzeff himself
points out that there is no evidence of any damage at Dura that can be
attributed to 253.26 The final destruction of the city agrees well with the
description given in the Persian source.27 While the circumstances that led
&ywyf in the Greek version, line 12; Baldus completely ignores the Parthian, which
in any case is not appreciably clearer; the Middle Persian is illegible), and the inclusion of
Cappadocian cities in the list does demonstrate that it could include geographically distant areas,
but Baldus simply dismisses without really answering Rostovtzeff's argument, "Res Gestae,"
pp. 22 n. 11, 24, 52, that the campaign was a single season, the usual length of operations by
Roman and Sassanid armies. The term &ywyn is also used in the RGDS for the campaign in which
Valerian was captured and eastern Anatolia looted and by implication for the earlier campaign
against Gordian III: Tn &
TQLTfl a&ywy[ff]
(RGDS Greek version, line 19). The earlier certainly
took just a single season, and there is no compelling reason to conclude the second took longer. If
the RGDS had used &ywyi in the sense of
as Baldus maintains, p. 264, the campaign in
Syria involving Dura and Antioch and the campaign in Anatolia after the capture of Valerian
should be incorporated into a single account. No peace was made between the two, and in no sense
have they ever been considered separate wars, yet the RGDS treats each as a separate atywyi. T'he
excavations at Dura also tell strongly against Baldus' theory; life there seems to have proceeded in
normal fashion between 253 and 256, with no hint of prolonged Sasanid operations in the area:
Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," pp. 52-53.
Baldus' attempt to re-order the cities listed in the RGDS as captured during the Syrian
campaign rests upon the tacit assumption that the individual cities fell immediately upon the
appearance of Sasanid troops. Dura, however, clearly resisted for some time and had to be reduced
by siege. Some cities are likely to have surrendered or fallen quickly, while others will have held
out for varying times. It is to the credit of the RGDS that it avoids inposing an artificial neatness
on the list of captures. Minor differences between the versions of the RGDS reflect careless
copying of the archetype; no version deserves automatic preference.
Metcalf's analysis of the coinage of Antioch for 253, "Antioch Hoard," pp. 71-94, leaves
scarcely any time for a Sasanid conquest during that year and none at all for the sort of general
destruction indicated in the literary texts. Uranius Antoninus can well be explained without
reference to Sapor I's invasion, as a usurper of 253 motivated by the chaotic situation within the
empire and the Persian threat without. Specific connections between Uraninus Antonius and the
Sasanid invasion are tenuous and unreliable. Baldus, and Kettenhofen by following him, has fallen
into the trap of trying to relate all matters even roughly contemporary to his chosen subject,
Uranius Antoninus. See Thomas Pekary, review of Baldus, Uranius Antoninus, in Schweizer
Miinzblitter, Jahrgang 23, Heft 89 (Feb. 1973), pp. 15-18.
25 RGDS Greek version: lines 11-12; Middle Persian version: lines 6-7, virtually all illegible;
Parthian version: line 5.
26 Perkins, Art, p. 7 writes "Some evidence of burning and pillage is to be seen in the city, and
it may have been Sassanian iconoclasm which was responsible for the breaking of so many
sculptures, but the city as a whole was not put to the torch." Mud brick cities, such as Dura,
simply do not burn well. There is evidence of burning, and the city was clearly wasted and
Perkins, Art, p. 7 (cf. n. 26).
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 53
Rostovtzeff to form his thesis appear thus to have disappeared, the thesis
nevertiheless remains and continues to play such a role that it deserves a
thorough review of the supporting evidence.
Rostovtzeff cited numismatic evidence prominently, and Goldman and
Little in a recent study label it the chief support of the hypothesis.28 In reality,
the Dura coin hoards offer no genuine corroboration of the supposed capture
of 253. Two hoards (6, 20) are composed entirely of tetradrachms and two
others (2, 18) primarily of tetradrachms with a minor mixture of a few earlier
coins of other sorts. Tetradrachms were not coined after 253 but remained in
circulation until after the destruction of Dura. The run-away inflation of the
third century lay still some few years in the future. As Bellinger himself
acknowledged, these coins could have been hoarded at any time between 253
and the destruction of Dura.29
A fifth hoard consists entirely of municipal bronzes, the latest of which is
again a coin of Trebonianus Gallus. Of the fourteen identifiable mints
represented by the coins of the hoard, no less than twelve had ceased
production permanently before the beginning of the joint reign of Valerian and
Gallienus in 253.30 Two, Antioch ad Orontem and Neocaesarea Ponti, did
produce bronzes under Valerian, but these cities are distant from Dura, and
bronze coins travelled relatively slowly between towns in comparison to the
larger silver denominations. The excavations at Dura recovered 10,759 bronze
coins struck between the beginning of the reign of Septimius Severus in 193
and the fall of the city; among these are only three specimens from the joint
reign of Valerian and Gallienus.3" A hoard assembled in Dura on the eve of the
destruction of the city, usually dated to 256, would have had only a very slight
chance of containing a bronze coin struck after 253.
The sixth hoard (7) may have been deposited in 253, but again not
necessarily so. Bellinger interprets this hoard of tetradrachms, denarii, and
antoniniani as gradual accumulation put aside during a period of approxi-
mately three decades before 248, to which the owner added a single
28 Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," p. 56 n. 74a, refering the reader to Bellinger, "Numismatic,"
pp. 64-65; Goldman and Little, "Beginning," p. 296.
29 Bellinger, Coins, p. 167 in reference specifically to Hoard 2 but logically applicable to the
others as well.
30 Hoard recorded in Bellinger, Coins, pp. 177-178 [Hoard 12]; B. V. Head, Historia
Numorum (second edition, 1911, reprint: London, 1963): relevant mints terminating before
Valerian: Amasia, p. 496; Caesarea, pp. 752-753; Carrhae, p. 814; Comana, p. 498; Cyrrhus, p.
777;, pp. 814-815; Jerusalem, pp. 809-810; Laodicea, pp. 781-782; Nisibis, p. 815;
Rhesaena, p. 815; Singara, p. 816; Zela, p. 499; Antioch terminates with Valerian, pp. 788-780;
Neo-Caesarea terminates with Gallienus, p. 497, but no such specimen was recovered at Dura.
3' Bellinger, Coins, number derived from statistics on pp. 62-107; specimens from the joint
reign of Valerian and Gallienus: p. 81 no. 1742: Valerian, from the city mint of Antioch; p. 89 no.
1887: two specimens of Gallienus, from the city mint of Tyre.
antoninianus of Gallus that he "happened to have about him."32 The
hypothesis makes good sense except for the unarticulated assumption that the
last coin added was necessarily of the most recent mintage. The chance of a
single coin randomly taken from circulation representing the most recent
mintage is relatively small; it most likely would have been struck at some
earlier time. Antoniniani from other Durene hoards deposited in the 250s often
consist in half of coins from reigns earlier than the time of deposit, and the
coins from the current reign are typically distributed in a chronological
sequence of issues from the beginning of the reign until the time of deposition,
the most recent often under-represented because of the time necessary for the
coins to travel from the mint to Dura.33
Rostovtzeff, Bellinger, and those who have followed their arguments have
implied, without actually claiming, that the hoards in question were buried at
the date of their most recent coins.34 They have not appreciated sufficiently
that the latest coins provide only a terminus post quem and that the character of
these hoards is consistent with the pattern of Dura's currency throughout the
years from 253 until the destruction of the city. These hoards may have been
buried in 253, but they are lust as likely or even more likely to have gone into
the ground in 254, or 255, or 256. As such, they provide no evidence of a
Sasanid capture of Dura in 253.
The "battle mural" was found in the remains of a private house.35 The upper
register, now present only in small part, bore a banquet scene. Below, also
damaged but to a lesser degree, is a depiction of a cavalry battle, represented as
a series of individual contests with one side universally successful. Three
Bellinger, Coins, p. 172.
3 Bellinger, Coins, pp. 165-181: in three hoards antoniniani of the most recent reign are out-
numbered by antoniniani of previous reigns: pp. 165-166 Hoard 1: 99 antoniniani of the most
recent reign, distributed over several issues, as against 182 antoniniani of previous reigns;
pp. 166-167 Hoard 2: 5 antoniniani, all of reigns prior to the latest coin, a tetradrachm of Gallus;
pp. 170-172 Hoard 7: 1 antoninianus of the most recent reign as against 75 antoniniani of previous
reigns; in one hoard and the coins from the hasty burial of a soldier ("Hoard 17" of which
Bellinger, Coins, p. 181 remarks "strictly speaking they are not a hoard at all.") antoniniani of the
most recent reign predominate: pp. 175-177 Hoard 10: 99 antoniniani of the most recent reign,
distributed over several issues, as against 49 of previous reigns; p. 181 "Hoard 17" - the burial
coins: 40 coins of the most recent reign, again distributed over several issues, against 5 of previous
reigns. No other hoards from Dura contain antoniniani.
Bellinger, "Numismatic," pp. 64-65, cited by Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," p. 57 n. 74a.
3 Supra n. 13. Detached fragments indicate there may have been mounted bowmen (hunters?)
above the banqueters, Little, "Sassanian," p. 189. Rostovtzeff ultimately changed his mind about
the "battle mural," reattributing its creation to the Persian occupation after the fall of Dura in 256,
"Dura-Europos," in Enciclopedia dell'arte antica, classica e orientale (Roma, 1960), p. 191. This
recantation has had little effect, e. g. it is unmentioned in the major article on the "battle mural" by
Goldman and Little, "Beginning," although, p. 294 n. 25, they cite Rostovtzeff at precisely
location concerning his late opinion that the Sasanids occupied Dura after 256 as a military post.
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 55
horsemen, painted in a much larger scale than the others, have mostly flaked
away. Five smaller pairs, drawn in a naive outline style and labeled in part in
Middle Persian, are badly rubbed. Attempts to read the Middle Persian dipinti
have resulted in virtually complete disagreement.36 The poor condition of the
dipinti exacerbates the difficulties inherent to the ambiguous cursive letter
forms of the Middle Persian script. No consensus about their interpretation
exists or seems likely. A small group of desert animals, sloughi dog, hare, and
jackal, appear at the lower margin of the battle, helping to set the scene.37
Rostovtzeff's thesis explaining the "battle mural" (Fig. 1) proves defective
both in formulation and detail. He argues that such a painting, glorifying "in
the Iranian style a Parthian or Sassanian victory over anybody, much less over
Romans" could not have been executed in Dura except during a time of
Persian control, i. e. 253, but that the mural was located in a place sufficiently
obscure and its meaning sufficiently unclear to allow its survival during the
Roman reoccupation of 253-256.38 The inconsistency of the argument is
apparent. If the mural were sufficiently treasonous and public to make its
creation in Roman-occupied Dura unthinkable, its survival would also be
unthinkable. If it were sufficiently obscure in location and significance to
survive during the reoccupation, it was sufficiently innocuous to have been
created without risk. All this supposes that Rostovtzeff's interpretations both
of the mural and of the political situation are correct, but there is good reason
to question these also.
The date of the mural is far from certain. Style indicates the third century,
and the use of Middle Persian points toward a time after the rise of the Sasanid
Dynasty about 226. A generation passed between that event and the fall of
Dura, and there is no basis other than a priori judgement to place the mural
more precisely within that period. Many events within that busy period could
have provoked creation of the mural.
The identity of the combatants is also far less certain than Rostovtzeff and
his followers have allowed. The victors certainly resemble Iranians, but they
lack a surprising number of attributes expected of specifically Sasanid
Little, "Sassanian," pp. 199-206, reporting the contradictory conclusions of Pagliaro,
Benveniste, and Torrey.
3 The statement of Goldman and Little, "Beginning," p. 285 that the animals establish "the
scene as a document of an historical event" is a non sequitur; small drawings of animals can no
more establish the "battle mural" as the portrayal of an historical event than similar drawings of
desert animals establish the Durene painting of Mithra hunting, Perkings, Art, Plate 16, as an
historical event. Hopkins, Discovery, p. 71, cited by Goldman and Little, does not maintain the
animals establish historicity, but rather only establish locale; in fact, Hopkins, p. 71, does not
believe the city was occupied in 253 and sees the painting as no more than a specimen of "Durene
art . . . in the current artistic tradition."
Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," p. 57.
horsemen.39 Not all Iranians sided with the Sasanids against Rome, and not all
who look like Iranians were so. The Arsacid Dynasty lingered on the East as
Roman allies for a long time. Their leader, Chosroes, fell victim to political
assassination in Armenia about 252, but even later Arsacids, along with
followers and retainers, remained in Roman lands, the traditional refuge of
dissident Iranians from the time of Augustus until the coming of Islam.40
Broad Iranian influence is apparent at Dura and throughout the Roman
East. One need not go so far in time and space as Artabanes, the Syriarch of the
late second century, to find Iranian nomenclature in high society; Odenathus'
vizier at nearby Palmyra was called Vorodes.41 At Dura itself Iranian names
appear in such varied contexts as the family of the strategos of the city, a high
official of the synagogue, member of a firm of money-lenders and merchandiz-
ers, and the families and troops of the Cohors XX Palmyrenorum.42
3 Goldman and Little, "Beginning," pp. 289-290 cite the absence of korymbos, chest harness,
and fluttering ribbons as against the extremely large decorative tassel (Puscheln) hanging below the
largest horse and the Sasanid-style trousers. Goldman and Little maintain that the Parthian tassel is
smaller than the Sasanid, but the difference is not compelling in this case, given the elephantine
proportions of the horse bearing it. Moreover, note the very large Puscheln below the horse of the
Parthian king Artabanus V in Ardashir I's relief at Firuzabad, W. Hinz, Altiranische Funde und
Forschungen (Berlin, 1969), pp. 115-119, 135-136. The earliest known appearance of the Sasanid-
style trousers seems to be after the fall of the Parthian dynasty, but the relevant monuments are
few, and fewer still can be accurately dated. See for instance the Sasanid-style trousers on a figure
accompanied by a Parthian legend, of uncertain date but hardly likely to be later than the earliest
years of the Sasanid dynasty: W. B. Henning, "A new Parthian Inscription, "Journal of the Royal
Asiatic Society 1953, pp. 132-136 and P1. V. The editorial footnote in Little's initial publication of
the fresco is still valid, "The argument, then, that the equipment of the Parthians, of the third
century A. D., differed from that of contemporary Sassanians must be advanced with caution,"
Little, "Sassanian," p. 193 n. 23 "Editorial note."
C. A. H. XII p. 132.
Artabanes, the first Syriarch, at the time of Commodus: Malalas 12.372 and 381, also Jean
Gage , "Les Perses a Antioche et les courses de l'hippodrome au milieu du Ille siele," Bulletin de
la Faculte des Lettres de Strasbourg 31 (1953), pp. 308-309; lulius Aurelius Septimius Vorodes,
vizier (argapetes) of Palmyra, iuridicus, and procurator ducenarius: A. H. M. Jones, J. R.
Martindale, and J. Morris, The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 1 (Cambridge,
1971), pp. 981-982.
42 Tiridates, son of the strategos Septimius Lysias: J. Johnson, "Inscriptions," in The
Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Report of Second Season of Work: October 1928-April
1929 (New Haven, 1931), pp. 148-151; Arsaces, high official of the Dura synagogue: Kraeling,
Synagogue, pp. 265-278; Phraates, partner of the well-known Nebuchelos: C. B. Welles,
"Graffiti: The House of Nebuchelus," in The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Report
of the Fourth Season of Work: October 1930-March 1931 (New Haven, 1933), pp. 79-145,
particularly pp. 119-120, 130, 138. Iranian names associated with the Cohors XX Palmyrenorum:
the trooper Afarnes (Aurel. Afarnes Bassi), C. B. Welles, R. 0. Fink, J. F. Gilliam, The
Parchments and Papyri (The Excavations at Dura - Europos: Final Report V, Part I, ed. A.
Perkins; New Haven, 1959), 100 xlii, 22 and 101 xlii, 13; Orthonophates, father of Heliodoros,
probably but not certainly a soldier of the cohors XX Palymyrenorum: 46, I and Verso I;
Orobazos, father of Aur. Alexander: 129, 2; Meheridates Barginnaia: 101 vii, 4. C. B. Welles,
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 57
Parchments, ostraca, dipinti, and graffiti in Sasanid Middle Persian and
Parthian, as well as Sasanid coins and pottery, were found in some number at
Dura.43 Scholars have often assumed these stem from the hypothetical
occupation of 253 or a brief Persian occupation after the final siege, but some
at least seem to have originated at earlier dates. Only a single graffito bears a
certain date - it was cut in the Seleucid year 522 (A. D. 211/212), long after the
Romans had taken Dura from the Parthians and long before the Sasanids were
to take the city from the Romans." The implication is obvious; not only were
there people with Iranian names at Dura, there were also Iranian speakers.
Palmyrenes and Durenes, even those without Iranian names, adopted
Persian costume with little change and followed new styles as they appeared.45
The victors of the "battle mural" could well be Palmyrenes or Durenes or
troops of the Cohors XX Palmyrenorum or another locallystationed unit. The
dress of eastern auxiliaries during the third century is unknown, but one can
hardly expect these regionally-recruited troops, in part horsemen and in part
camel riders,46 to have been clothed in anything other than the functional dress
of the country. Numerous graffiti from Dura show Iranian-style riders; not
one shows any other sort of rider that may be identified with the troops of the
local garrison.47 It seems most unlikely that the Durenes devoted all their
"The Population of Roman Dura," Studies in Roman Economic and Social History in Honor of
Allan Chester Johnson (Princeton, 1951), p. 272 concludes, "One has the impression that any
racial sense of nomenclature was lost." The point is well made, and applies as well to artistic styles
and clothing. Iranian influence was pervasive, but it cannot be identified with nationality or
political allegiance.
Parchments, ostraca, dipinti, and graffiti: R. N. Frye, The Parthian and Middle Persian
Inscriptions of Dura-Europos (Corpus Inscriptionum Iranicarum, Part III: Pahlavi Inscriptions,
Vol. III: Dura-Europos, Portfolio I: Plates I-XXXIV; London, 1968) and literature cited there, as
well as Brunner, "Iranian," pp. 492-497; Coins: Bellinger, Coins, p. 10 nos. 157-163 and
pp. 118-119; Pottery: N. Toll, The Green Glazed Pottery (The Excavations at Dura-Europos:
Final Report IV: Part I, Fascicle I; New Haven, 1943), pp. 9-11. The presence of these objects
may more naturally be attributed to trade and social intercourse than conquest and occupation.
4 Frye, Inscriptions, graffito 36, following the reading of Henning, "Mitteliranisch," pp. 41-42
and Brunner, "Iranian," p. 493.
4S H. Seyrig, "Armes et costumes iraniens de Palmyre," Antiquit6s Syriennes (Deuxieme Serie:
Extrait de Syria 1934-1936-1937, corrige sur certains points; Paris, 1938) pp. 45-73; M. A. R.
Colledge, The Art of Palmyra (London, 1976), pp. 145-153, 255-264; Perkins, Art, pp. 121,
46 Horsemen among the cobors XX Palmyrenorum: Welles et al., Parchments, documents nos.
56 A-C, 58, 64A, 66PP, 82, 83, 87, 88, 89, 94, 95, 97, 100, 130; camel riders, documents nos. 82, 88,
89, 91, 94, 100, 101, 102.
47 Rostovtzeff himself points this out as a puzzling contradiction, "Dura," pp. 263-4; despite
this, most others have followed this lead apparently without question. It is striking that
Rostovtzeff was so unwilling to see elements of Dura's garrison in the sketches from the city of
mounted warriors in Iranian-style clothing yet so eager to identify Roman eastern auxiliary troops
and allies in the vanquished of the "battle fresco," who are equipped in essentially similar manner;
artistic energies to depicting foreigners and completely ignored their own
garrison. Many written graffiti refer to the troops, including one in the very
room of the "battle mural", where the name of Legion III Cyrenaica appears
on a wall.48
The identity of the defeated is even less secure. Only two of the figures
approach legibility; confused fragments remain of two others. Rostovtzeff and
Little identified the figures with Roman auxiliary troops, but not persua-
sively.49 One of the two better preserved is equipped in the manner common to
Iranians, Palmyrenes, Durenes, Hatrenes, and the entire eastern borderland of
the Roman Empire. His headdress is arranged differently from the trilobbed
style of the victors, but efforts to identify the figure as Palmyrene on that basis
is not convincing.50 The most legible figure is dressed in a long skirt decorated
with vertical lines; short latitudinal lines mark his arms, looking like the ring
armor worn by the last of the Parthians on Ardashir's victory monument at
Firuzabad.5' The figure is armed with a round shield and a sword of moderate
length; to Rostovtzeff, this suggested Roman equipment.52 The remains of a
third rider seem to conform to this same pattern. It is possible to see Roman
auxiliary troops in these remains, but it is equally possible to see Parthians,
Hatrenes, Bedouin, and bandits. The scanty remains are no more specifically
determinate than the images found in a Rorschach test.
on the other hand, A. Perkins, long editor of the Dura excavation reports, identifies these Iranian
style riders with the troops of the Twentieth Palmyran Cohort, "Drawings," in The Excavations
at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Report of the Ninth Season of Work: 1935-1936: Part III: The
Palace of the Dux Ripae and the Dolicheneum (New Haven, 1952), pp. 49 and 66-68, Fig. 6. Such
drawings of riders are numerous at Dura, sometimes using bow and sometimes lance: Rep. II:
p. 1. XLI, 2; P1. XLIII, 2; Rep. IV: P1. XX, 3; P1. XXI, 1-3; P1. XXII, 2; Rep. V: P1. XXXV, 3-4;
Rep. VI: p. 306, Fig. 22; p. 307, Fig. 23, and P1. XLII, 1; Rep. VII-VIII: P1. LVI; Rep. IX, 3:
pp. 49 and 66-68, Fig. 6.
4 Rostovtzeff and Little, "Maison," p. 170 and Fig. 1.
4 Little, "Sassanian," pp. 185-187; Rostovtzeff and Little, "Maison," pp. 175-190; Rostovt-
zeff, "Dura," pp. 283-288; followed without further development in Rostovtzcff, "Res Gestac,"
pp. 56-57. The drawing is of mediocre quality, poorly preserved, and the parallels cited are not
particularly close. Rostovtzeff and Little equate dress too closely with nationality and allegiance in
the international atmosphere of Dura in the mid-third century.
50 It is not even certain whether the scanty remains intend to show hair or a hat, Little,
"Sassanian," pp. 186, 190-191.
5' Rostovtzeff, "Dura," p. 285 makes the same comparison with the Firuzabad relief,
concerning which, E. F. Schmidt, Persepolis, vol. 3: The Royal Tombs and Other Monuments (The
University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications, vol. 70; Chicago, 1970), p. 125 and
literature cited there.
52 Rostovtzeff, "Dura," pp. 283-288. Round shields were also used by the Arabs and common
at Palmyra, Colledge, Art, p. 153. They were frequently employed by Iranians as well, C.
Hopkins, "Parthian Reliefs and Figurines," in The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary
Report of Third Season of Work: November 1929-March 1930 (New Haven, 1932), pp. 81-88 and
P1. XIII no. 1.
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 59
Moreover, in his analysis of the "battle mural" Rostovtzeff ignored the
closest of the comparanda, another mural in a private house at Dura.s3 This
mural also contains a banquet scene, written labels, and a horseman in Iranian
dress wielding weapons
in this case hunting with a bow. (Fig. 3). Hunt and
war were closely aligned in Iranian art; Ammianus Marcellinus writes, with
some exaggeration, that in the Sasanid Empire art depicted only those two
subjects.54 The purpose of the "hunt mural" is not perfectly evident. It
resembles depictions of funereal celebrations at Palmyra and elsewhere, but
there is some reason to objected to such identification because of its location in
a private house.55 The feast, obvious and large in the "hunt mural," is often
overlooked in the "battle mural" because so little of it survives, but its
significance is underscored by a complex graffito "menu" on an adjacent
wall.56 The written labels, Greek and Palmyran in the "hunt mural," give the
names of individual participants57 and mark the mural as a private document,
feast and hunt relevant to the main character. So it may also be with the "battle
mural," recording a fight in which the householder participated and a
thanksgiving feast. The event is likely to have been less grand than Rostovtzeff
envisioned, perhaps a skirmish between the local rural police patrol, the
"archers," and the bandits endemic to the region.58
Finally, if it could somehow be established that the mural is a pro-Sasanid
victory memorial, it still would not follow that it necessarily was created
during a Persian occupation. There may well have been a pro-Sasanid faction at
Dura - strong Iranian influence there has already been noted, but more to the
point is the case of Antioch, capital of the Roman East. There pro-Persian
factionalism spawned Mariades, defector to the Persians and imperial claimant,
and, according to a fragment of the fifth-century historian Peter the Patrician,
led a considerable portion of the population to anticipate eagerly the coming of
the Sasanids.59 If Antioch, far from the border and so much a part of the
Rostovtzeff, "Dura," pp. 273-276 implicitly and p. 287 explicitly recognizes the relation
between the "battle mural" and the "hunt mural," to which he unhesitatingly attributes funereal
significance. Rostovtzeff, however, nowhere mentions the "hunt fresco" in "Res Gestae."
Ammianus Marcellinus 24.6.3.
5 Rostovtzeff, "Dura," pp. 273-276 points out the problem but nevertheless opts for funereal
significance without hesitation.
56 Rostovtzeff and Little, "Maison," p. 170 and fig. 1.
57 Rostovtzeff, "Dura," pp. 273-276; in addition to the Middle Persian dipinti, the "battle
mural" also bore a Greek graffito on a detached fragment, Little, "Sassanian," pp. 188-189.
58 For the ToEo&at known chiefly from the Mithraeum at Dura, M. I. Rostovtzeff and C. C.
Torrey, "The Dedicatory Inscriptions," in The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Report
of the Seventh and Eighth Seasons of Work: 1933-1934 and 1934-1935 (New Haven, 1939),
pp. 83-84; M. I. Rostovtzeff, "Das Mithraeum von Dura," Mitteilungen des Deutschen
Archaeologischen Instituts, Roemische Abteilung, 49 (1934), pp. 195-200.
59 Gage, "Perses," pp. 301-324.
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 61
mainstream of the Greco-Roman world, harbored such pro-Persian sentiment,
one cannot presume it was absent at Dura.
Rostovtzeff's analysis of the drawing from the office of the actuarius of the
Cohors XX Palmyrenorum (Fig. 2) also fails to provide substantial proof of a
Sasanid occupation of Dura in 253. The "actuarius drawing," as the "battle
mural," can be placed in the third century on the basis of style, but closer
dating is not possible. Aspects of the drawing ignored by Rostovtzeff indicate
that the nature of the event commemorated was very different from what he
envisioned. The figure sacrificing at an altar in the right portion of the
composition is an addition to the scene. This figure, labeled Artemidorus the
Standard-Bearer, is painted in a style inferior to that of the main scene on a
background differently prepared, perhaps replacing an earlier
figure.60 The
name of the main sacrificer, Heliodorus, is also indicated, but that name has
subsequently been crossed out and replaced with another name, Neikator.6"
The drawing was not created initially as it now exists, but rather it has been
updated on at least two occasions. This indicates a ceremony repeated at
intervals by varying personal rather than a unique greeting to Odenathus. The
identity of the horseman remains obscure, but his dress is that in general use
throughout the eastern borderlands. There is no reason to identify the figure
with Odenathus.62 The traditions of Durene art lead one rather to expect a
local notable.
The Middle Persian dipinti and graffiti of the Dura synagogue record
viewings by Persians in the fourteenth and fifteenth years of what must be the
reign of Sapor I. These have been held to support the thesis of a Sasanid
capture of the city in 253 on two bases. First, according to the chronological
arrangement of W. Ensslin, the late fourteenth and early fifteenth years of
Sapor I fell in 253.63 Second, the inspection of the premises by Sasanid officials,
who would normally use the date formulae of their sovereign provides an
explanation of the otherwise enigmatic Iranian visitors to the synagogue.64
There are weaknesses in both arguments. Ensslin's chronology is but one
among many
the evidence is such that no one arrangement has achieved
Rostovtzeff, "Dura," pp. 249-250.
Rostovtzeff, "Dura," pp. 249-250. The small scale (0.60 x 0.32 m.), simple black-line
technique, and relatively obscure position on the wall of the actuarius' office, argues against the
great importance Rostovtzeff has attributed to the scene.
Such a representation would be contrary to the traditions of Palmyrene art: "Only gods and
dead men ride in Palmyrene art," Colledge, Art, p. 136. Palmyrene art greatly influenced that of
Dura, as apparent in this drawing, and Rostovtzeff, of course, sought to see the Palmyrene
Odenathus in the horseman.
Ensslin, Kriege, pp. 6-8 places the beginning of Sapor I's reign on
March 240.
Kraeling, Synagogue, pp. 336-338.
12 April 240: W. B. Henning in G. Haloun and W. B. Henning, "The Compendium of the
Doctrines and Styles of the Teaching of Mani, the Buddha of Light," Asia Majcor 3 (1952), p. 201
general approbation, and the precise date of the beginning of Sapor I's reign
and many other events in early Sasanid history remain uncertain. The attempt
to explain the synagogue visitors as Iranian inspectors is an attempt to explain
an unknown with an unknown. No such inspection officials are known nor
does the procedure seem likely. Eleven inscriptions record at least thirteen
Iranian visitors!66 Repetitive inspection of this small facility within a very short
time is hardly likely. Three of the dipinti record pious exclamations and two
more comment on the meaning of a particular painting,67 hardly to be expected
of hypothetical Sasanid building inspectors. It is more likely that the visitors
were Iranian Jews, who are known to have absorbed much of Persian culture
even to the extent of adopting Iranian names,68 or Persians deeply interested in
the Jewish religion, the Iranian equivalent of the "God Fearers" in the Roman
Empire, or both. Avlat (Ablat), a friend of Rabbis Samuel and Levi and
conversant on religious matters, was one such Persian.69 The Babylonian
and Henning "Dates," pp. 115-121; 20/21 March 242: T. Noldeke, Geschichte der Perser und
Araber zur Zeit der Sasaniden. Aus der arabischen Chronik des Tabari ubersetzt (Leiden, 1879;
reprint 1979), p. 412; 241/242: Maricq, Recherches, pp. 37 and 141 n. 2; 9 April 243: S. H.
Taqizadeh, "The Early Sasanians - Some Chronological Points which Possibly Call for Revision,"
Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies I1 (1943-6); pp. 13-17 and S. H. Taqizadeh
in S. H. Taqizadeh and W. B. Henning, "The Dates of Mani's Life," Asia Major 6 (1957),
pp. 106-115. For the most recent discussion of the date of the beginning of Sapor I's reign,
Kettenhofen, Kriege, pp. 46-9, demonstrating how indeterminate the question remains. Among
other complications, there seems to have been a considerable lag between Sapor I's accession, upon
the abdication or death of Ardashir I, and Sapor I's coronation: R. Ghirshman, "Chapour ler, 'Roi
des rois' sans couronne," Acta Iranica 4 (Ser. 2, vol. 1: Monumentum H. S. Nyberg: 1975),
pp. 256-268; K. Mosig-Walburg, "Bisher nicht beachtete Munzen Sapuirs I. Ein Beitrag zur
Chronologie des Regierungsantritts des zweiten Sasanidenkonigs," Boreas 3 (1980), pp. 117-126.
6 Geiger in Kraeling, Synagogue, pp. 300-317 inscriptions nos. 42-51, 54, 56, the last of which
was written while the paint was still wet, p. 315. Since the building inscription dates the building of
the synagogue to 244/245, pp. 261-268, either the paintings were not done until years after the
building or that graffito was cut before 253.
67 Geiger in Kraeling, Synagogue, pp. 312-315 nos. 52-53, 55: pious exclamations;
pp. 309-311 nos. 49-50: commenting on meaning of pictures. An improved reading of nos. 52 and
53 is offered by Brunner, "Iranian," pp. 496-497. Many of the Iranian dipinti and graffiti refer to
viewings of the pictures; none refer to building inspection.
Neusner, "Arda and Arta and Pyly Brys," Jewish Quarterly Review 53 (1963),
pp. 298-305, expanded and corrected in J. Neusner, A History of theJews in Babylonia, vol. 1: The
Parthian Period (Second Printing, Revised: Leiden, 1969), pp. 10-103; G. Widengren, "The
Status of the Jews in the Sassanian Empire," Iranica
1 (1961), pp. 1 17-162, particularly
p. 120 concerning "Narse, the Jew." E. R. Goodenough, Jewish Symbols in the Greco-Roman
Period, vol. 9: Symbolism in the Dura Synagogue, vol. 1 (New York, 1964), pp. 10-14 argues
strongly the Persian scribes were Jews, while Neusner, History, p. 101 and Brunner, "Iranian,"
p. 496 considers it possible that the scribes were at least in part Jews.
Neusner, History, Vol. II: The Early Sasanian Period (Leiden, 1966), pp. 26 n. 1, 85-86, 139
and works cited.
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 63
Talmud credits even Sapor I with respectful knowledge of Jewish ritual law and
indicates a close, affectionate association between Sapor I and Jewish leaders,
particularly Rabbi Samuel.70 The Middle Persian linguistic remains from the
Dura synagogue are unlikely to have any relevance to the hypothetical
occupation of 253.
The background of numismatic and textual evidence that led Rostovtzeff to
develop the thesis, the supposed confirmation of coin hoards, "battle mural,"
"actuarius drawing," and Middle Persian dipinti have all proven insubstantial.
It is time to lay to rest as unproven the thesis that Dura was temporarily
occupied by the Sasanids in 253.
II. 256 or 257?
It is the communis opinio that Dura was captured in 256. This date is derived
from the latest coins found in the excavations, two specimens from the next-
to-the-last emission of the Antioch mint in the name of Valerian, recovered
from a hasty burial on the siege mound.7" The coins provide a terminus post
quem for the fall of the city rather than the actual date, but it is a terminus that
must be very close to the actual date, and 256 has been accepted without
serious question for a generation.7'
In 1967, R. A. G. Carson published a new arrangement of Valerian's eastern
coinage, clearly superior to that of Alfoldi, which it replaced. Carson indicates
the next-to-the-last issue of Valerian from Antioch began in 256 but continued
into 257.73 The terminus for the fall of Dura should be shifted accordingly to
257. The persistence of habit and the unconscious elevation over the years of
256 to a status approaching accepted fact has prevented that from happening.74
There are additional reasons for favoring 257 over 256 for the capture of
Dura-Europos. Dura is a significant distance from Antioch, and it must have
taken some time for the latest coins to travel from the mint to their resting
place. It has been assumed that these latest coins came to Dura quickly in the
form of pay for reinforcements who arrived on the eve of the siege, but neither
the coins from the hasty burial nor the coins with the mine corpses indicate a
Neusner, History, It, pp. 17, 19, 44-45, 48, 70-72, 86-87, 120.
Bellinger, "Numismatic," pp. 65-71 and Bellinger, Coins, pp. 59-60, 181. The assertion that
the latest coins from Dura-Europos were those found with the mine-corpses is erroneous, pace
Perkins Art, p. 7; Hopkins, Discovery, p. 245.
72 Bellinger, "Numismatic," pp. 65-71 and Bellinger, Coins, pp. 59-60, 187.
R. A. G. Carson, "The Ham! Hoard and the Eastern Mints of Valerian and Gallienus,"
Berytus 17 (1967-8), pp. 123-142 and P1. XXXV-XXXVII, particularly pp. 127-128.
e. g. Carson, "Hami," p. 134 continues to date the fall of Dura to 256 without question
although his own arrangement of the coinage shifts the terminus to 257!
considerable payment in freshly minted coins.75 Time for travel must be taken
into consideration.
More germane is the length of the siege, which included the digging of mines
and countermines, probably even more numerous than the extensive remains
explored by the excavators, as well as the construction of a large approach
ramp to the wall."6 The excavator has estimated the siege lasted several
months,77 during which of course no new coins entered the city. This should
put the capture well into 257.
Finally, the Res Gestae divi Saporis - the only textual source mentioning the
taking of Dura - puts the capture of Antioch and Dura in the same campaign.
Earlier attempts to date the capture of Antioch to 253 on the basis of literary
and numismatic evidence have failed; the capture of that city is properly to be
associated with the end of minting there in 257, some months and one issue
after the striking of the latest coins found at Dura.78
Still it is possible that Dura fell in 256, if the latest coins found there were
among the first of that issue to be struck, if they travelled quickly to Dura, and
if the siege of the city was less protracted than the remains suggest. 257 is on
the whole more likely. Of greater significance, 257 certainly represents the
terminus for the fall of the city, long held to be 256.79
III. Life After Capture ?
A strange dichotomy of opinion exists concerning the fate of Dura after the
conquest of the city by the forces of Sapor I. Rostovtzeff stated succinctly the
position that has been adopted, implicitly or explicitly, by most historians of
7 The coins from these deposits were struck at several mints and belong to several different
issues from each mint, the most recent of which are represented by few specimens; coins from a
recent payment to the troops of freshly mint coins should belong overwhelmingly to the most
recent issue of a single mint. Bellinger, Coins, pp. 181, 187.
76 R. du Mesnil du Buisson, "The Persian Mines," in The Excavations at Dura-Europos.
Preliminary Report of Sixth Season of Work: October 1932-March 1933 (New Haven, 1936),
pp. 188-205; C. Hopkins, "The Siege of Dura," The ClassicalJournal 42 (1947), pp. 251-259; for
the probability of unexplored mines, Hopkins, Discovery, p. 247.
du Mesnil du Buisson, "Persian," p. 203.
78 RGDS Greek version: lines 12-19; Middle Persian version: lines 7-11, largely illegible;
Parthian version: lines 5-9. For the fall of Antioch, Maricq, Recberches, pp. 242-253. For Baldus'
attempt, Uranius Antoninus, pp. 263-265 to salvage 253 as the date for a first capture of Antioch,
followed recently by Kettenhofen, Kriege, pp. 91-6, see here n. 24.
This also helps account for the calendar detailing the activities of various entertainers, M. I.
Immerwahr, "Appendix II: Dipinti from G5, C2," The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Prelimi-
nary Report of the Ninth Season of Work: 1935-1936, Part I: The Agora and Bazaar (New Haven,
1944), pp. 203-265, particularly pp. 246-247, where the calendar is dated on persuasive but not
absolutely certain grounds to 253 or 256, neither of which would be possible according to
Rostovtzeff's account of events in those years. This study indicates either year is a possibility.
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 65
the Roman Empire, concerning possible Persian occupation of the city after its
final conquest:80
No trace of evidence pointing to such an occupation has ever been found
at Dura, and there is no visible reason for supposing that such an
occupation ever took place.
In maintaining this position Rostovtzeff was at the same time bolstering his
attribution of the "battle mural," which to him was unquestionably Sasanid, to
his hypothetical occupation of 253 rather than to a Sasanid occupation after the
final conquest. Roman historians usually view Dura as coming to an abrupt
and complete end with the entry of the Sasanids, and in a recent article
Goldman and Little write:8"
Bellinger's assessment in the excavation report of 1933 is still valid: "We
can only say at present that there is, as yet, no monument dated later
than 256; beyond that point everything belongs to the realm of
On the other hand, Iranists, relying on the reading of Parthian and Middle
Persian documents found at Dura, generally envision a continuation of activity
at the city, considerable in scope and duration, after the Sasanid conquest.82
Classicists by in large have disregarded the efforts of Iranists, apparently
because of the marked disparity of opinion apparent in their works.83 In
reality, there is only one significant division, pitting Altheim and Stiehl against
most of the rest of the students of Iranian linguistics, and that battle has
already been decided. Altheim and Stiehl's readings have been thoroughly and
Rostovtzeff, "Res Gestae," p. 57; Rostovtzeff modified his views toward the end of his life,
suggesting that city was used by the Sasanids as a military post for several years after its conquest,
"Dura-Europos" in Enciclopedia dell'arte antica, classica e orientale (Roma, 1960), p. 191.
Rostovtzeff does not explain this change of view, but presumably he was convinced by the
publication of the Iranian linguistic remains discussed below.
81 Goldman and Little, "Beginning," pp. 295-296; the quotation from Bellinger is to be found
in A. R. Bellinger, "New Material for the History of Dura," in The Excavations at Dura-Europos.
Preliminary Report of Fourth Season of Work: October 1930-March 1931 (New Haven, 1933),
p. 284.
82 J. Harmatta, "Die parthischen Ostraka aus Dura-Europos," Acta Antiqua Academiae
Scientiarum Hungaricae 6 (1958), pp. 148-168; M. Harmatta-Pekiry, "The Decipherment of the
Parsik Ostracon from Dura-Europos and the Problem of the Sasanian City Organization," La
Persia nel medjoevo (Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Anno CCCLXVIII-1971, Quaderno n.
160; Roma, 1971), pp. 467-475; Brunner, "Iranian," pp. 492-495; W. B. Henning, review of
Franz Altheim and Ruth Stiehl, Asien und Rom. Neue Urkunden aus Sasanidischer Fruhzeit
(Tubingen, 1952) and Franz Altheim and Ruth Stiehl, Das erste Auftreten der Hunnen. Das Alter
der Jesaja-Rolle. Neue Urkunden aus Dura-Europos (Baden-Baden, 1953), Gnomon 26 (1954),
pp. 476-480.
83 e. g. the remarks of Goldman and Little, "Beginning," p. 32.
convincingly criticized in method and detail and may be disregarded.84
Disagreements remain concerning the reading and interpretation of specific
words and the evaluation of the significance of documents, but enough is
certain, when combined with the account of the Res Gestae divi Saporis and a
few archaeological finds from Dura, to indicate the general course of the last
events at Dura.
The Res Gestae divi Saporis makes it apparent that Sapor I's army moved
north along the Euphrates River and hence, after defeating the main eastern
Roman army at Barbalissos, into Roman Syria. Dura was one of the first
Roman strong points encountered along this route, but it is listed in twenty-
fifth place among thirty-six captured cities in the RGDS. Only thirty of those
were taken in Sapor I's main Syrian campaign; six are listed as places in
Cappadocia, captured during a parallel Sasanid campaign there.85 The extensive
siege works at Dura provide the explanation of why Dura, attacked early in the
expedition, is listed late among the cities captured.
The Sasanid siege of Dura was a considerable undertaking. Mines, probably
including at least one not examined in the modern excavations, were driven
under the walls, and a large siege ramp was built against the city wall, despite
the great many catapult stones fired by the defenders.86 The Res Gestae divi
Saporis describes what then happened to Dura. It introduces the list of cities
captured in the same campaign with Dura with the claim that "all we burned
with fire and devastated and ravaged," and concludes the second list of cities,
those taken after the capture of Valerian, with general remarks about the fate of
Sasanid captives:87
And the Non-Iranian people of the Roman land were led away captive
and we established them in our Iranian land, in Persis and in Parthia and
in Susiana and Assyria and in the other lands we rule, where our and our
fathers' and our grandfathers' and our forefathers' foundations are.
This accords exactly with general Sasanid policy known from many other
examples and indicates no long-enduring occupation of Dura or other cities.
Franz Altheim and Ruth Stiehl: Asien; Auftreten; Ein Asiatischer Staat (Wiesbaden, 1954);
"Eine Bekehrungsinschrift aus der Synagoge von Dura-Europos," Zeitschrift fuir Religions- und
Geistesgeschichte, criticized in Henning, Gnomon; Harmatta-Pekary, "Decipherment,"
pp. 467-468; Geiger in Kraeling, Synagogue, pp. 288-291; J. 0. Maenchen-Helfen, M. Knight,
ed., The World of the Huns (Berkeley, 1973), p. 385 n. 82.
85 RGDS Greek version: lines 10-19; Parthian version: lines 4-9; Middle Persian version: lines
6-12, very little legible. Doliche appears before Dura in the Greek version, but after it in the
Parthian; that section of the Middle Persian is illegible.
86 Supra n. 76.
First quotation: RGDS Greek version: lines 11-12; Parthian version: line 5; Middle Persian
version: lines 6-7, virtually all illegible; second quotation: RGDS Greek version: lines 34-36;
Parthian version: lines 19-16; Middle Persian version: lines 20-21, much illegible.
Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos 67
When the city fell there was probably some initial pillaging by individual
soldiers, but there were already weightier considerations. Sapor I's route had
to be guarded until the return of the main army against such as Odenathus,
Bedouin opportunists, and the remaining Roman forces. Some modern
scholars have even sought to see effective opposition to Sapor I in the priest-
ruler of Emesa, Sampsigeramus, but the only source is too corrupt to warrant
credence.88 Looting, too, was a matter of concern. Thorough exploitation of
the resources of a captured city and its dependent areas, as opposed to the mere
tip and grap of individual soldiers, requires organized effort and time. The
campaigns of Sapor I in the Roman Empire were in every sense classical
oriental razzias; looting was well organized, bureaucratically administered,
and rationally planned. All this activity has left its traces.
During the 1935-1936 season four graves were discovered cut into the
cement floor of the Temple of Zeus Dolichenus.89 They cannot be closely
dated, but the excavators are certain the graves were made after the temple had
been abandoned, at a date later than the Sasanid capture of the city. The
interred may have been members of the Persian occupation forces or some
entirely different group, but the graves do certainly represent activity at Dura
after the capture of the city.
More important is the evidence offered by Iranian ostraca, one group of
which were recovered in the palace inhabited by the Roman commander, the
Dux Ripae, before the Sasanid conquest.90 Several of these ostraca record
Malalas 12. 296.11-297.4 tells of a meeting between Sapor I and Sampsigeramus, the priest-
king of Emesa, which supposedly ended when one of Sampsigeramus' rustic slingers killed the
Persian king. Sapor I, of course, really died of natural causes in Persia in 272, long after his fictional
demise at Emesa. Sampsigeramus has been equated with Uranius Antoninus, the numismatically-
attested usurper of 253, but no amount of pruning away the demonstrable falsehoods in Malalas'
report will leave a residue that may be presumed reliable. At best the story is a legendary
elaboration of an irretreviably lost kernel; mechanical rationalization of such a corrupt report is
methodologically unsound.
89 N. P. Toll, "Burials in the City," in The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Preliminary Report of
the Ninth Season of Work: 1935-1936. Part II: The Necropolis (New Haven, 1946), p. 6 and
P1. XXVI. 3, 4.
90 The basic contents of these documents as well as the name and title of the Sasanid official
have been read and confirmed by several eminent Iranian linguists: Harmatta, "Ostraka,"
pp. 148-168; Harmatta-Pekary, "Decipherment," pp. 467-475; Brunner, "Iranian," pp. 492-495.
These readings cannot with justice be ignored, as in Hopkins, Discovery, or cavalierly dismissed,
as Goldman and Little, "Beginning," p. 32, which is too much concerned with the disparities in
readings between the discredited works of Altheim and Stiehl and those of other scholars, who are
in general agreement. A disagreement remains about the reading of a Parthian parchment, in which
Harmatta "The Parthian Parchment from Dura-Europos," Acta Antiqua Academiae Scientiarum
Hungariae, Vol. 5 (1957), pp. 261-308 reads the name of Rashn, but W. B. Henning, "Aramaic
and Iranian Documents," in C. B. Welles, R. 0. Fink, and J. F. Gilliam, The Parchments and
(The Excavations at Dura-Europos: Final Report V, Part I: New Haven, 1959), pp. 414-415
68 DAVID MACDONALD, Dating the Fall of Dura-Europos
names, predominantly Persian but some Semitic, and amounts of grain, given
or received. Others bear the name of Rashn the Shahrab; under the Sasanids
the Shahrab, or Satrap, functioned as a city-governor. The discovery of these
Iranian documents in the palace of the Dux, the bureaucratic character of the
documents, and the presence of a functioning high Sasanid government official
indicates substantial Persian activity at Dura after the conquest of the city. J.
Harmatta, who has presented the most extensive edition and commentary of
the ostrace to date, concludes that the city was resettled by Persian colonists
and administered by a Persian governor until 262, when the activities of
Odenathus forced Sapor I to abandon the area.9" The absence of coins from
that period, however, mitigates against the suggestion, and the documents do
not require such a lenghty occupation. They are consistent with the
exploitation of Dura and its surroundings by the Persian garrison during a
single year, 257, between the capture of the city by siege and the final return of
the booty-laden main army from Syria. It was probably at this time that the
city, already stripped of its valuables, was vandalized, ineffectively fired, and
finally abandoned.
Illinois State University, Normal David MacDonald
reads a different name, and Brunner (who, "Iranian," p. 495 accepts the reading of Rashn's name
and title), "Iranian," p. 494 criticizes both readings; this does not bear on the reading of the
9' Harmatta, "Ostraka," pp. 148-168.