Norwegian archaeologists have solved one of the great puzzles of the Roman Empire: Why was the vibrant city of Palmyra located in the middle of the Syrian Desert?
In ancient Roman times A.D., Palmyra was the most important point along the trade route linking the east and west, reaching a population of 100 000 inhabitants. But its history has always been shrouded in mystery: What was a city that size doing in the middle of the desert? How could so many people live in such an inhospitable place nearly 2 000 years ago? Where did their food come from? And why would such an important trade route pass directly through the desert?
Palmyra's main street was one of the longest and most monumental in the eastern Roman Empire. (Photo: J.C. Meyer)Norwegian researchers collaborated with Syrian colleagues for four years to find answers.
"These findings provide a wealth of new insight into Palmyra's history," says project manager Jørgen Christian Meyer, a professor at the University of Bergen. The project has received funding of over NOK 9 million from the Research Council of Norway's comprehensive funding scheme for independent basic research projects (FRIPRO).
New research using modern archaeological methods
The Bergen-based archaeologists approached the problem from a novel angle – instead of examining the city itself, they studied an enormous expanse of land just to the north. Along with their Syrian colleagues from the Palmyra Museum and aided by satellite photos, they catalogued a large number of ancient remains visible on the Earth's surface.
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