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Doura-Europus, a frontier town: from the 3rd century BC

The first major stopping point for the caravans on the route from Mesopotamia to Syria is the old Babylonian town of Doura, on the west bank of the Euphrates. Rebuilt by Seleucus in about 300 BC, it is given the new name of Europus.

This settlement later becomes of great importance as a frontier post, when the Euphrates is the boundary between successive empires.
 









Doura-Europus becomes a Persian frontier town when the Parthians take it from the Seleucid Greeks in about 100 BC. It is subsequently a Roman frontier town, being annexed for Rome in AD 165. It is abandoned after being overrun by the Sassanians soon after 256.

Buried in the sand of the desert and lost to history, Doura-Europus comes to light again after a British officer accidentally discovers wall paintings there in 1921. Excavation has revealed an archaeological site of extraordinary interest, providing evidence of the wide diversity of Middle Eastern themes and religions at this meeting place between east and west.
 







At this international crossroads there are remains of buildings devoted to the worship of the Greek Zeus, the Egyptian Adonis, the Persian Mithras, the Jewish Yahweh and the Palestinian Jesus.

The Mithraeum, the synagogue and the church are all extensively decorated with murals. The synagogue is particularly interesting, in that later Jewish tradition tends to accept the biblical ban on graven images. But here, in the 3rd century AD, there are detailed narrative scenes showing the crossing of the Red Sea, Elijah working miracles, and even the Ark of the Covenant being dragged along on its carriage by two oxen with gilded horns.
 







The Christian building is significant not only for its murals (more damaged than those of the synagogue) but for its very existence. It is a baptistery, consisting of a long rectangular room with a painted wooden roof and images connected with baptism on the walls.

This is in no sense a secret place, unlike the Christian catacombs in Rome with their very similar murals. It is usually the practice, until the time of Constantine, for Christians to worship discreetly in private houses. But certainly in Doura-Europus, by the mid-3rd century, there is a building devoted specifically to the Christian cult.
 






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