In the middle of the dry, Syrian desert lies the remains of a massive city called Palmyra.
The city’s position was a natural meeting point for traders. People with goods such as exotic spices and dyes from India and China, travelling west, would arrive at Palmyra and meet traders who had come from Rome with western goods.
But how was this city sustained in such a hostile environment?
Archaeologist Jorgen Christian Meyer of Bergen University, Norway, and his team have been trying to answer that question by investigating the area over the last four years.
The researchers have found traces of farming villages and man-made reservoirs, for channelling rainfall, around the area. By analysing pollen found on the mud in the area they have discovered that barley was grown along with olives, figs and pistachios. It seems that this advanced irrigation enabled the farms to support the population of the large trading city.
Palmyra is famous for being ruled by Queen Zenobia in 267CE, who was reputed to be a descendent of Cleopatra and an equal in beauty. This may be questionable, but her ambition was definitely on a par. In 269CE, she led her army in invading Egypt and conquered it, proclaiming herself queen. She went on to expand her Empire, taking vital trade routes away from the Romans.
Naturally, the Romans weren’t too happy about this. In 272-3CE Emperor Aurelian left the Gallic Empire and arrived in Syria to make that clear. Zenobia’s forces were defeated near Antioch and she was captured trying to escape down the Euphrates.
Some say Zenobia was dragged by golden chains during Aurelian’s Victory Parade in Rome, and later executed. Others argue that her fate was more Hollywood; the Emperor was so impressed by her that she was allowed to live and marry a Senator.