Roman Ruins

More full post to come, time permitting, but the most interesting thing to me, perhaps, about the greatest Roman-era ruins that we visited in Syria and Lebanon, Apamea, Palmyra, Baalbek and Bosra, aside perhaps from the sheer impressiveness of Baalbek, is how, while the structures date primarily from Roman imperial times, the cities represent so many different ethnicities and cultures, not only in the people who must have lived or worshipped there but in the traditions that are represented in the art and architecture. These places are Roman, yes, in that they were from the Roman period and primarily in the Roman style, but certainly not Roman in many other senses.


Apamea was founded by the Seleucids (heirs to Alexander the Great) in the 3rd century BC. The Romans conquered in 64 BC and the city was largely rebuilt after an earthquake in 115. Apamea remained an important city in Byzantine times, until it was sacked by the Persians in the sixth and seventh centuries, and then taken by the Arabs.

Unusual columns, reminiscent of baroque! Note the pedestals for the placement of statues, an unclassical feature.

Syrian Roman-era cities are noted for their long collonaded streets, of which Apamea’s is perhaps the most impressive.

Inscription in Greek, the primary language of the eastern Roman Empire.

Mosaic from Apamea, showing Socrates

Going back to my Scams post of 3.13, a favorite around ruins all over the world–a man who sells “ancient” coins

Note the ruts in the Roman street


Palmyra was an important oasis as long ago as the third millennium BC, and was partially integrated into the Roman Empire in the first century AD. Rising to great prosperity as a stop in the trade between the Mediterranean and the East (India, China, etc.), Palmyra played a role in Rome’s campaigns against Sassanian Persia in the 3rd century AD. Recognizing Palmyra’s importance, and with newfound strength, then Queen Zenobia began to challenge the Roman Empire itself and was defeated in 274, when she was taken to Rome. Palmyra was won by the Arabs in the seventh century.

Overview of the site, from nearby Arab-era castle. Note the collonaded streets. The Temple of Bel is in the upper left corner.

Temple of Bel. Bel is a Semitic god, and the temple structure is similar to Semitic traditions going back to the temple at Amrit (cf. post of 4.15).

Inside the cella, or central shrine, at the Temple of Bel

Funerary towers, also within the Semitic tradition

Typical Palmyrene funerary busts. The style derives from the Hellenistic, following the conquest of the area by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.

Bilingual inscription in Palmyrene (related to Aramaic) and Greek. Most inscriptions in Palmyra are bilingual or in Palmyrene only.

Baalbek (Heliopolis)

Baalbek was the site of a Phoenician temple to Baal, the Sun God, as early as 2000 BC. In Roman times, Baal was worshipped at Baalbek/Heliopolis as Heliopolitan Jupiter, and great constructions were added in the first century by the Roman Emperors.

The great court, in the tradition of other Semitic temples

Note on lower right the Latin inscription to Heliopolitan Jupiter

Look at the size of those stones!

The astonishing Temple of Bacchus

Temple of Bacchus detail, looking up

Inside the cella of the Temple of Bacchus

Snows of Lebanon


Bosra, a city occupied since ancient times, was in the latter part of the first century AD the capital of the Nabataean kingdom (most famous for Petra), until ruled directly by Rome beginning in the second century. It is most famous for its second century theater, but also is said by legend to have been traveled by Mohammed, who met with a Nestorian Christian monk who educated Mohammed on Christianity and recognized Mohammed as a prophet.

Bosra’s Nabatean Arch

No camels in Italy!

Theater in full

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