Institute for the Study of the Ancient World Exhibition Explores Ancient City of Dura Europos

Special exhibition examines character of ancient city on the Euphrates, inhabited by Greek, Near Eastern, and Roman peoples.

Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos examines the life and culture of this ancient city (located in present-day eastern Syria), which flourished under the Romans from the mid-second to mid-third century CE. With 77 objects, the exhibition explores the diversity of and interconnections among religions, languages, and peoples that distinguished Dura-Europos. Edge of Empires opens at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World on September 23, 2011.

Strategically located on the Euphrates River, Dura Europos was founded in the fourth century BCE by Macedonian successors of Alexander the Great. However, it was under Parthian control from the late second-century BCE until 164 CE, when the Roman emperor Lucius Verus brought Syria, and thus also Dura Europos, under Roman control. The city then thrived as a military garrison until 256 CE, when it was destroyed by the Sassanian Persians. The cosmopolitan Roman town was exceptionally well preserved, with a wealth of artifacts that, upon their discovery, fundamentally altered our understanding of religious and military practice in the late Roman period.

Highlights of the exhibition include numerous items that demonstrate the coexistence of multiple religions at Dura, with objects from its synagogue–the world’s best-preserved ancient synagogue; a Christian house-church that is older than any surviving church in Rome; and several pagan temples. Also central to Edge of Empires are objects that open a window onto imperial Roman military life and practice, including a spectacular shield and articles of dress that attest to the variety of cultures represented in the Roman military. Dishes, an engagement ring, and other quotidian items, many imported from across a broad swath of the ancient world, attest to Dura’s integration into the economy of the empire and tell us about the daily life of its inhabitants.

This exhibition has been organized by the Yale University Art Gallery and the McMullen Museum, Boston College. This exhibition was made possible through the support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

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