Nothing beside remains

Josephine Quinn

The Syrian oasis town of Tadmur is close to the middle of nowhere, 140 miles east of Damascus, 125 miles west of the Euphrates, and 20 miles from the nearest village. It’s famous for two institutions established under the French Mandate at the turn of the 1930s. One is the archaeological site now known by the Greek name of Palmyra, until recently one of the most extraordinary survivals from the ancient world. The remote settlement is first mentioned in Assyrian texts of the early second millennium bce. Two thousand years later, its entrepreneurial inhabitants began to draw trade between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia away from the northern route via Aleppo to their own faster but more dangerous desert crossing. By exploiting their longstanding connections with pastoral nomads in the desert, they were able to negotiate safe transit for camel trains under their protection.

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