Dura Europos

Euphrates and the dig house Dura Europos
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This important archaeological site in eastern Syria has been called the "Pompeii of the Desert." Abandoned and filled with sand following a siege in 256, the ancient city contains the oldest surviving house-church and synagogue ever found.

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Dura Europos
Tal al Hariri
34.747907° N, 40.728636° E
Date Published
October 8, 2013
Last Updated
April 11, 2015


Dura Europos Founded by Seleucids

Dura Europos is founded by the Seleucids (Alexander the Great's successors) on the intersection of an east-west trade route and a north-south trade route along the Euphrates. Named for the birthplace of Seleucus I Nicator, the new city controls the river crossing between Antioch on the Orontes and Seleucia on the Tigris and is part of a network of military colonies intended to secure Seleucid control of the Middle Euphrates.


Dura is rebuilt as a great Hellenistic city, with a rectangular grid of streets arranged around a large central agora. Its location on a major crossroads makes it a very cosmopolitan city, as evidenced by inscriptions in many languages and the religious buildings of pagans, Jews and Christians standing side by side.

Romans Capture Dura Europos

Dura Europos is captured by the Romans.


The house-church and synagogue of Dura Europos are constructed and decorated with murals.


A Sassanian siege brings the history of Dura to an end. In a last-ditch attempt to save the city, the synagogue is filled in to make a fortress, ensuring its preservation. Following the siege, the city is abandoned. It is soon covered in shifting sands and disappears from sight for centuries.

March 30, 1920

During the Arab rebellion in the aftermath of World War I, a British soldier digging a trench uncovers beautifully preserved frescoes. The American archeologist James Henry Breasted, then at Baghdad, is alerted.


Archaeological excavations are carried out by French and American teams.


Franz Cumont publishes the first archaeological reports on the site, identifying it as Dura-Europos. A temple is uncovered before renewed hostilities in the area close it to archaeology.

Excavations at Dura Europos

Archaeological excavations of Dura Europos by a joint team of Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and Letters, directed by Michael Rostovtzeff, uncover more than a third of the site over 10 seasons of work. In 1937, funds run out with only part of the excavations published.


Excavations resume at Dura Europos.


  1. Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos
  2. Dura-Europos: Crossroads of Antiquity
  3. The Discovery of Dura-Europos
  4. Excavations at Dura-Europos conducted by Yale University and the French Academy of Inscriptions and
  5. My Dura-Europos: The Letters of Susan M. Hopkins, 1927-1935
  6. The Synagogue
  7. The Frescoes of the Dura Synagogue and Christian Art
  8. Excavations at Dura Europos: Final Report VII: Arms and Armour and other Military Equipment