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Ancient World Seminar: Michael Sommer (Oldenburg), 'The Lords of the Desert: Palmyra's Elites Revisited'

When:Mo 18-11-2013 16:15 - 17:30
Where:Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies
Poster design: Marleen Termeer

Roman Palmyra was a Greek city. It featured the whole inventory of institutions a polis required: a council (boule), people’s assembly (demos), magistrates, an agora and a theatre. That Palmyra was indeed a Greek city was the inevitable conclusion drawn by Maurice Sartre in a paper published in 1996: Palmyre, cité grecque. Really inevitable? What does it all mean? Not very much, this is the proposition of my paper. 
Despite its seemingly Greek institutions, Palmyra was not Greek at all. It was different. How could, in a Greek city, a man like Septimius Odaenathus rise to monarchic power? How could a Greek city mobilise a force capable of fighting back Shapur, the Persian king who had defeated the emperor Valerian in AD 260? Which Greek city could, with its own manpower, control an area of thousands of square miles in order to guarantee the safety of its trade?
In order to get to an alternative perspective on Palmyrene society, the paper revisits the oasis city’s trade and its organisation. Palmyra’s so-called caravan inscriptions allow, it proposes, a detailed reconstruction of the Palmyrene elite, which was rather different from a Greek city’s ruling class.

Michael Sommer is Professor of Ancient History at the Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg. He studied at Freiburg, Basel, Bremen and Perugia; was Visiting Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford; and Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Liverpool (2005-2012). His current research is  concerned with the economic, social, mental and institutional history of the Roman Empire and the history of the Levant across the periods. He is currently preparing a book on ancient economies.