Tuesday 23 June 2015

Palmyra - late 2nd, early 3rd century.

Delving into late 2nd/ early 3rd century history has generated a lot of un-answered questions regarding developments in and outside the Eastern Roman Empire. This curiosity prompted me to explore the three mountain kingdoms of the Caucasus which have been posted earlier. They may not warrant an army list according to the parameters set by the DBA rule book, however, for our campaign needs, yes.

Following that same direction I wanted to explore the 100 year period leading up to Palmyra’s move toward independence in AD 260; a free city-state to breakaway empire.

A quick summary of facts found during my searches.

From the Seleucid period to the end of the Roman Republic, Palmyra is a trade centre along the caravan route which remained independent like the cities of Emesa, Hatra, Edessa, Adiabene to name a few.

The early political organization of the city was based on four tribes, each settled in a different part of the city. These were: the Bene Komare (Kohenite); an Arab tribe, the Bene Maazin or Ma'zyân; the Bene Mattabol, also of western origin; and a fourth whose name is uncertain (Attar?). Each had its own cult temple, but that of the god Bel represented all of Palmyra (Schlumberger 1971).

During the reign of Tiberius (AD 14 – 37), Palmyra became part of the Roman province of Syria.

Hadrian, during his visit in AD 129 proclaimed Palmyra a “civitas libera or free-city”, exempt from taxation. To what degree was Palmyra self-autonomous, there are differing views.

The Antonine plague, brought back by returning soldiers from the Near East, spread through the Roman Empire from AD 165 – 180. Mortality rate estimates vary from 15 to 30%.

By AD 212, unrest within the Parthian Empire diminishes Palmyra’s trade through overland routes. Anticipating this, Palmyra steps up the use of sea routes to the Indus.

Palmyra was named Colonia in AD 231, but retained its own forms of government.

The reference to the military title of strategos is a reminder that Palmyra was able to field archers, mounted on camels and horses, who protected the caravans against the marauding desert nomads (Ingholt 1976).

AD 260, Septimius Odaenathus, a Prince of Palmyra, was appointed by Gallienus as the corrector totius Orientis (“governor of all the East”). This frees Gallienus to deal with the breakaway Gallic Empire under Postumus.

After the fall of Zenobia (AD 273), a legionary fortress was established at Palmyra and remained an important junction to the reign of Diocletian. This was garrisoned by the reconstituted III Gallica.

Now a look at the army lists.

Before the incorporation of Palmyra to Roman Syria (Tiberius), I believe Palmyra may have deployed forces similar to other caravan city states as the sources mention mounted and foot archers (not Roman).

I use the Hatrene list solely as a point of reference.

II/22c Army of Hatra 126 BC-240 AD:
1 x General (Kn),
1 x horse archers (LH),
1 x swordsman (Bd),
2 x javelinmen (Ax or Ps) or horse archers (LH),
6 x archers (Bw),
1 x cataphract camels (Cm) or archers (Bw)

When Emperor Gallienus appoints Septimius Odaenathus as the corrector totius Orientis (“governor of all the East”) the following list is found under Book II, list 74a.

II/74a Palmyran Army 260-271 AD (Odenathus’ army):
1 x General (Kn),
2 x cataphract (Kn),
1 x light horse (LH),
3 x archers (Bw),
2 x archers (Bw or Ps),
either Romans
[1 x Roman cavalry (Cv) + 1 x legionaries (Bd) + 1 x auxilia (Ax)]
or Palmyran
[1 x cataphract (Kn) + 1 x archers (Bw) + 1 x light horse (LH) or skirmishers (Ps)]

Regarding the Roman units, we find these present at various times:

Ala Herculiana (AD 117), Ala I Ulpia Singularium: (AD 127), Ala I Ulpia Dromedariorum Palmyrenorum: (150 AD)

Cohort I Sebastena (AD 17), Cohort I Ulpia Petraeorum (AD 108), Cohort Augusta Thracum: (AD 150),

Vexillations of Legion XVI Flavia Firma: (AD 128), Legion 111 Cyrenaicae, (AD ?), Legion Severiana (after AD 273).

These units listed are taken from tiles and grave stones found in the area. We know that during the reign of Septimius Severus, a system of defence in depth was set in place for the Eastern frontier so the units listed above may have been briefly posted to Palmyra, but were normally elsewhere.

This Project

Although this project focuses on the period of the Severan Dynasty, in some cases a step back may produce a better perspective, such as the advance state of Palmyra's list (II/74a) during the reign of Septimius Odaenathus.

Palmyra had enough wealth to support the raising of cataphract, but where did the troops come from? Were these disaffected Parthian nobles who fled west and not to Armenia in AD 225? Could these have been nobles who fled west during the earlier Parthian civil wars of AD 197?

Excepting the extra cataphract, an early Palmyran list (+/- AD 190) for our use would be comparable to an Arabo-Aramean one; 3 - 4 cataphract cavalry, 2 - 3 light horse, 4 - 6 archers and 1 - 2 skirmishers.

I have a few more sources to gleaned, but in the meantime I can busy myself with another building project.


The Palmyrene Prosopography, by Palmira Piersimoni, University College London.
Palmyra as a Caravan City, Albert E. Dean, Stanford University
Caravan Cities: The Roman Near East and Long-Distance Trade by Land, Fergus Millar.
Ruins of Palmyra, otherwise Tadmor, in the Desert, Robert Wood. (London 1753)
Roman Economy and Trade in the Near East, Darell J. Rohl 

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