Book: Levantine Entanglements
Chapter: 8. Local Dynamics of Globalization in the Roman Near East: The Case of Palmyra
The chapter investigates the interplay between the local and the global in the cultural production of the city of Palmyra, thus utilizing the city as a case study of the Local Dynamics of Globalization in the Premodern Levant. The settlement of Palmyra in the Syrian Desert emerged from relative obscurity around the turn of the Common Era. Building her prosperity on caravan trade between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean, the city rose to become one of the most important of the Roman East, even vying for control of the Empire by the third quarter of the third century. Palmyra is famous for her cultural expression, which integrated strands from Iranian, Mesopotamian, Syrian, Arabian, Greek, and Roman traditions into a distinct Palmyrene blend. Trade and political imperialism are frequently perceived as agents of globalization in modern scholarly discourse, while cultural standardization and hybridization is seen as the result. The author, who has a long history of research with Palmyra, interprets how various spaces of the city contributed to differentiated identifications with local and trans-local ways of life. The Roman amphitheater, the Greek theater, the necropolis, the temple of Bel, and the agora were all arenas where the local elite took part in imperial and “globalizing” communication as well as in traditional local and regional discourse. The material record of these elites indicates how local and global discourse may have occurred in urban practice. The chapter reflects on the forms of such framing of the global. The lasting cultural entanglements of Palmyra, sadly illustrated in the fate of the city under ISIL, makes the case of this study all the more relevant.