Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module CLAS43230: The Queen of the Desert: Rise and Decline of Palmyra's Civilization

Department: Classics and Ancient History

CLAS43230: The Queen of the Desert: Rise and Decline of Palmyra's Civilization

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • In accordance with the general aims of the Departmental MA programmes, to promote self-motivated and self-directed research for graduate students;
  • To introduce the fascinating story of the rapid ascent and eventual waning of the unique civilization of Palmyra between the mid-first century BC and the 270s AD;
  • To build on undergraduate knowledge of Roman imperial history by taking as a case study the various roles that the city of Palmyra came to play under the Roman empire;
  • To develop further skills of cultural analysis acquired at undergraduate level through a detailed exploration of a variety of interdisciplinary source material


  • The syllabus might change in detail, but would typically be as follows:
  • Introduction to the module and to Palmyra:- 1) A virtual trip to the oasis (slides and/or ppt) 2) Historiography and sources.
  • The problem of pre-Roman Tadmor and Palmyra's constitutional development:- 1) The problem of the four tribes 2) From polis to colonia 3) Bilinguality and trilinguality.
  • Silk and spices: caravans and long-distance trade:- 1) The caravan inscriptions 2) Routes and products
  • Salt and prostitutes: local economy and regional trade:- 1) The tariff 2) Villages in the northwestern zone of the Palmyrene territory
  • Soldiers and merchants: the Palmyrene diaspora:- 1) Dura-Europos 2) Rome, Dacia, Hadrian's Wall, Africa, Red Sea.
  • Cults and sanctuaries: patterns of worship:- 1) Oriental or Graeco-Roman? 2) Inscriptions; sculptures; mosaics; archaeology. 3) 'Parthian art' and Hellenism.
  • The Palmyrene cities of the dead:- 1) Tomb towers, hypogaea and temple tombs 2) Funerary reliefs and sarcophagi 3) Funerary cults.
  • The crisis of the third century and the rise of Odaenathus:- 1) Valerian's capture and the power vacuum in the Near East 2) Defeat of Shapur: a new King of Kings.
  • The fall of the Desert Queen:- 1) Zenobia's empire and Aurelian's restoration 2) The end of Palmyra's civilization?

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Deep knowledge of the various phases of Palmyra's history in the context of the Roman empire.
  • Familiarity with the relevant epigraphic, archaeological, visual, numismatic and literary sources.
  • Understanding of the current scholarly debate on the subject.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Ability to access, discuss and evaluate critically a combination of different source materials which throw light on the development of Palmyra under the Roman empire.
  • Ability to make proper use at the appropriate level of reference tools and bibliography.
  • Ability to evaluate key themes such as constitutional issues, ancient economy, local prosopography and bilinguality.
Key Skills:
  • Capacity to handle a wide range of different sources with care and sophistication.
  • Assessment of different methodologies and approaches.
  • Ability to produce independent research and to communicate its results with sophistication in both written and oral format.
  • The interpretative and analytical skills required by this module are transferable to any field which requires detailed engagement with interdisciplinary source material.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Teaching will be done by two-hour seminars, with each session focusing on a specific subject. Reading lists with relevant ancient sources, a selection of modern literature and a number of guiding questions will be provided in advance.
  • Students are expected to give brief presentations on specific topics, which will ensure their engagement in independent research and development of their own thoughts about the relevant issues. In addition, they will gain practice in articulating and presenting their conclusions.
  • Assessment will be by written work in the form of an essay, which will consider students' familiarity with the relevant evidence, understanding of and engagement with the current scholarly debate, and sophistication of their analyses. It will furthermore test students' ability to focus on the important issues and to organise their knowledge in such a way as to produce an argument that is appropriate to the questions that are being asked.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Seminars 8 (excluding introductory session) Every two or three weeks 2 hours 16
Preparation and reading 284
Total 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay 5,000 words max (incl. notes, excl. bibliography) 100% None

Formative Assessment:

Usually a gobbet and an essay of 2,000 words max (incl. notes, excl. bibliography)

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University