Where Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean meet

At the centre of the Syrian steppe, Palmyra stands halfway between the Levantine coast and the Euphrates valley. Its geographical position placed it within easy reach of Mesopotamia to the east and the Mediterranean to the west, through the "Homs Gap", a breach in the coastal mountain chain that runs along the coast between Syria and Lebanon.


Although the name of the city, Tadmor, appears as early as the 19th century BCE, it did not secure its role in east-west trade until the last centuries BCE, and reached the height of its prosperity in the 1st to 3rd centuries.

Camel and horse breeders, the Palmyreans had transportation, they knew the trade routes and water points, they were in contact with the desert tribes and the Parthian Empire, and their armed militia secured caravans against looters.

Extensive network

The Palmyreans had trading posts in Mesopotamia, at Seleucia in the Tigris valley, and at Babylon and Vologesias in the Euphrates valley, and on the Persian Gulf at Spasinou Charax and Phorath; and some sailed even as far as India.

Goods from across the Indian Ocean, from Yemen to India, and even silk from China, were brought to caravanserais around Palmyra, where merchant caravans would stop for food and shelter. As a tax was levied on all goods entering the city, the caravans remained outside. Business was done in the city, however, at the agora for merchants. Merchants from the west met with the Palmyreans and agreed contracts before goods were dispatched across the Mediterranean world.