A multicultural society

Mainly inhabited by Arameans and some nomadic Arabs from the surrounding desert, Palmyra was also bathed in Greco-Roman culture, even before its integration into the Roman Empire at the beginning of the 1st century CE. It had been in contact with the Greeks of Syria since its conquest by Alexander in late 333 BCE, and the first Greek texts in Palmyra predate its annexation by Rome. Certain aspects of Palmyrene society reflected a mix of cultures, none of which could be described as superficial.

The Romanisation of public life

The notables – some of whom became Roman citizens over time – borrowed their civic institutions from Greco-Roman culture, including the habit of carving the decisions of its council in stone. Buildings such as the theatre, the baths, and its urban and monumental environment – streets with porticoes, the tetrapylon, and arch, and its colonnaded temples – were also adoptions. The vast peristyle houses decorated with mythological mosaics, some of the clothes worn by men on certain occasions, and even some Greek gods like Heracles, Tyche and Nemesis, also reflect its influence.

Persistence of Aramean culture

Aramaic remained the language of the majority, however, and the most regularly used in unofficial inscriptions –  on tombs, for example. Women were always depicted in local costume, and often men too.

The internal organisation of sanctuaries closely reflected indigenous practices. Most of their gods originated from the oasis itself or from neighbouring regions - Syria and Mesopotamia - and notables were keener to draw attention to their religious roles than their civic achievements, just as lengthy genealogies highlighted their lineage and glorious family histories.