“In its time and place, the ancient city of Dura-Europos had much in common with today’s most cosmopolitan urban landscapes. Religious, linguistic and cultural diversity characterized much of the city’s life for more than 500 years, starting at the outset of the third century B.C. in what is now Syria.
Greek, Aramaic, Latin, Parthian, Middle Persian and Hebrew — all of these languages were used concurrently throughout the society, according to inscriptions and graffiti uncovered by archaeologists. A temple altar epitomizes the multiculturalism: The inscription is in Greek, and a man with a Latin name and a Greek-titled office in the Roman army is shown presenting an offering to Iarhibol, a god of the migrants from the old Syrian caravan city of Palmyra.
New Yorkers would have felt at home in the grid pattern of streets, where merchants lived, scribes wrote and Jews worshiped in the same block, not far from a Christian house-church as well as shrines to Greek and Palmyrene deities. Scholars said the different religious groups seemed to maintain their distinct identities.
An exhibition of prized and quotidian artifacts from Dura-Europos, “Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos,” is on view through Jan. 8 at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. The objects — notably art from antiquity’s best-preserved synagogue, and evocative photographs of the buried city’s excavations — are on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery.
“As a city of extraordinary cultural diversity,” said Jennifer Y. Chi, an archaeologist and the exhibition’s chief curator, “Dura-Europos has great resonance for the modern world, where multiculturalism shapes the very nature and quality of daily life.” “