Palmyra (ə/; Palmyrene: Tadmor; Arabic: تَدْمُر Tadmur) is an ancient Semitic city in present-day Homs Governorate, Syria. Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period, and documents first mention the city in the early second millennium BC. Palmyra changed hands on a number of occasions between different empires before becoming a subject of the Roman Empire in the first century AD.
The city grew wealthy from trade caravans; the Palmyrenes became renowned as merchants who established colonies along the Silk Road and operated throughout the Roman Empire. Palmyra's wealth enabled the construction of monumental projects, such as the Great Colonnade, the Temple of Bel, and the distinctive tower tombs. Ethnically, the Palmyrenes combined elements of Amorites, Arameans, and Arabs. The city's social structure was tribal, and its inhabitants spoke Palmyrene (a dialect of Aramaic), while using Greek for commercial and diplomatic purposes. Greco-Roman culture influenced the culture of Palmyra, which produced distinctive art and architecture that combined eastern and western traditions. The city's inhabitants worshiped local Semitic deities, Mesopotamian and Arab gods.
By the third century AD Palmyra had become a prosperous regional center. It reached the apex of its power in the 260s, when the Palmyrene King Odaenathus defeated Persian Emperor Shapur I. The king was succeeded by regent Queen Zenobia, who rebelled against Rome and established the Palmyrene Empire. In 273, Roman emperor Aurelian destroyed the city, which was later restored by Diocletian at a reduced size. The Palmyrenes converted to Christianity during the fourth century and to Islam in the centuries following the conquest by the 7th-century Rashidun Caliphate, after which the Palmyrene and Greek languages were replaced by Arabic.
Before AD 273, Palmyra enjoyed autonomy and was attached to the Roman province of Syria, having its political organization influenced by the Greek city-state model during the first two centuries AD. The city became a Roman colonia during the third century, leading to the incorporation of Roman governing institutions, before becoming a monarchy in 260. Following its destruction in 273, Palmyra became a minor center under the Byzantines and later empires. Its destruction by the Timurids in 1400 reduced it to a small village. Under French Mandatory rule in 1932, the inhabitants were moved into the new village of Tadmur, and the ancient site became available for excavations. During the Syrian Civil War in 2015, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) destroyed large parts of the ancient city, which was recaptured by the Syrian Army on 2 March 2017.
The name "Tadmor" is known from the early second millennium BC; eighteenth century BC tablets from Mari written in cuneiform record the name as "Ta-ad-mi-ir", while Assyrian inscriptions of the eleventh century BC record it as Ta-ad-mar. Aramaic Palmyrene inscriptions themselves showed two variants of the name; TDMR (i.e. Tadmar) and TDMWR (i.e. Tadmor). The etymology of the name is unclear; the standard interpretation, supported by Albert Schultens, connects it to the Semitic word for "date palm", tamar (תמר),[note 1] thus referring to the palm trees that surrounded the city.
The Greek name Παλμύρα (Latinized Palmyra) is first recorded by Pliny the Elder in the 1st century AD. It was used throughout the Greco-Roman world. It is generally believed that "Palmyra" derives from "Tadmor" and two possibilities have been presented by linguists; one view holds that Palmyra was an alteration of Tadmor. According to the suggestion by Schultens, "Palmyra" could have arisen as a corruption of "Tadmor", via an unattested form "Talmura", changed to "Palmura" by influence of the Latin word palma (date "palm"), in reference to the city's palm trees, then the name reached its final form "Palmyra". The second view, supported by some philologists, such as Jean Starcky, holds that Palmyra is a translation of "Tadmor" (assuming that it meant palm), which had derived from the Greek word for palm, "Palame".
An alternative suggestion connects the name to the Syriactedmurtā (ܬܕܡܘܪܬܐ) "miracle", hence tedmurtā "object of wonder", from the root dmr "to wonder"; this possibility was mentioned favourably by Franz Altheim and Ruth Altheim-Stiehl (1973), but rejected by Jean Starcky (1960) and Michael Gawlikowski (1974).Michael Patrick O'Connor (1988) suggested that the names "Palmyra" and "Tadmor" originated in the Hurrian language. As evidence, he cited the inexplicability of alterations to the theorized roots of both names (represented in the addition of -d- to tamar and -ra- to palame). According to this theory, "Tadmor" derives from the Hurrian word tad ("to love") with the addition of the typical Hurrian mid vowel rising (mVr) formantmar. Similarly, according to this theory, "Palmyra" derives from the Hurrian word pal ("to know") using the same mVr formant (mar).