|Currently Dr Simon James and Dr Jen Baird (Leverhulme Research Fellow, from Sept 2008 Lecturer in Archaeology at Birkbeck College, University of London) are engaged in research on aspects of the archaeology of Dura-Europos, Syria. Both projects involve a combination of research into the records and object collections from the extensive campaigns of excavations conducted by the French and Americans during the 1920s and 1930s, now mostly housed in Yale University Art Gallery, and also new fieldwork on the site itself, under the generous auspices of the current Franco-Syrian expedition.
Dura is an abandoned Hellenistic, Parthian and Roman city on the banks of the Euphrates in Eastern Syria. Its well-preserved archaeological remains, largely sealed after the city was destroyed by the Sasanian Persians c.AD256, have provided remarkable insights into life in the region during the classical period.
Simon James: the Roman military at Dura
Building on his recently-completed study of the spectacular finds of Roman and Sasanian military equipment from Dura, Simon James is now studying other aspects of the Roman military presence in the city. This includes some further work on the remains from the siege itself, and a primarily archaeological study of the Roman military base in the city. In contrast to the West where the imperial armies were normally housed in custom-built fortified bases, in the East urban basing of garrisons was routine. Dura provides the only archaeologically accessible, and reasonably well explored example of such an urban base from the principate.
A pilot survey of the remains, and small initial excavations, were conducted in 2005. SJ was unable to join the expedition in 2006 due to commitments in the USA, but these did permit a very fruitful study visit to the Dura archives in Yale University Art Gallery. The 2007 season centred on a 12 ha magnetometry survey of the entire Roman military base area of the city, conducted by Kris Strutt of the University of Southampton, and funded by the British Academy. This was highly successful, and it will inform planned future seasons of work at the site itself, to elucidate the layout and operation of the base, and more widely, how the garrison fitted into--or took over--the life of the pre-existing Macedonian/Mesopotamian city.
2008 saw a further season of research on the military base, this time mainly comprising photograhic recording and Total Station survey of excavated remains. A particular focus was the so-called Military Temple in Block A1, which, like many structures at the city, was excavated but poorly recorded and never fully published.
In parallel with this work, a further season of magnetometry was undertaken, commissioned by Simon James and Jen Baird, and again conducted by Kris Strutt. Covering the middle portion of the plateau and the floor of theinner wadi, this linked the 2007 survey area and those covered by Christophe Benech in 2001-4, to produce a virtually complete magnetometry map of the still-buried majority of the city interior.It is hoped to publish this soon, in the forthcoming Europos-Doura Études (formerly Doura-Europos Études) vol. VI.
Jen Baird: Houses and households at Roman Dura-Europos
Jen Baird's current research project is entitled “Communities on the frontier”. Funded by the Leverhulme trust, it will bring one of the biggest groups of excavated Roman-period housing to publication for the first time. Over a hundred houses were excavated at Dura in the 1920s and 30s, but few of these received full publication, many never appearing in print, with the objects from the houses likewise being given little attention. Many of the houses were preserved to several meters in height, allowing for the preservation of wall plaster, including graffiti and wall paintings, as well as the preservation in situ of domestic assemblages.
Despite the remarkable preservation of houses and their contents, initial publication focused elsewhere. The valuable data on the domestic structures, including thousands of artefacts which were found within them, has barely been examined. Working with the archival records held by the Yale University Art Gallery and under the auspices of the current expedition, Jen has compiled and assessed all archival data on these houses and re-evaluated them in the field, integrating architectural, artefactual, and textual data. This project will provide a complete study of the domestic occupation of this important site, and will also explore different identities expressed there, including the very nature of what it meant to be ‘Roman’ in the East. This research will have a wide relevance as it will examine both individual households and their place within the broader scale of the city, and will allow the development of a more sophisticated understanding of ancient daily life in the East.