The Organization of society

By the first century BC a Palmyrene identity began to develop the concept of citizenship (demos) appears in an inscription, dated to AD 10, describing the Palmyrenes as a community In AD 74, an inscription mentions the city’s boule (senate). The tribal role in Palmyra is debated; during the first century, four treasurers representing the four tribes seems to have partially controlled the administration but their role became ceremonial by the second century  and power rested in the hands of the council. The Palmyrene council consisted of about six hundred members of the local elite (such as the elders or heads of wealthy families or clans), representing the city’s four-quarters. The council, headed by a president, managed civic responsibilities; it supervised public works (including the construction of public buildings), approved expenditures, collected taxes, and appointed two archons (lords) each year. Palmyra’s military was led by Strategoi (Generals) appointed by the council.

With the elevation of Palmyra to a colonia around 213–216, the city ceased being subject to Roman provincial governors and taxes.

Palmyra incorporated Roman institutions into its system while keeping many of its former ones. The council remained, and the strategos designated one of two annually-elected magistrates. This duumviri implemented the new colonial constitution, replacing the archons.

Palmyra’s political scene changed with the rise of Odaenathus and his family; an inscription dated to 251 describes Odaenathus’ son of Hairan I as “Ras” (lord) of Palmyra Odaenathus was probably elected by the council as exarch.

The monarchy continued most civic institutions, but the duumviri and the council were no longer attested after 264; Odaenathus appointed a governor for the city. In the absence of the monarch, the city was administered by a viceroy although governors of the eastern Roman provinces under Odaenathus’ control were still appointed by Rome, the king had overall authority. During Zenobia’s rebellion, governors were appointed by the queen.

The inscriptions provide very incomplete evidence of Palmyra’s trade routes. Amongst the surviving inscriptions, there is mention of only one caravan route, from Spasinou Charax, in the Persian Gulf up the Euphrates through Vologesias and then overland to Palmyra. There are two cases of ships owned by a Palmyrene that arrived from Scythia, referring to the Indus estuary area in northwest India. There is some question about the role of the desert nomads in this trade – they may well have profited from this, supplying camels and receiving payments. But there is also mention in several inscriptions of attacks on merchants being averted by armed forces sent from Palmyra.

At its height during the reign of Zenobia, Palmyra had more than 200,000 residents. Its earliest known inhabitants were the Amorites in the early second millennium BC, and by the end of the second millennium, Arameans were mentioned as inhabiting the area. Arabs arrived in the city in the late first millennium BC.

By the time of Nero Palmyra had four tribes, each residing in an area of the city bearing its name. Three of the tribes were the Komare, Mattabol and Ma’zin; the fourth tribe is uncertain, but was probably the Mita. In time, the four tribes became highly civic and tribal lines blurred; by the second-century clan identity lost its importance, and it disappeared during the third century instead, aristocrats played the decisive role in the city’s social organization.


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