The arms and armour from Dura-Europos, Syria : weaponry recovered from the Roman garrison town and the Sassanid siegeworks during the excavations, 1922-37.
The arms and armour discovered during the excavations at the Roman frontier city
of Dura-Europos, Syria, by Belgian, French and American archaeologists between the
wars constitute one of the most important but least studied assemblages of the kind ever
found. Little of it has ever been published.
Most of the finds can be associated with the events surrounding the final destruction
of the city by the Sassanians, which can be dated to the mid-250s AD. This close dating
of a large body of arms is unparalleled in the Roman Empire. It is also the only really
large group of Roman armour from the whole of the Eastern Empire.
Most of the arms were deposited in contexts which prove they belong to the Roman
defenders, but a handful belong to the Persian attackers, not least an important iron
helmet, the first well-dated Sassanian head-piece. Other items, such as the cane shields,
are hard to definitely attribute to either side.
The material is extremely rich and diverse, the special conditions of burial of many
items preserving delicate organic elements including shield paintings and arrow
fletchings, allowing a much better understanding of the technology and appearance
of Roman weaponry. There are a number of unparalleled complete items, such as the
famous scutum and the horse-armours.
The size, preservation, close dating and Eastern provenance of the collection combine
to give it unique value to military archaeologists. However, close study of the
evidence for the historical context of the siege demonstrates that the archaeological
remains left by the defenders cannot, as hoped, be linked with the copious documentary
evidence from the site. We do not know the exact identity of the Roman units defending
the city. The Roman weaponry is in many respects indistinguishable from that used on
the European frontiers of the Empire. Were the defenders European expeditionary
troops, or Eastern troops wearing identical equipment? The answer lies in further
research into the archaeology of the Eastern army, whose weapons are rarely found.
The Dura assemblage will be the yardstick against which new finds will be measured.