Palmyra was a merchant city, established because of trade routes. During the Bronze Age around 2000 BC, Puzur-Ishtar the Tadmorean (Palmyrene) agreed to a contract at an Assyrian trading colony in Kultepe. It was mentioned next in the Mari tablets as a stop for trade caravans and nomadic tribes, such as the Suteans, and was conquered along with its region by Yahdun-Lim of Mari. King Shamshi-Adad I of Assyria passed through the area on his way to the Mediterranean at the beginning of the 18th century BC; by then, Palmyra was the easternmost point of the kingdom of Qatna, and it was attacked by the Suteans who paralyzed the traffic along the trade routes. Palmyra was mentioned in a 13th-century BC tablet discovered at Emar, which recorded the names of two “Tadmorean” witnesses. At the beginning of the 11th century BC, King Tiglath-Pileser I of Assyria recorded his defeat of the “Arameans” of “Tadmar”; according to the king, Palmyra was part of the land of Amurru. The city became the eastern border of Aram-Damascus which was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 732 BC.
The Bible (II Chronicles 8:4) records a location known as “Tadmor,” a desert location fortified by King Solomon of Israel. Flavius Josephus mentions the Greek name “Palmyra”, attributing its founding to Solomon in Book VIII of his Antiquities of the Jews. During the time of Solomon it would have been a very small settlement, perhaps only a watering place for shepherds and passing caravans.
During the Hellenistic period under the Seleucids (between 312 and 64 BC), Nabataean merchants began to settle in Palmyra, and it became a prosperous settlement owing allegiance to the Seleucid king. In 217 BC, a Palmyrene force led by Zabdibel joined the army of King Antiochus III in the Battle of Raphia which ended in a Seleucid defeat by Ptolemaic Egypt. In the middle of the Hellenistic era, Palmyra, formerly south of the al-Qubur wadi, began to expand beyond its northern bank. By the late second century BC, the tower tombs in the Palmyrene Valley of Tombs and the city temples (most notably, the temples of Baal-shaminm and Al-lāt) began to be built. A fragmentary inscription in Greek from the Temple of Bel’s foundations mentions a king titled Epiphanes, a title used by the Seleucid kings.
In 64 BC the Roman Republic conquered the Seleucid kingdom, and the Roman general Pompey established the province of Syria. Palmyra was left as an independent merchant area, trading with Rome and Parthia but belonging to neither. The earliest known inscription in Palmyrene is dated to around 44 BC; Palmyra was still a minor sheikhdom, offering water to caravans which took the desert route on which it was located. However, according to Appian Palmyra was wealthy enough for Mark Antony to send a force to conquer it in 41 BC. The Palmyrenes evacuated to Parthian lands beyond the eastern bank of the Euphrates, which they prepared to defend.
Palmyra became part of the Roman Empire when it was conquered and paid tribute early in the reign of Tiberius, around 14 AD. The Romans included Palmyra in the province of Syria.
Palmyrene trade reached its zenith during the second century, aided by two factors; the first was the trade routes built by the merchants and protected by garrisons at major locations, including a garrison in Dura-Europos manned in 117 AD. The second was the Roman aquisiton of the Nabataean capital Petra in 106, shifting control over southern trade routes of the Arabian Peninsula from the Nabataeans to Palmyra. In 129 Palmyra was visited by Hadrian, who named it “Hadriane Palmyra” and made it a free city.
The city of Palmyra has many impressive buildings, most dating to Roman Occupation. However, of special interest to this website, we have a separate page for the Islamic Central Mosque in Petra.