Paul Veyne at Lapham's Quarterly:
In the year 200 Palmyra was part of the vast Roman Empire at the height of its power, which extended from Andalusia to the Euphrates, from Morocco to Syria. When a traveler arrived in the merchant republic of Palmyra, a Greek or Italian trader on horseback, an Egyptian, a Jew, a magistrate sent by Rome, a Roman publican or soldier—in short, a citizen or subject of the empire—the newcomer immediately realized he had entered a new world. He heard an unknown language being spoken, a great language of the civilized world: Aramaic. (This stranger needed not worry about language, however; every rich person he encountered would have known Greek, the English of that time.) Local residents weren’t dressed like other inhabitants of the empire. Their clothing wasn’t draped but sewn like our modern clothing, and men wore wide trousers that looked a lot like those of the Persians. Noble Palmyrene horsemen, lords of import-export, wore a dagger around their waists, defying the prohibition against carrying weapons on one’s person that was imposed on citizens elsewhere in the empire. The women wore full-length tunics and cloaks that concealed only their hair; they wore an embroidered band around their heads, with a twisted turban on top. Others wore voluminous pantaloons. Their faces weren’t veiled, as was the custom in many regions of the Hellenic world. And so much jewelry! They may have been in the heart of the desert, but everything exuded wealth. There were statues everywhere, but they were made of bronze, not marble (there being no marble in Syria); in the great temple the columns had gilded bronze capitals.