The ancient city of Dura-Europos in modern-day Syria is well known for its exceptional state of preservation. Often compared to Pompeii, this ancient settlement provides a remarkable window into the Hellenistic, Parthian, and Roman periods.

However, while Dura-Europos has garnered significant attention, there’s another ancient city, just a few kilometers downstream on the Euphrates River, offering a similar wealth of insights yet has remained relatively ignored. This city, named Anqa, has been identified in a recent article published in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, as a near mirror image of Dura-Europos.

Anqa, known historically as Giddan/Eddana, lies across the Syrian border from Dura-Europos in Iraq’s Al-Qaim district, part of the Anbar Governorate. Its remains include a distinct mound at the northern end of the site, a polygonal inner circuit of walls, and a large outer defensive wall.

Another aerial view of the ruins of Anqa, by Aurel Stein
Another aerial view of the ruins of Anqa, by Aurel Stein. Credit: Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME) / Flickr

Strategically located where the Euphrates floodplain narrows considerably, Anqa controlled the movement between the populous upstream valley and the downstream trade route linking Syria, northern Mesopotamia, and Babylon. This made it a site of substantial economic and strategic importance.

Despite this significance, Anqa remained almost entirely overlooked by archaeologists until a British expedition to the Middle Euphrates published a study in 1850. In the late 1930s, Aurel Stein conducted a more detailed exploration, which included aerial photographs of the standing structures. However, interest in Anqa remained minimal, even after these explorations, overshadowed by the fame of its neighboring city, Dura-Europos.

One of the reasons for this lack of interest, according to Simon James, the author of the recent article on Anqa, is the legacy of colonial British and French intervention in the region. In 1920, the San Remo Conference resulted in Iraq coming under British control while Syria fell under French mandate.

The site of the ancient city of Dura Europos
The site of the ancient city of Dura Europos. Credit: Alen Ištoković / Wikimedia Commons

This political, military, and administrative division created a barrier to the study and understanding of the area’s pre-colonial history. As a result, the exploration of Anqa and its potential value to scholars was largely neglected.

Unlike Dura-Europos and other archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria that have suffered from looting, destruction, and civilian casualties due to ongoing conflicts in the region, Anqa has remained relatively untouched. This provides a unique opportunity for further archaeological research to uncover valuable insights into the history of the Middle Euphrates region.

As digital scholarship methods continue to bridge political boundaries, the study of sites like Anqa could also contribute to addressing the impacts of colonialism in archaeology. Simon James notes that increased interest in this “forgotten twin” of Dura-Europos may offer new perspectives on the ancient world and foster collaboration among scholars from different backgrounds and regions.

Anqa, once overshadowed by its more famous counterpart, may yet play a significant role in enriching our understanding of the ancient Middle East, offering a valuable opportunity for archaeologists and historians to explore a site that has, until now, been relegated to the shadows.


Sources

University of Chicago | Simon James, The Ancient City of Giddan/Eddana (Anqa, Iraq), the “Forgotten Twin” of Dura-Europos. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 2024 83:1, 15–40, doi.org/10.1086/729226


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