Palmyra and Henri Seyrig

Following the destruction of many of the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in autumn 2015, Paul Veyne, historian and specialist in ancient Rome, wrote Palmyre : l’irremplaçable trésor (C204.d.3861). He writes in the introduction:

Ayant eu pour métier l’étude de l’Antiquité gréco-romaine, je n’ai cessé de rencontrer Palmyre sur mon chemin professionnel. Avec la destruction de Palmyre par l’organisation terroriste Daech, tout un pan de notre culture et mon sujet d’étude viennent brutalement de voler en éclats.

Malgré mon âge avancé, c’était mon devoir d’ancien professeur et d’être humain de dire ma stupéfaction devant ce saccage incompréhensible et d’esquisser un portrait de ce que fut la splendeur de Palmyre qu’on ne peut plus désormais connaître qu’à travers les livres.

The Cambridge University Library has many of those books that Veyne mentions. Organisations involved in archaeological excavations in Syria and Egypt have published series of books that the UL has been collecting consistently for decades, and in many cases for over 100 years. These include some of the most important works about excavations in Palmyra—all the more important now that the archaeological site is no longer intact.

Plates from S516_01_a_1_25 (3)

An early photo of the Temple of Bel, photo by Henri Seyrig (S516:01.a.1.25)

Henri Seyrig began the French excavations in Palmyra in 1929. A fascinating figure, later to be named head of the direction des Musées de France by André Malraux, and a founder of the Institut français d’archéologie du Proche-Orient (now the IFPO), the UL has almost a dozen books by Seyrig or with his contributions. Most of these relate to Syrian archaeology or numismatics, with a significant number relating to Palmyra. A conference was held on the subject of Seyrig at the BNF and at the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres (AIBL) in October 2013. Unfortunately, a book hasn’t (yet?) been published as a result of the conference, however the programme is available from the AIBL. Further information regarding Seyrig is available from the AIBL, where he was an academician.

Three books of Seyrig’s work are in the series Bibliothèque archéologique et historique, which may be ordered to the West Room (we hold them at S516:01.a.1.1-):

  • Le temple de Bel à Palmyre / par Henri Seyrig, Robert Amy, Ernest Will (1975)
    S516:01.a.1.95a, S516:01.a.1.95b
    Bibliothèque archéologique et historique ; 83
  • La Syrie antique et médiévale illustrée / avec 160 planches phototypiques (1931)
    Bibliothèque archéologique et historique ; t. xvii.
    This book is also available as an ebook
  • L’agora de Palmyre / Christiane Delplace et Jacqueline Dentzer-Feydy ; sur la base des travaux de Henri Seyrig, Raymond Duru et Edmond Frézouls ; avec la collaboration de Kh. al-As’ad … [et al.] (2005)
    Bibliothèque archéologique et historique ; t. 175.

The first volume of this series (Le livre de l’impôt foncier / Abou Yousof Yaʼkoub ; traduit et annoté par E. Fagnan – S516:01.a.1.1) dates from 1921 ; the most recent volume in the Cambridge University Library’s collection was published in 2014. Ten books in the series relate to Palmyra (or Tadmur, as the nearby city is known).


The title page of Die Inschriften Nebukadnezars II im Wâdī Brîsā und am Nahr el-Kelb (1906)

Other long-running archaeological series include those produced by the Imprimerie de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale (S512:01.a.6 – volume 1 of the Memoires publiés par les membres de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire was published in 1904) and the Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft (S517:01.a.1, which started in 1900).

These series that have been collected by the University Library for so many decades are not isolated to archaeological subjects; they are an example of the depth of knowledge collected in a large library such as ours. Series in archaeology do, however, have unusual longevity when compared to some other disciplines. Unfortunately, in the case of Palmyra it appears that our collections will outlive the site they record.


Josh Hutchinson

3 thoughts on “Palmyra and Henri Seyrig

  1. It has been pointed out to us that Henri Seyrig was the father of Delphine Seyrig, one of the most important French actresses of the 60s and 70s (famous for her work with Alain Resnais, Bunuel, Marguerite Duras and Chantal Ackerman). You can hear her sing, here, and see an interview with Claude Lanzmann where she talks about her relationship to Saussure.
    In an astonishing interview Lanzmann manages to get from her that she also descends from Saussure.

    Of course, I am contractually obliged to mention that you can find out more about Delphine Seyrig not just by watching her films (I’m sure many are good…) but also by reading books in the UL:

    Comme une apparition : Delphine Seyrig, portrait / François Poirié.
    2007.8.6617 (order in West Room)

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