Dura-Europos or Doura Europos was a city of Hellenic origin, located on the Euphrates River in present-day Syria, which contains the remains of the earliest identified Christian church, dating from about A.D. 240. While known from literary sources, the site of the city was not discovered until the 1920s. Today, Salihiye is the nearest village to the site.
The site was originally a defensive town founded c. 303 B.C. with the name Dura, which means fortress in Old Semitic. When the Seleucids assumed control of the area, a general of Seleucus I, Nicator, formed a colony at the site and gave it the name Europos, after Seleucus’ birthplace in Macedonia.
In 141 B.C. Dura Europos was captured by the Parthians, and in A.D. 165 the Romans took control of the city. In c. 257, after attacks by Sassanians, Dura Europos was captured by Shapur I of Persia, depopulated, and abandoned. It then was covered slowly by sand and never again inhabited.
The ruins of Dura Europos were discovered on March 30, 1920 by British soldiers who were preparing the site as a defensive position against Bedouin attackers. Subsequent archaeological efforts revealed the plan of the city as a typical Hellenistic rectangular grid. In addition to the remains of a number of pagan temples, various artifacts, a synagogue, and frescos and mosaics, the archaeologists uncovered the remains of a Christian church and baptistry with walls covered by many scenes from the Bible. Also discovered was a fragmentary text from a Greek harmony of the gospel accounts.
Of note is that these ruins are the earliest identified Christian church in Syria and also provide evidence of Roman toleration of the presence of a Christian community within a major Roman garrison town during an era noted for persecutions.