Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Elizabeth Macaulay-Lewis

Subject Categories

Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Art and Architecture | Historic Preservation and Conservation | Islamic World and Near East History


Palmyra, Mosul, Preservation, Ancient, Da'esh


This thesis examines ancient architecture within Syria and Iraq that has been deliberately destroyed by violence. The act of destroying architecture and monuments in both Syria and Iraq, which is often-historical UNESCO protected, will invariably violate various laws, such as the 1954 Hague Convention or the Rome Statute. Since post-2011 Syria, all of humanity has been shocked by continuous warfare that, in addition to causing untold loss of human life and suffering, has included a series of episodes of violence against architecture, all of which is so egregious that foreign governments and non government organizations are constantly engaged in efforts to identify new approaches to contain the Syrian war and the Iraqi conflict.

Palmyra and its ancient art and architecture are located within the Syrian steppe. The city historically, over the past two thousand years, has been both admired and disdained by diverse elements of Syria’s population. A recent cogent example is when Palmyra dominated the news on March 28, 2016. Powerful images of demolished ancient architecture and monuments told a story of ideological hatred as two ancient temples (Baalshamin and Ba’al), ancient monumental arches and other monuments were blown up in a war rife with atrocities inflicted on the civilian population. Through architectural stillness and ruin, the damaged remains focused the public’s attention on the destruction of an ancient civilization and its memory.

This thesis considers the grave devastation of architecture that has occurred in Palmyra, Syria and Mosul, Iraq, whose archeological sites have been aggressively attacked by the group that will be referred to in this paper as Da’esh (also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or the Islamic State). The damaged buildings or monuments that will be discussed include the following:

1) The Great Temple of Ba’al, Palmyra

2) Sanctuary of Baal-Shamin, Palmyra

3) Monumental Arch, Palmyra

4) Tower Tombs, Palmyra

5) Nimrud, (Mosul) Iraq

6) Nineveh Archaeological Site, Nergal Gate, Shrine of Jonah, Nineveh (Mosul), Iraq

I will argue that the destruction of architecture by Da’esh and other militant organizations represents the conduct of criminal and immoral warmongers. The destruction by Da’esh of some of Palmyra’s archeological remains, the Shrine of Jonah and the ancient sites of Nineveh and Nimrud is intrinsic to their effort to achieve power in the region, and articulates their intention to create an Islamic State in Syria and Iraq by purging the region of those they reject as apostates, infidels, idol worshipers, Yazidis and Shi’a Muslims.

Not only are the citizens of Syria at war with unceasing sectarian divisions, but the significance of cultural heritage is also under attack in both Syria and Iraq. Buildings and monuments have political and symbolic meanings, and I will argue that violence against architecture in Syria and Iraq by Da’esh is part of its effort to erase history and cast off memories of ancient rule in order to create a new historical memory. The meaning of new and old wars will assist in analyzing the causes of such purposeful violence against architecture and its effect of unraveling cultures and eradicating past civilizations.