During the time of the French mandate in Syria in the 1920s and 1930s, both French government officials and Syrian nationalists fought to establish competing claims of political legitimacy by using the country’s archaeological sites and ancient history. French government officials — and the Western archaeologists they worked with — used archaeological sites like Dura-Europos and Palmyra to control space and to give a justification for the mission civilisatrice to French and other foreign audiences. This approach alienated many Syrian audiences in the early years of the mandate, leading to the occasional destruction of ancient artifacts. In the mandate’s second decade, Syrian nationalists began to insist on local sovereignty over archaeology, thereby using ancient history as a way to bring together Syrians across social divides and to legitimize their struggle for a political unit encompassing all of Greater Syria. But they were often undermined by the opposing rhetoric of Arab nationalists and the rigidity of French institutions, and so Syrian nationalists ended up unable to assert indigenous control over archaeology to the same extent as in neighboring countries like Iraq, which had greater local sovereignty and a more coherent nationalist ideology.
Bussemaker, Nathalie J., "Imperialism’s Stepchild: Dura-Europos and the Political Uses of Archaeology in the French Mandate of Syria, 1920–1939" (2021). Kaplan Senior Essay Prize for Use of Library Special Collections. 23.
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