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Dibsi Faraj and the Middle Euphrates Frontier
A Rediscovered Archive 

Project Contact: Professor Anna Leone 

Dibsi Faraj excavations in progress


The proposed project aims to bring to publication the citadel of Dibsi Faraj (Syria) excavated in the 1970s, whose archives are now at Durham University, and to provide a detailed historical analysis of the middle Euphrates frontier. The citadel was occupied from around the 3rd/4th c. to become important in the Byzantine period. It was named Neocaesarea, and Qasrim after the Arab conquest and destroyed by an earthquake in AD859. This project is extremely timely, as major conflicts in some of the areas of investigation have resulted in significant destruction; the Euphrates Valley has been intensively hit by modern warfare. 

Archive Acquisition

The Department of Archaeology at Durham University a few years ago acquired the archives of the late Richard Harper. In the 1970s, he was assistant director at the British Institute in Ankara and later the director of the British School in Jerusalem. He directed the excavation at Dibsi Faraj (Syria) for Dumbarton Oaks ( The site was excavated as part of the rescue project in advance of the construction of the Tabqa Dam and is now covered by Lake Assad. The archive includes all maps, plans, excavation records, phasing, photos, animal bone reports, finds drawings and a large sample of finds (specifically African Red slip pottery (ARS), Late Roman C (LRC), brittle ware, coarse ware, amphorae, glazed ware and glass). Materials were shipped to the UK in 1973, and the Syrian government has provided a letter of authorization for the Department of Archaeology at Durham University to hold this material indefinitely. Prof. Anna Leone is currently working on the archive for the publication.  

Dibsi Faraj 3D fort images

The project

Since 2014 a team of scholars has been working on the finds with the aim of bringing this important collection of materials to publication. Given the geographical location of the site, currently a conflict area, and the inaccessibility of the site now under water, it is vital to publish these data. The project has the following aims:

  1. investigating the organisation of the landscape of the middle Euphrates frontier (forts, citadels, and civilian settlements), the infrastructure and the role of both the civil population and the army in the development and the transformation of the frontier from an historical perspective;
  2. interpreting trade routes and cultural connections as a key element in the development of this region through sources and published data;
  3. studying the changing economic function of the citadel from the late Roman into the Early Arab periods;
  4. publishing the excavation carried out in the 1970s at a site now under water (Dibsi Faraj). The results are going to be published in a volume edited by Anna Leone. 


Leon Levy – White Shelby Scholarship, Harvard University (USD60000); Anna Leone was Fellow for 6 months at Dumbarton Oaks in 2017 to work on the publication; Rust Foundation (USD10000). 


Leone, A. & Sarantis, A. (2020). The Middle Euphrates and its Transformation from the 3rd to the 7th c.: The case of Dibsi Faraj. Journal of Late Antiquity (13); Leone A. (ed), The Excavation of Dibsi Faraj (Syria): Life on the Middle Euphrates  (1st – 13th century AD), Dumbarton Oaks in preparation 

Dibsi Faraj Area 8