Syria Dictionary of History Part I

By | December 17, 2021

Syria is a term that in modern usage, relating to pre-classical history, can have two meanings: a broad one that includes Palestine, and a restricted one to the territory of the current Republic of Syria (with the addition of Lebanon and Hatai, which are historically part of it). In the 3rd millennium BC (ancient bronze) the Syria is inhabited by Semitic peoples – Amorites and others – and divided into citizen or cantonal states of which the main one is Ebla. Between 2000 and 1600 BC (Middle Bronze Age) the regional hegemonies of Yamkhad, Qatna, Mari. In the period 1600-1200 BC (Late Bronze Age) the subjection to Egypt in the South and Mitanni and then to the Hittites in the North (Ugarit, Alalakh) took place. With the invasion of the “peoples of the sea” the Syria regains its independence and is structured in an ethnic sense, with the Phoenicians in Lebanon, the Arameans and the neo-Hittites inside, the Israelites and the Philistines in the od. West Bank, Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites in Transjordan. In the mid 8th century. it was annexed to the Assyrian and then Babylonian empires. The Persian empire unifies the region for the first time in a single trans-Euphratic satrapy. For Syria society, please check

Greco-Roman age. Already a satrapy of the Achaemenid empire from 538 BC, the Syria was conquered by Alexander the Great (332 BC) and became a satrapy of the Greek-Macedonian empire. After the struggles between the diadochi, the Syria was permanently dominated by Seleuco, progenitor of the Seleucids, a dynasty that reigned over a vast empire, not restricted to the South. alone, until 64 BC. The Seleucid empire (here Antioch was in fact, the capital, founded by Seleucus after 301), was also the most militarily, politically and culturally sensitive region of the empire, bordering to the South with Egypt, to the North with the domains of Lysimachus, then with the kingdom of Pergamum. This immense dominion quickly disintegrated: around 240, at the time of Seleucus II, Sogdiana and Bactriana had already been lost for some time, while the kingdom of the parts was affirmed to the West of these regions (➔ Arsacids); other regions had or gained autonomy; in 62, when Pompeo established the province of Syria, of the ancient Seleucus empire there was only a small territory around the capital Antioch. Among the causes that contributed to the weakening of the Seleucid empire were the excessive extension and the impossibility for the sovereigns to effectively oppose the autonomist attempts of regions and cities; territorial disputes with Egypt; the fight against Romans and parties. We know relatively little about the organization of the Seleucid kingdom. The territory consisted of “royal land” and cities, the former administered and exploited by the sovereign with the system of large estates, the latter with particular statutes and obligations. The territory itself was divided into satrapies and these, in turn, into eparchies (provinces). The power of the king, to which divine worship was due, was practically absolute. The Roman province of Syria (62 BC), formed with the remnants of the Seleucid empire, included, in addition to the South. proper, part of Cilicia. The province had an essentially military function, as a border area, and of friction, towards the kingdom of the Arsacids, fighting against which Crassus (53), governor of the province, died. The Augustan province of Syria, which also included Cilicia, Pamphylia and Cyprus, retained its military importance. In 161 AD the Syria was again invaded by the Arsacids and in 256 the Sassanids conquered Antioch; shortly after (260) the emperor Valerian fell into their hands. Previously (194) the Syria had been divided by Septimius Severus into two provinces, then into three by Constantius II, finally into five at the beginning of the century. 5th. In Syria Christianity spread rapidly. In the century 5 ° the patriarchate of Antioch exercised its influence over a good part of the eastern regions.

From the Islamic conquest to the end of the Crusader kingdoms. The conquest of the Syria (in ar. Al-Sham, “the region to the left”, facing the East) was completed following the battle of the Yarmuk, in 636. The region was entrusted to the Umayyad governor Mu‛awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, who established his power base there among the local Arab tribes and later made it, after becoming caliph (661), the seat of the empire, taking Damascus as its capital. With the fall of the Umayyads (750), the Syria lost its centrality in favor of Iraq and suffered retaliation by the Abbasids, with the loss of political autonomy and increased taxation, reducing itself to being the northern frontier of the conflict with Byzantium. At the beginning of the 9th century. the conquest of the Tulunids took place; from this moment, the Syria became the seat of successive short-term dominations, formally subjected to the Iraqi caliphate (Ikhshididi, Hamdanidi), until, from 977 to 1098, it was annexed to the Shiite Fatimid caliphate, based in Egypt. Even the Fatimid domination was exercised in a discontinuous way, leaving room for vast areas of local autonomy and anarchy, which the Byzantine emperors benefited from, who took back part of the northern Syria, then the Seljuks (1075, conquest of Damascus; 1086, conquest of Jerusalem), who established two short-lived kingdoms there. In 1098 the Crusader army conquered Antioch, after a long siege; in 1099 the Franks took Jerusalem and the whole region became the seat of the Latin kingdom of the East. Frankish sovereignty over the Syria was immediately disputed by Byzantines and Armenians, Zenjidi, and his lieutenant Salah al-din (Saladin), who, having taken power in Egypt, took the lordship of Damascus from the sons of Nur al-din, then, after the victory at Hattin (1187) over the crusaders, conquered the rest of Syria. For the following century, the Syria, with the Holy Land, was disputed between the various branches of Saladin’s heirs, the Ayyubids of Syria and Egypt, and to these by the Crusader lords. In 1244, the invasion of the corasmi, recalled by al-Malik al-Kamil, returned the Syria to Egypt, until the appearance of the Mamluks, who in 1291, with the capture of Caesarea, completed the conquest of the region.

Syria Dictionary of History