Syria History – From Roman Age to French Mandate

By | December 17, 2021

From the Roman age to the Arabization

The Roman province of Syria (62 BC) included, besides the Syria, part of Cilicia. The province had an essentially military function as a border area, and of attrition, towards the Parthian kingdom, fighting against which Crassus (53), governor of the province, died. The Augustan province of Syria, also including Cilicia, Pamphylia and Cyprus (later detached), due to its military importance it was firmly organized and had periods of considerable development, especially at the time of Hadrian. The Parthian (later Persian) danger always existed: in 161 AD they invaded the Syria again, stopped by Avidio Cassius; in 256 the Persians of Sapor I conquered Antioch; shortly after (260) the same emperor Valerian fell into their hands. Reasons of expediency had meanwhile led the Romans to subsequent administrative changes in the Syria: divided first into 2 provinces (Coelesyria or Syria maior in the north and Syria Phoenice in the south) by Septimius Severus in 194, then in 3 (with the creation of Augusta Euphratensis in the north-eastern districts of Coelesyria) by Constantius II, finally in 5 at the beginning of the 5th century: Syria I, Syria II (or Salutaris), Phenicia, Phenicia Libanensis, Augusta Euphratensis.

● In Syria Christianity spread from the beginning and in the capital Antioch his followers were called Christians for the first time. In the 5th century. the Syriac Church, centered on the patriarchate of Antioch, extended from Cyprus to including Persia. Persia and Cyprus began to separate, for reasons of jurisdiction, and then those communities that followed Nestorianism and Monophysitism, until in 543-44 two distinct patriarchates were constituted in Antioch, one Monophysite, also called Jacobite (from Jacob Baradeo), the other Catholic, called Melkite, that is, imperial. For Syria religion, please check

● The Arabization of the Syria, begun in the 2nd century. BC with the infiltration of Arab elements through the limes, it resulted in the armed conquest in the 7th century. In 661 there was the advent to the Caliphal throne of the Umayyad dynasty, whose progenitor Mu‛āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān, fixed his seat in Syria and, for almost a century, Damascus was the capital of the Arab state and Syria preferred province. When, in the 8th century, the Abbasids established their residence in Iraq and founded Baghdad, the Syria remained the basis of the holy war against the Byzantine Empire and, shortly after, it replaced the bond with Baghdad by dependence on Egypt or the formation of independent emirates. In the 11th century. the fragmentation of the country continued under the Seljuk emirs (atābeg) of Turkish descent; the crusades that followed gave rise to the creation of the Frankish states. However, the Muslim counter-offensive did not take long to develop, led first by the atābeg of Aleppo and Damascus Nūr ad-Dīn (Norandino), then by the Ayyubita Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn and, lastly, by the first Mamluk sultans who succeeded the Ayyubite dynasty. In the 13th century, after the last Franks were expelled, the Syria became Muslim again and reunited with Palestine and Egypt under the sovereignty of the Mamluks.

The Ottoman rule

In the 16th century. the conquest of the Ottoman Turks took place (1516-17), destined to last until the First World War. This is the period of greatest political, economic and cultural decline in the country; attempts at autonomy or independence under the Druze emir Fakhr ad-Dīn (17th century) and under Dahir lord of Acre (18th century) did not prove lasting. Neither the Napoleonic expedition (1799) nor the Egyptian occupation of the country (1832-40) had a profound impact on Syrian political life. ● Once the Ottoman rule was restored, the Syria entered a period of strong internal tensions, characterized by frequent revolts against the central authority and by the growing rivalry between Christian minorities, supported by France and Russia, and Muslim communities. In particular, the conflict between Druze Muslims and Maronite Christians led to war and the massacres of Christians in Damascus in 1860, following which administrative autonomy was granted to Mount Lebanon. At the end of the 19th century. the Syria opened up more and more to Western influence, in particular French, while the opposition to the Ottoman power was accentuated after the revolution of the Young Turks (1908). During the First World War, Syrian nationalist groups fought against Turkey in the Arab legion led by Faiṣal, son of the sheriff of Mecca al-Ḥusain, participating in the Syrian campaign and the capture of Damascus.

The French mandate

At the end of the war, an Arab military administration led by Faiṣal was created in Damascus, Great Britain returned control of the Syria to France. Hostilities soon broke out between the French and Syrians who, in March 1920, proclaimed the birth of the independent kingdom of the Great Syria (including Lebanon and Palestine) under Faiṣal. Having obtained the mandate on the Syria (formally assigned by the League of Nations in July 1922), France attacked Faiṣal and conquered Damascus (1920), forcing the sovereign into exile. After detaching Lebanon, the French authorities divided the rest of the Syrian territory into 4 parts: Aleppo and Damascus (unified in 1924), the State of Alawites and Jebel Drusus; the sangiaccato of Alessandretta was made autonomous. In 1930 a Constitution was imposed that organized the State of Syria (Aleppo and Damascus) into a republic, thus maintaining the division of the territory under mandate, while the Franco-Syrian treaty of September 1936, which provided for independence within three years, did not it was ratified by Paris ; finally, in June 1939, France ceded Alexandretta’s Sangiaccato to Turkey. ● Invaded by British and free French troops in 1941, the Syria was proclaimed independent and unified in 1942. The following year Shukrī al-Quwwaṭlī, leader of the national party which, together with the popular party, had given birth to the National Bloc, protagonist of the resistance to the French, was elected to the presidency of the Republic. The attempt by France to maintain political control over the Syria, which had been admitted to the UN since February 1945, led to new violent clashes; however, British pressure induced Paris to withdraw its troops.

Syria History - From Roman Age to French Mandate