1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Syria
SYRIA, the name given generally to the land lying between the easternmost shore of the Levantine Gulf and a natural inland boundary formed in part by the Middle Euphrates and in part by the western edge of the Hamād or desert steppe. The northern limit is the Tauric system of mountains, and the southern limit the edge of the Sinaitic desert. This long strip extends, therefore, for about 400 m. between 38° and 31° N. lat. with a mean breadth of about 150 m. Since, however, the steppe edge on the east is somewhat indefinite, some early Moslem and other geographers have included all the Hamād in Syria, making of the latter a blunt-headed triangle with a base some 700 m. long resting on. the north Arabian Nefud. But Strabo, Pliny and Ptolemy, as well as the better Moslem geographers, drew the eastern frontier obliquely from the Gulf of Akeba to Rakka (Raqqa) on Euphrates, and thus placed the Hamād in Arabia.
The name Syria is not found in the Hebrew original of the Scriptures; but it was used by the Septuagint to translate Aram. Homer knows only Ἄριμοι, but Herodotus speaks of “Syrians” as identical with Assyrians, the latter being, he thinks, a “barbarian” form, and he applies the name very widely to include, e.g. north Cappadocians (“White Syrians” of Pteria). Syria, however, is probably the Babylonian Suri, used of a north Euphratean district, and a word distinct from Assyria. Generally the ethnic term, Syrians, came to mean in antiquity the Semiti peoples domiciled outside the Mesopotamian and Arabian areas: but neither in pre-Greek nor in Greek times had the word Syria any very precise geographical significance, various lands, which we include under it, retaining their distinctive status, e.g. Commagene (Kummukh), Cyrrhestica, Phoenicia, Palestine, &c. It is only under the Graeco-Roman administration that we find a definite district known as Syria, and that was at first restricted to the Orontes basin. Later, all that we understand by Syria came to be so known officially to the Romans and Byzantines; but the only province called simply Syria, without qualification, remained in the Orontes valley. Under the present Ottoman distribution “Syria” is the province of Sham or Damascus, exclusive of the vilayets of Aleppo and Beirut and the sanjaks of Lebanon and Jerusalem, which all fall in what is called Syria is the wider geographical sense.
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Taking Syria as the strip limited by the sea, the edge of the Hamād, the Taurus and the Sinaitic desert, we have a remarkably homogeneous geographical area with very obvious natural boundaries; but these, for various reasons, have proved very ineffective in history, especially on the south and east. Syria happens to lie on the line of least resistance for communication between the early subtropic seats of civilization in the Nile and Euphrates valleys and the civilizations of Europe. Its eastern boundary is in great part a steppe, which breeds population, but, unable to nourish increase, sends it over its boundaries in a constant stream of migration. Consequently south Palestine has been continuously “Arabized”; and indeed the whole of Syria has been characterized by racial and religious fusions, and by civilization of a singularly syncretic and derived kind, of which the ancient Phoenician is a sufficient example.
The surface configuration of almost all the strip is remarkably uniform. With the exception of the extreme north (Commagene), which is shut off by a barrier of hills and belongs to foreign hydrographic systems, the whole country is roughly a gable-shaped elateau, falling north and south from a medial ridge, which crosses Syria at about its central point. This gable is tilted eastwards, and its two long slopes are defined by bordering mountain chains which run across its medial ridge; the main Syrian streams are those which follow those slopes between the chains, thus running either north or south for most of their courses, and only finding their way to the western sea by making sharp elbows at the last. Syrian orography, therefore, is simple, being composed of nothing but these two parallel systems. That on the west, which rises behind the Mediterranean littoral, springs from Taurus in the well-afforested Mt Amanus (Giaour Dagh), and is continued by Jebel Bereket and J. Akhma, over the northern end of which runs a single easy pass (Beilan) to the north-east angle of the Levant coast (Alexandretta), while at the southern end is a gap through which the Orontes turns sharply to the sea. South of this, with J. Akra (the Bald Mountain, anc. Casius) begins a further section, rounded and grassy, called J. Ansariya, which presently springs up into a high chain of Jurassic limestone with basaltic intrusions, whose peaks rise to 10,000 ft. and whose passes do not fall under 6000 ft. Here it is called J. al-Gharbi or Libnan (see Lebanon). Thereafter it broadens out and becomes the high table-land of Galilee, Samaria and Judaea, and gradually sinks into the plateau of north Sinai.
The eastern system springs from the Tauric offshoot (Kurd Dagh, &c.), which shuts off the Commagenian basins, and as the triple chain of J. al Ala, it defines the Orontes valley on the east. Like its western parallel it springs up presently into a higher chain and is known as J. es-Sharki, or Anti-Libanus, which culminates in a knot on the south, to which is given the name J. es-Sheikh, or Hermon (8000 ft.). Thereafter it loses much of its distinctive character, but may be traced southwards in J. Ḥauran and the Moabite hills to Horeb and the Midianite Mountains of the Hebrews, which run into Arabia.
Hydrography.—Between these systems run the main rivers; and these naturally rise near the medial ridge, in the lacustrine district of el-Buka'a, or Coelesyria, and flow in opposite directions. That following the northern slope is the Nahr al-’Asi (see Orontes) into which, when it has turned sharply towards the sea, flow some tributary streams from the Commagenian divide on the north. The main stream flowing south is the Jordan, which fails to reach the sea, being absorbed into the great rift of the Ghor: but a smaller stream, the North Litani (called Kasimiya in its lower course), whose source lies very near that of Jordan, repeats the course of the Orontes on a minor scale and gets through the western mountain system to the sea near Sur (Tyre). Outside the basins of these rivers and their bordering mountain systems there only remain to be considered the following: (1) The Mediterranean littoral strip (the ancient Phoenicia), with a few torrent-like streams. (2) The shut-off district in the extreme north, ancient Commagene, which consists of two basins divided by a low ridge running from south to north. These basins belong, one to the Cilician river-system, and the other to the Euphratean. In the first lay the ancient Germanicia (mod. Marash); in the second the ancient Samosata (mod. Samsat), whose importance has now passed to Adiaman. The southern boundary of both basins is a low chain which leaves the Euphrates near the mouth of the Sajur tributary, and runs west towards Mt Amanus, to which it is linked by a sill whereon stood the ancient fortified palace of Samal (Sinjerli; see Hittites). (3) A succession of oases lying east of the eastern mountain system on the edge of the steppe, and fed by short local streams. Of these the most important are, from north to south, (a) the Saltpan of Jebeil, fed by the North al-Dahab; (b) the oases of Kinnesrin and Aleppo, fed by the North Kuwaik; and (c) that of Sham or Damascus, fed by streams from Hermon, of which the Barada (Abana) and the Awaj (Pharpar) are the chief.
Since these streams had in no case originally easy access to the sea, we naturally find lakes on their course, and several of them terminate in tracts of more or less permanent inundation. Those which occur on the course of the principal rivers are described under Orontes and Jordan. The others, which terminate streams, are the Bahr el-Ateiba, which receives the waters of Damascus; the Mat, into which the Kuwaik flows below Kinnesrin; and the Ak Deniz, or Bahrat Antakia, the ancient Lake of Antioch, which collects the waters of the Kara Su and Afrin, the southward from the watershed which shuts off Commagene. The last-named lake has now been almost entirely dried up by the cutting of a channel, which conducts its feeders directly to the Orontes.
Geology.—Geologically, Syria belongs to two distinct regions of the earth's crust, the northern and smaller portion lying within the great belt of folding of southern Europe and central Asia, and the southern and larger portion belonging to the Indo-African area, which, though often faulted, is usually free from crumpling. According to M. Blanckenhorn the boundary between the two regions runs from the Bay of Jebele along the Afrin River to Aintab, and thence to the Euphrates above Birejik. In the southern region which is by far the better known, the oldest rocks are granites, crystalline schists and other rocks of Archean aspect. These are overlaid by conglomerates, tuffs, sandstones and arkoses, which perhaps do not all belong to the same period. In Palestine a limestone containing Carboniferous fossils is found in the midst of the sandstone series, and here the sandstone is immediately succeeded by limestones with Hippurites and other fossils belonging to the Upper Cretaceous. Farther north, however, Jurassic beds are met with, but of very limited extent. Cretaceous limestones cover the greater part of Palestine and rocks of the same period form Mt Lebanon, the Casius Mons, &c., farther north. Nummulitic limestone (Eocene) overlies the Cretaceous in Philistia, and north of Lebanon Eocene and Miocene deposits cover the greater part of the country. The Pliocene deposits are not very widely spread and are generally of fresh-water origin excepting near the coast, but marine Pliocene beds have been found at el Forklus in the Palmyra desert. Jebel Hauran, east of the Jordan, is capped by a great sheet of basalt; and many other basalt flows are found, especially in the country north of Lebanon. They are mostly true felspar basalts, but a few contain nepheline in addition to the felspar. In most cases the eruptions appear to be of Pliocene or later date, but in the extreme north some of the basalt seems to belong to the Miocene period. There is historic evidence of mud eruptions in some of the volcanic areas. The most striking feature in the structure of Syria is the existence of long Graben, or narrow depressions formed by faulting. The best known of these Graben is that of the Jordan, but the upper part of the Orontes lies in a similar depression, which is, indeed, very probably the continuation of the Jordan-Araba trough. The faulting which formed the depressions is certainly later than the deposition of the Cretaceous beds and probably belongs to the later portion of the Tertiary era. Little is known of the part of Syria which lies within the folded belt, and includes the Amanus and Kurd mountains. The rocks do not appear to differ very markedly from those farther south, but the Devonian is believed to be represented. The folds are approximately parallel to those of the Taurus, and geologically these mountains may be said to belong to that range.
Climate.—Within historic times the climate, and with it the productivity of the country, cannot have greatly changed; at most the precipitation may have been greater, the area under wood having been more extensive. Except for Jerusalem, we have hardly any accurate meteorological observations; there the mean annual temperature is about 63° F.; in Beirut it is about 68°. The rainfall in Jerusalem is 36.22 in., in Beirut 21.66. The heat at Damascus and Aleppo is great, the cooling winds being kept off by the mountains. Frost and snow are occasionally experienced among the mountains and on the inland plateaus, but never along the coast. Even the steppe exhibits great contrasts of temperature; there the rainfall is slight and the air exceedingly exhilarating and healthy. The sky is continuously cloudless from the beginning of May till about the end of October; during the summer months the nights as a rule are dewy, except in the desert. Rain is brought by the west wind; the north-west wind, which blows often, moderates the heat. On the other hand, an ozoneless east wind (sirocco) is occasionally experienced—especially during the second half of May and before the beginning of the rainy season—which has a prejudicial influence on both animal and vegetable life. On the whole the climate of Syria—if the Jordan valley and the moister districts are excepted—is not unhealthy, though intermittent fevers are not uncommon in some places.
The general character of the country, resultant on these conditions, varies according to elevation and latitude. Owing to the high barrier which shuts off almost all Syria from the sea, and precipitates vapours mainly on the western slope, little of the land is highly productive without irrigation, except the narrow littoral strip which was the ancient Phoenicia, and the small deltas, such as that of Latakia (Laodicea). Palestine, being less shut in and enjoying a comparatively large general rainfall, would be still a land “flowing with milk and honey” had its forests not been destroyed, and the terracing, which used to hold up soil on the highlands, been maintained. As it is, it has very fertile patches of lowland, such as the plains of Esdraelon and Jaffa; and the high levels, largely composed of disintegrated igneous rock, west of Jordan, over which the sea-wind carries the rains, offer excellent corn-land. In the extreme south Palestine begins to be affected by the Arabian dryness. For the rest, Syria needs irrigation; and since neither of its larger rivers, Orontes or Jordan, flowing as these do in deep beds, is of much use for this purpose, all Mid-Syria, except the lacustrine oases, is a region mainly occupied by pastures, and yielding only thin cereal crops. Commagene, where not rocky, and the district lying along the southward drains from its divide (anc. Cyrrhestica) , is in better case, enjoying perennial streams which can be utilized, and the fringe of the Tauric rainfall. The latter dies away over the plains east and south-east of Aleppo, making them afford good spring pasture, which has attracted the nomads from farther south: but below the latitude of Rakka-Homs thin steppe begins, and quickly degenerates into sheer desert broken only by a chain of poor oases, south of a low ridge running from Anti-Lebanon to Euphrates. Of these the principal are Kanetein and Tadmor (Palmyra), through which passes the trade from Damascus to the east. In ancient times, up to the Arab invasion, the northern part of the eastern plateau, between Orontes and Euphrates, was made habitable and even fertile by storage of rainfall. It supported a large number of villages and small towns, whose remains are remarkably well preserved, and still serve to shelter a sparse pastoral population.
Flora.—Two distinct floral regions meet in Syria, that of the Mediterranean and that of the west Asian steppe-land. The first, to be seen on the coast and the western slopes of the highlands, is characterized by a number of evergreen shrubs with small leathery leaves, and by quickly-flowering spring plants. On the lowest levels the southern forms, the Ficus sycomorus and the date-palm, appear, and increase in the direction of Egypt (see Lebanon and Palestine). The steppe region, whose flora begins to appear east of the western ridge, is distinguished by the variety of its species, the dry and thorny character of its shrubs, and great poverty in trees. Between these regions the greatly depressed valley of Jordan shows a subtropic vegetation. Among cultivated trees, the olive is at home throughout Syria, except on the steppe; the mulberry is planted extensively in the lower Lebanon; and all sorts of fruit-trees flourish in irrigated gardens, especially on the Phoenician coast, in the Palestinian plain, in the oasis of Damascus, and in the Buka‛a, The main cereal regions are the Hauran, and the plains of Antioch and Commagene; and the lower western slopes of the coast range are largely devoted to the culture of tobacco. On the northern inland downs liquorice grows wild and is collected by the peasants and sent down to Alexandretta.
Fauna.—The mammals of Syria are rather sharply to be distinguished into those which range only north of Mt Carmel, and those which pass that limit. The first class includes the isabelline bear, badger, pole-cat, ermine, roe and fallow deer, wild ass, Syrian squirrel, pouched marmoset, gerbill and leopard. The second class will be found under Palestine; and it includes a sub-class which is not found outside Palestine at all. In the latter are the coney, jerboa, several small rodents and the ibex. Only in the Jordan valley do intrusions from the Ethiopic region appear. Elsewhere the forms are Palaearctic with intrusions from the east; but the length of the Syrian strip and the variety of its surface relief admit of considerable difference in the species inhabiting different districts. The Lebanon and the hills of north Galilee offer the greatest number of mammals.
Population.—The actual population of Syria is over 3,000,000, spread over a superficial area of about 600,000 sq. m., i.e. about 5½ persons to the square mile. But this poor average is largely accounted for by the inclusion of the almost uninhabited northern steppe-land; and those parts of Syria, which are settled, show a much higher rate. Phoenicia and the Lebanon have the densest population, over 70 to the square mile, while Palestine, the north part of the western plateau east of Jordan, the oases of Damascus and Aleppo, the Orontes valley, and parts of Commagene, are well peopled. The bulk of the population, so far as race goes, is of the Semitic family, and at bottom Aramaean with a large admixture of immigrant Arabian blood, which is constantly being reinforced, and a comparatively small strain of Hebrew blood. The latter appears mainly in Palestine, and has of late been considerably strengthened by immigration of European Jews, who have almost doubled the population of Jerusalem, and settled upon several fertile spots throughout the Holy Land. But how far these, or the indigenous “Jews” are of Hebrew rather than of Aramaean origin is impossible to say. We only know that as long ago as the 1st century B.C. true Hebrew blood was becoming rare, and that a vast proportion of the Jews of Roman times were Hebraized Aramaeans, whose assimilation into the Jewish community did not date much further back than the Maccabaean age.
Among this Semitic folk is to be observed a great variety of immigrant stocks, settled in isolated patches, which have done much to contaminate the masses about them. In the extreme north (Commagene) the highlands are almost entirely held by Kurds who entered from beyond Euphrates in comparatively recent times. Kurds live upon the Commagenian plains here and there, as also in the northern trans-Euphratean plains. Among them in the Tauras and Amanus, and outnumbering them on the plains, are Armenian communities, the remains of the Rupenian invasion of the 10th century A.D. (see Zeitun). These are found as far south as the plain of Antioch and the basin of the Sajur. To the north of Aleppo and Antioch live remnants of pre-Aramaean stocks, mixed with many half-settled and settled Turkomans (Yuruks, Avshars, &c.) who came in before the Mahommedan era, and here and there colonies of recently imported Circassians. The latter are also settled numerously to the west of Jordan. Mid-Syria shows a medley of populations of more or less mixed origin, in large part alien, for which see Druses; Maronites and Lebanon. In the Phoenician coast towns are many Greeks (to be distinguished from Orthodox Syrians, called also Greeks on account of creed). In the steppe-land and in the southern trans-Jordanic districts are numbers of true Arabs, mostly belonging to the great Anazeh family, which has been coming northwards from Nejd in detachments since the 13th century. These are mainly nomadic, and include offshoots of the great tribes of Ruala, Walad Ali, B. Sokhr, Adwan and Bishr, the first two roaming mainly in the north, the last two in Moab and Ammon. Ottoman Turks, scattered gipsy communities, German settlers in north Palestine, and all sorts of Europeans make up a heterogeneous and incompatible population.
Religion.—The religious types also are strongly divergent. The bulk of the population is Mahommedan; the Bedouins have not much religion of any kind, but they profess Islam. Besides orthodox Moslems there are also Shi‛ite sects, as well as a number of religious communities whose doctrine is the outcome of the process of fermentation that characterized the first centuries of Islam. To this last class belong the Ismailites (Assassins), q.v., Metawali, Nosairis, Ansarieh, and especially the (Druses (q.v.). In many cases it is obvious that the political antipathy of the natives to the Arabs has found expression in the formation of such sects. The Ansarieh, for instance, and no doubt the Druses also, were originally survivals of the Syrian population. The Jews are found mainly in the larger centres of population. The Christians are an important element, constituting probably as much as a fifth of the whole population; the majority of them belong to the Orthodox Greek Church, which has two patriarchs in Syria, at Antioch and Jerusalem. Catholics—United Greeks, United Syrians and Maronites—are numerous. The mission of the American Presbyterian Church, which has had its centre in Beirut for the last sixty years, has done much for Syria, especially in the spread of popular education; numerous publications issue from its press, and its medical school has been extremely beneficial. The Catholic mission has done very good work in what relates to schools, institutes and the diffusion of literature. The Christians constitute the educated portion of the Syrian people; but the spirit of rivalry has produced stimulative effects on the Mahommedans, who had greatly fallen away from that zeal for knowledge which characterized the earlier centuries of their faith.
Language.—The language throughout southern and middle Syria as high as Killis is Arabic, which has entirely ousted Aramaic and Hebrew from common use, and tends to prevail even over the speech of recent immigrants like the Circassians. The last survivals of Aramaic are to be sought in certain remote villages of Anti-Lebanon, and in the Syriac known to the clergy. From the upper Sajur northwards Turkish prevails, even among the Armenians; but many Kurdish communities retain their own tongue.
Government.—The political status of the country is controlled by the Ottoman Empire, of which Syria makes part, divided into the vilayets of Aleppo, Sham or Syria (Damascus), the (Lebanon (q.v.) and Beirut, and the separate sanjaks or mutessarifliks of Zor and Jerusalem. Ottoman control is imperfect in Lebanon, the Houran, and over the Armenian mountain region of Zeitun and over the eastern steppe-lands, whose nomadic populations can withdraw themselves out of reach. But considerable success has been achieved in inducing the Syrian Arabs to settle and in supplying a counteracting influence to their unrest by the establishment of agricultural colonies, e.g. those of the Circassians in Bashan, Ammon and Moab.
Communications are still very imperfect, but have been greatly improved of late years. Railways run from Beirut to Homs, Hamah, Aleppo and Damascus (French), and to the latter also from Haifa (Turkish). From the termination of the Damascus-Mzerib railway a line (the “Mecca railway”) has been laid by Ottoman enterprise east of Jordan to the southern limit of Syria and beyond. From Jaffa a short line runs to Jerusalem, and a steam tramway connects Beirut with Tripoli. There are carriage roads radiating from Aleppo to the sea at Alexandretta, and to Aintab; and Antioch is also connected with Alexandretta; Beirut and Homs with Tripoli; Damascus with Beirut; and Nazareth with Haifa. But carriage roads in the Ottoman dominions are seldom completely made, and hardly ever kept in repair. The Lebanon district is well supplied with both roads and made mule-tracks.
Commerce.—From the Egyptian and Assyrio-Babylonian monuments we learn that in ancient times one of the principal exports of Syria was timber; this has now entirely ceased. But it continues to export wheat. Other articles of export are silk cocoons, wool, hides, sponges, eggs and fruits (oranges, almonds, raisins and the like); the amounts of cotton, tobacco and wine sent out of the country are small. The only good harbours are those of Beirut and Alexandretta (Iskanderun). The caravan trade with the East has almost entirely ceased, and the great trade routes from Damascus northwards to Aleppo and eastwards through the wilderness are quite abandoned. The traffic with Arabia has ceased to be important, being limited to the time of the going and returning of the great pilgrimage to Mecca, which continues to have its mustering-place at Damascus, but leaves mainly by rail. The native industries in silk, cotton and wool have been almost entirely destroyed by the import trade from Europe. The land is poor in minerals, including coal; water-power also is deficient, so that the introduction of European industries is attended with difficulties even apart from the insecurity of affairs, which forbids such experiments as the improvement of agriculture by means of European capital. As regards the cultivation of the soil Syria remains stable; but the soil is becoming relatively poorer, the value of the imports constantly gaining upon that of the exports. The latter are estimated at some 2½ millions sterling; the former at 4 millions.
History.—Rude stone monuments (circles and dolmens) and other prehistoric remains show that Syria must have been inhabited from a very early period. Within historic times a great number of different nationalities have fought and settled within its borders, the majority belonging to the Semitic stock. This last circumstance has rendered possible a considerable degree of fidelity in the tradition of the oldest local names. After the Aramaeans had absorbed what remained of the earlier population, they themselves were very powerfully influenced by Graeco-Roman civilization, but as a people they still retained their Aramaean speech. Of the political relations of Syria in the most ancient times we know but little. Each town with its surrounding district seems to have constituted a small separate state; the conduct of affairs naturally devolved upon the noble families. In the latter part of the 16th century B.C. all north Syria fell under the Cappadocian Hatti domination. The south part of Syria was known to Sargon of Akkad (Agade) as Ammon and was visited by his armies. This is known as the Canaanite period, succeeded about 1000 B.C. by the Aramaean. At a very early period as early probably as the 16th century B.C. Syria became the meeting-place of Egyptian and Babylonian elements, resulting in a type of western Asiatic culture peculiar to itself, which through the commerce of the Phoenicians was carried to the western lands of the Mediterranean basin. Industry especially attained a high state of development; rich garments were embroidered, and glass, pastes, faience, &c., were manufactured. The extant inventories of spoil carried off by the ancient conquerors include a variety of utensils and stuffs. The influence exercised at all times on Syrian art by the powerful neighbouring states is abundantly confirmed by all the recent finds which, in addition to our previous knowledge, show the action of the Aegean culture on Phoenicia and Palestine. The Syrians were more original in what related to religion; every place, every tribe, had its “lord” (Ba‛al) and its “lady” (Ba‛alat); the latter is generally called ‛Ashtar or ‛Ashtaret (i.e. Ishtar, Astarte). Besides the local Baal there were “the god of heaven” (El) and other deities; human sacrifices as a means of propitiating the divine wrath were not uncommon. But in the Syrian mythology foreign influences frequently betray themselves. Over against its want of originality must be set the fact, not merely that Syrian culture ultimately spread extensively towards the West, but that the Syrians (as is shown by the inscriptions of Teima, &c.) long before the Christian era exercised over the northern Arabs a perceptible influence which afterwards, about the beginning of the 1st century, became much stronger through the kingdom of the Nabataeans. The art of writing was derived by the Arabs from the Syrians.
Something about the ancient political and geographical rela- tions of Syria can be gleaned from Egyptian sources, especially in connexion with the campaigns of Tethmosis (Thothmes) III. in western Asia and the administration of Amenophis (Amenhotep) IV. (the Tell el-Amarna Letters). The Egyptians designated their eastern neighbours collectively as ‛Amu. Syria up to and beyond the Euphrates is called more precisely Ṣahi (or Zahi), and is regarded as consisting of the following parts: (1) Rutenu, practically the same as Palestine (occasionally Palestine with Coelesyria is called Upper Rutenu, as distinguished from Lower Rutenu extending to the Euphrates); (2) the land of the Kheta (sometimes reckoned as belonging to Rutenu with Kadesh on the Orontes as its capital in the Ramesside period; (3) Naharina, the land on both sides of the Euphrates (extending, strictly speaking, beyond the Syrian limits). The Canaanites in general are called Kharu. From these lands the Egyptian kings often derived rich booty, so that in those days Syria must have been civilized and prosperous. Moreover, we possess enumerations of towns in the geographical lists of the temple of Karnak and in a hieratic papyrus dating about 200 years after Tethmosis III. Some of these names can be readily identified, such as Aleppo, Kadesh, Sidon, and the like, as well as many in Palestine. The Tell el-Amarna Letters (15th century B.C.) show Syria held in part by Egyptian viceroys, who are much preoccupied with southward movements in the Buka‛a and the rest of the interior beyond their control, due to pressure of Amorite peoples, and of the Mitanni and the Kheta, whose non-Semitic blood was mingled with that of the Aramaeans even in Palestine. On the latter in Syria, see Hittites. It need only be said here that this people bulked most largely in the relations of Egypt with Syria from the 16th to the 14th centuries. During the reign of Rameses II. it was centred on the upper Orontes (Kadesh) and had comparatively free access to Palestine and the Egyptian border. Later on we find Kheta focused farther north, on the middle Euphrates (Carchemish), and more or less cut off from Egypt by the Hebrew state. They or their confederacy remained, however, the most powerful of the Syrian elements till the westward extension of Assyria about 1050 B.C., under Tiglath-Pileser I. Late in the 8th century Sargon III. took Carchemish and ended Hittite power.
With the fall of the Kheta the Aramaeans were the people who held the most important towns of Syria, gradually advancing until at last they occupied the whole country. Of the Aramaean stocks named in Gen. x. 23, xxii. 21 seq., very little is known, but it is certain that Aramaeans at an early period had their abode close on the northern border of Palestine (in Maachah). A great part was played in the history of Israel by the state of Aram Dammesek, i.e. the territory of the ancient city of Damascus; it was brought into subjection for a short time under David. The main object of the century-long dispute between the two kingdoms was the possession of the land to the east of the Jordan (Ḥauran, and especially Gilead). Another Aramaean state often mentioned in the Bible is that of Aram Zobah. That Zobah was situated within Syria is certain, though how far to the west or north of Damascus is not known; in any case it was not far from Ḥamath (Ḥamah). Ḥamath in the valley of the Orontes, at the mouth of the Buka‛a valley, was from an early period one of the most important places in Syria; according to the Bible, its original inhabitants were Canaanites. The district belonging to it, including amongst other places Riblah (of importance on account of its situation), was not velry extensive. In 733 B.C. Tiglath-Pileser II. compassed the overthrow of the kingdom of Damascus; he also took Arpad (Tel Arfad), an important place three hours to the north of Aleppo. Ḥamath was taken by Sargon in 720. Henceforward the petty states of Syria were at all times subject to one or other of the great world-empires, and were still in dispute between Babylonia and Egypt as late as Necho. Thereafter the Mesopotamian powers prevailed, even if in some cases a certain degree of independence was preserved, as e.g. by the Phoenician cities. These, however, in spite of more than one revolt, continued to supply fleets to the Persians down to the time of the Macedonia invasion (332 B.C.), and inland Syria remained comparatively peaceful first under its own local governors, and, after Darius, as a satrapy, till its subjugation by Alexander. Alien domination alone has been able to correct the tendency of this long strip of land to break up into hostile belts.
The foundation of numerous Greek cities shortly after Alexander's time was of great importance for Syria (see e.g. Antioch). The Graeco-Syrian civilization extended far to the south down both sides of Jordan, and, but for the Maccabaean revival, would have absorbed the Jews. The Seleucidae had severe struggles with the Ptolemies for the possession of the southern part of Syria.
After having been reckoned for a short time (from 83 to 69 B.C.) among the dominions of Tigranes, king of Armenia, the country was conquered for the Romans by Pompey (64-63 B.C.). It is impossible here to follow in detail the numerous changes in the distribution of the territory and the gradual disappearance of particular dynasties which maintained a footing for some time longer in Chalcis, Abila, Emesa and Palestine; but it is of special interest to note that the kingdom of the Arab Nabataeans was able to keep its hold for a considerable period on the north as far as Damascus. In the year 40 B.C. Syria had to endure a sudden but brief invasion by the Parthians. The country soon became one of the most important provinces of the Roman Empire; its proconsulship was from the first regarded as the most desirable, and this eminence became still more marked afterwards. Antioch, adorned with many sumptuous buildings, as the chief town of the provinces of Asia, became in point of size the third city of the empire and an eastern Rome. The high degree of civilization then prevailing in the country is proved by its architectural remains dating from the early Christian centuries; the investigations of De Vogüé, Butler and others, have shown that from the 1st to the 7th century there prevailed in north Syria and the Ḥauran a special style of architecture—partly, no doubt, following Graeco-Roman models, but also showing a great deal of originality in details.
The administrative divisions of Syria during the Roman period varied greatly at different times. Hadrian made three provinces of it, Syria, Syria Phoenice and Syria Palestina. At the beginning of the 5th century we find the following: (1) Syria Euphratensis, which had for its capital Hierapolis (q.v.). (2) Syria I., or Coelesyria, having Antioch as its capital. The name Coelesyria (1) ἡ κοιλὴ Συρία), no doubt, was applied originally to the valley (“hollow”) between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon, but was afterwards extended to the district stretching eastwards from the latter range. (3) Syria II., or Syria Salutaris, with Apamea as capital. (4) Phoenice Maritima; capital, Tyre. (5) Phoenice ad Libanum; capital, Emesa (Homs). To this division Damascus and Palmyra belonged; occasionally they were reckoned to Coelesyria, the middle strip of coast being designated Syrophoenicia. (6, 7, 8) Palestina I., II. and III. (9) Arabia (capital, Bostra), which embraced all the region from the Ḥauran to the Arnon, and skirted the Jordan valley, stretching southwards to Petrae. Through the kingdom of the Nabataeans Roman influence penetrated from Syria far into northern Arabia.
In 616 Syria was subjugated for a brief period by the Persian Choroes II.; from 622 till 628 it was again Byzantine; 636 and the immediately following years saw its conquest by the Mahommedans (see Caliphate). Moawiya, the first Omayyad caliph, chose Damascus for his residence; but in 750 the capital of the empire was removed by the Abbasids to Bagdad. Under the early caliphs the Arabs divided Syria into the following military districts (gonds). (1) Filistin (Palestine), consisting of Judaea, Samaria and a portion of the territory east of Jordan; its capital was Ramleh, Jerusalem ranking next. (2) Urdun (Jordan), of which the capital was Tabaria (Tiberias); roughly speaking, it consisted of the rest of Palestine as far as Tyre. (3) Damascus, a district which included Baalbek, Tripoli and Beirut, and also the Ḥauran. (4) Ḥoms, including Ḥamath. (5) Kinnesrin, corresponding to northern Syria; the capital at first was Kinnesrin (Qinnasrin) to the south of Ḥaleb (Aleppo), by which it was afterwards superseded. (6) The sixth district was the military frontier (‛awasim) bordering upon the Byzantine dominions in Asia Minor. During the struggles of the Mahommedan dynasties for the possession of Syria the country still enjoyed a considerable degree of prosperity.
In the crusading period the kingdom of Jerusalem, whose rulers were never able to establish a foothold to the east of the Jordan, extended northwards to Beirut; next to it lay the countship of Tripoli on the coast; and beyond that in north Syria was the principality of Antioch. Syria suffered severely from the Mongol invasions (1260), and it never recovered its former prosperity. In 1516 the Ottomans took it from the Egyptian Mamelukes. For its subsequent history, see Turkey: History. Its medieval importance as an intermediary of trade between Europe and the East was greatly impaired by the opening of the Red Sea route, and finally abolished by the Suez Canal; and Syria is at present important mainly for the sentimental reason that it contains the holiest places of Judaism and Christianity, and for the strategic reason that it lies on the flank of the greatest trade-route of the eastern hemisphere.
Bibliography.—General Works: C. Ritter, Erdkunde (1854-1855), xvii.; E. Reclus, Nouv. géog. univ., Asie antérieure (1884); C. Baedeker and A. Socin, Handbook to Syria and Palestine (1906); V. Cuinet, Syrie, Liban et Palestine (1896); D. G. Hogarth, A. E. Shipley and H. Winckler, art. “Syria,” in Ency. Bib. (1903); L. Lortet, La Syrie d'aujourd'hui (1884).
Travels and Exploration: J. L. Burckhardt, Travels in Syria (1822); J. L. Porter, Five Years in Damascus (1855); J. Barker, Syria and Egypt (1876); R. F. Burton and C. F. T. Drake, Unexplored Syria (1872); A. von Kremer, Mittelsyrien und Damascus (1853); W. S. and Lady A. Blunt, Bedouins of the Euphrates (1879); M. von Oppenheim, Vom Mitlelmeer zum Persischen Golf (1900); C. E. Sachau, Am Euphrat u. Tigris (1900); C. Humann and O. Puchstein, Reisen in Nord-Syrien, &c. (1890); W. F. Ainsworth, Personal Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition (1888), and Travels, &c. (1842); G. L. Bell, The Desert and the Sown (1907); H. C. Butler, Amer. Arch. Exp. to Syria (1904).
History: G. Maspero, Hist. anc. des peuples de l'orient classique (1897-1898); W. M. F. Petrie, Syria and Egypt from the Tell el-Amarna Letters (1898).
Special Works: G. E. Post, Flora of Syria, Palestine, &c. (1896); C. J. M. De Vogüé, Architecture, &c., Syrie centrale (1865-1877); Zwiedineck v. Südenhorst, Syrien u. seine Bedeutung für den Welthandel (1873); R. E. Brünnow and A. v. Domaszewski, Die Provincia Arabia (1905); E. Renan, Mission de Phénicie (1864-1874); G. A. Smith, Hist. Geog. of the Holy Land (7th ed., 1900); G. Perrot and C. Chipiez, Hist. de l'art dans l'antiquité (1885-1887), vols. iii.-iv.; H. V. Hilprecht, Explorations in Bible Lands (1903). On coins, see article Numismatics, and Dieudonné, Mélanges numism. (Paris, 1909). On recently discovered inscriptions see Amer. Journ. Archaeol., vols. x., xi., xii. See also works quoted s.vv. Phoenicia; Palestine; Lebanon; Hittites; Crusades; Turkey; Persia: Ancient History.
(D. G. H.)
- See O. Fraas, Aus dem Orient, pt. ii. (Stuttgart, 1878); C. Diener, Libanon (Vienna, 1886); M. Blanckenhorn, Beiträge zur Geologie Syriens (Cassel, 1890, &c.), and Grundzüge der Geologie und physikalischen Geographie von Nord-Syrien (Berlin, 1891). See also the references under Palestine. A summary by M. Blanckenhorn will be found in Monatsschr. f. wirtschaftl. Erschliessung Palästinas, pp. 289-301 (Berlin, 1904).