Modern Syria is situated in Asia along the eastern edge of the
Mediterranean Sea. Syria is an Arab Middle Eastern County that has
a total area of 185,180 sq. km and 17.000.000 inhabitants (2000).
Syria has a coastline of 180 km to the Mediterranean Sea and
shares borders with, Lebanon to the West, Turkey to the North,
Iraq to the East, and Jordan to the South. Syria, also shares
borders with Palestine and Israel to the south west. This border
is the main conflict of dispute between Syria and Israel. This
area is known as the Golan Heights.
Syria gained full independence on April 17, 1946 ceding from
French Colonialism Rule. Prior to French Occupation, Syria was
part of the Ottoman Empire under Turkish Rule.
Syria: An Ancient Pearl
Historically, Syria included Jordan, Israel and Lebanon as well as
the area now known as Syria. Syria played an incomparable role in
the history of mankind. It is often described as the Cradle of
Civilizations, since many of the greatest human achievements
that later spread to encompass the world had their beginnings in
Ancient Syria, (which extends from Taurus Mountains to Sinai and
from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates).
Beginning of civilization 9000BC:
This is where civilization began (9000BC). The development of
agriculture in Syria meant settled communities. Tribes and peoples
began to prefer agriculture to hunting and with the appearance of
bronze and copper tools, agriculture developed quickly. Along with
the development in agriculture came a development in trade, as
urbanized communities began to engage in various economic
activities. In this land, Man discovered the secrets of
Agriculture and Metallurgy, and invented the very first alphabet.
Religions, Philosophies, language of trade, systems of urban
development, of diplomatic and cultural exchange; all these
germinated in geographical Syria.
The Bronze Age (Ebla & Mari), 3000 -
Syria has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years and, as a
result, has a rich cultural history. The Great Kingdoms of
Mari are the sites of where the
invention of writing began. Found in both are tablets of Cuneiform
writing (wedge shaped syllables), the royal archives have been a
source of controversy due to its links with the Old Testament
Ebla, as for Mari 17000 tablets were found. These kingdoms lasted
about 1000 years due to their cultural development, their rising
trade with both Mesopotamia (the land between the Euphrates and
the Tigris) and the Mediterranean, and due to the irrigation of
the Euphrates. Both of these kingdoms were taken over by the
Akkadians from Mesopotamia and then by the Amorites at the end of
this period. The Akkadians were the source of Semitic language
that became the basis for the Phoenician, Aramaic, Hebrew and
Ugarit, first Alphabet
The recovery of trade in this area took a while. Yamkhad the
Amorite kingdom in Aleppo had taken over
Ebla and trade began to gradually
flourish. However Hammurabi ruler of Babylon, destroyed
Mari (2000 - 1600BC).
The Hittites from Anatolia and the Egyptians (1600 - 1200BC)
fought heavily for this land? but gradually the Hittites took over
more and more of Syria, as Egypt was distracted due to religious
havoc at home. This period also saw the rise of
Ugarit where the oldest written alphabet in the world is
believed to have been developed and then taken over to ancient
Greece by the Mycenaeans. Ugarit and Byblos grew to become
powerful commercial centres. This is also about the time(1600 -
1200BC) when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and settled in
Hittites, Phoenicians, Arameans, Assyrian
1200 - 539BC:
The Sea Peoples, a barbaric people who came from several lands
around the Aegean Sea, took over from the Hittites and
Ugarit. At Ugarit, a message being sent before their arrival
was found in the ruins. At the same time the Phoenicians were
getting stronger and were establishing colonies around the
Mediterranean. Later on the Arameans began to move across Syria to
the North their language was spoken by Jesus nearly 1000 years
later, and is now still spoken in the village of
In about 800 BC the Assyrian Empire rose to power and for nearly 2
centuries they administered Syria and Lebanon. In 612 BC it fell
to Babylonia land of the famous hanging gardens, at its capital
In this period Persia conquered Babylonia and took over the Middle
East. Their colonies and provinces were well defended, governed
and administered, and were all linked through an efficient network
of roads. Persia fell at the end of this period to the Greeks.
Alexander the Great 333 - 64BC:
The defeat of Darius by the great leader Alexander of Macedonia
was the beginning of Western rule over Syria. The Hellenistic
Empire combined both Western and Eastern cultures but with a
predominantly Greek system and outlook. After Alexander's death,
Greater Syria was divided into two empires one under Ptolemy, the
other under Seleucus. Contemporary Syria was under the Seleucids.
The Seleucids built Apamea as their Military base using
Latakia as their main port.
They also built the fortress of Doura Europos. All these cities
were built under Greek architectural design and planning. At the
end of this period came the Arab Nabateans from the south taking
over Damascus and
Bosra, while the Romans came
from the north.
Romans and Zenobia 64BC-395AD:
Although the south was kept under Nabatean control, most of Syria
was brought under control by the Romans and their leader Pompey.
Under Rome, Syria's cultivation and civilization greatly developed
and with the well organized new road network; trade was able to
prosper greatly. It was around this time that the great empire of
Palmyra flourished under the
leadership of Queen Zenobia. She conquered most of Egypt and Asia
Minor but was defeated by the Romans in 272AD.
Through out this time Christianity was spreading aggressively
through the Empire. In 324AD Constantine the Great took over from
Diocletian, and named Constantinople (Istanbul) as his capital.
Under Constantine, a converted Christian, Christianity began to
flourish under imperial patronage and the Emperor Theodosius I
named Christianity the official language of the Roman Empire. This
change of religion and the moving of the Roman capital from Rome
to Constantinople were the beginning of a new empire
Byzantine Empire 395-632AD:
The Byzantine Empire, a mixture of Greek culture and Christianity
began with the death of Theodosius, when Rome was divided between
East and West. There are many ruins and dead cities in the North
of Syria that reflect the strength and architectural genius of
these Romans. Among the greatest is the Basilica of St Simeon the
Stylite who stood atop a pillar to pray for 38 years. The Basilica
was built around this pillar and it was a regular place for
pilgrims. Justinian was by far the greatest of the Roman empires
during this period, he won back a lot of the lost land of the
former Roman empire and it was he who held off the Sassanians
(from Persia) at Resafa and Halabiye. However in 632 the new
Islamic faith fighters took over Syria from the Emperor Heraclius.
Islam: The Rashedeen Caliphate 632-661AD:
After the death of the prophet Muhammad, the Arab fighters began
to spread Islam through battles and faith preaching. Under the
Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab, Syria was taken over form the
Byzantines, in 636 the Muslims fought against the Byzantines in
the battle of Yarmuk (on the river Yarmuk).
Umayyad Caliphate 661 - 750AD:
Muawiya former governor of Syria, fought with the Caliph Ali Bin
Abi Talib along the Euphrates, and in 661 when Caliph Ali was
assassinated he took over and made Damascus capital of the Umayyad
territory. Damascus became
the capital of a land extending from Spain in Andalusia to the
Indus River in India. The Umayyads showed tolerance of the
Christian faith and were very encouraging of education and the
sciences. In 750AD Damascus
was taken over by Abu Al Abbas who founded the Abbasid Dynasty in
Baghdad, and the Muslim world - and, indeed, the Christian
one - seemed doomed, but the Mamluk General Baybars in that year
defeated the massive army of Hulagu at the Battle of Goliath's
Well, a victory which, in retrospect, must be seen as one of the
world's most decisive military engagements.
Abbasids Caliphate 750 - 1199AD:
Syria, was neglected greatly under the Abbasid Dynasty, this is
reflected by the lack of Abbasid architecture in Syria, which is
only evident in Ar Raqqa.
After the reign of Harun Al Rashid, the Fatimids in 978AD took
over the South and Damascus,
while Aleppo was ruled by the
Hamdanids in the 10th and 11th Centuries. The Fatimids under the
leadership of Caliph Hakim began to demolish churches in the Holy
Land. This coupled with the appeal for help by the Byzantines
against the Seljuks prompted the next phase of Syria the Crusades.
Crusaders and Ayyubids 1098 - 1250:
Arriving to Syria in 1098, under Raymond de Saint Gilles, Count of
Toulouse, they took the route via the Orontes Valley (upper) then
through Hama and Sheizar to the
site that is now Krak
Des Chevaliers near Homs. In
December 1098 they massacred the Male population of Maarat Al
Numan. When Edessa, a Latin enclave, fell to Zengi (a Muslim
leader) a second crusade arrived from France and Germany. However
they were unable to recapture Edessa and they couldn't capture
Damascus either. This
dampened European enthusiasm. Saladin, was very influential in the
defeat of the Crusaders. He managed to recapture Jerusalem, Acre,
Sidon, and Beirut all in 1187. He also had many battles against
the leader of the third crusade, Richard the Lionheart.
Mamelukes 1250 - 1516:
This period was not very positive for the Syria and the Syrians.
Eight years after the Burgi Mamelukes took power (from their
capital in Cairo), saw the attack of the Mongols who destroyed
everything in their way. Under Baybars the Mameluke commander, the
Mongols were defeated and the
Latakia were all taken back
from the Crusaders (1271 - 1289). In 1291
Tartus was taken back by his
successor Sultan Khalil. 1302, when the Crusade garrison in Arwad
was taken back, saw the end of the Crusader venture in the Middle
East. A second group of Mamelukes, the Burgis, took power in 1382.
It took decades of rivalries between them and their predecessors
the Bahris before they took power. This undermined their defense
and in 1400 Damascus was hit
by its biggest attacker yet, Tamerlane. He destroyed most of Syria
and with the rerouting of European trade around Africa, Syria's
Ottoman Empire 1516-1918:
In 1516 Sultan Selim I, who defeated the Mamelukes in North
Aleppo, conquered Syria. He
later went on to claim himself as the Caliph. It was under his
successor Suleyman the magnificent, that the Tekkiye Mosque
complex was built in Damascus.
The Ottomans built many Khans in the souks of both Aleppo and
Damascus. Damascus, which was
the last stop for pilgrims bound towards Mecca, had many great
Khans and souks built for this cause. Aleppo's great Khans on the
other hand were built for the European Merchants after trade was
opened up to Europe. Aleppo once again became the leading city of
the Middle East for East-West trade. Under Ibrahim Pasha, the Son
of Muhammad Ali, Damascus became the centralized government of
Syria. Ibrahim Pasha captured
Damascus in 1832 and founded schools, reorganized the judicial
system, reformed the taxation policies and encouraged education.
He also put the Christians and Jews on equal footing with the
Muslims. During the First World War the Ottomans massacred between
1 and 2 Million Armenians, some in the Turkish run Belsen in
Deir ez-Zor. T.E.
Lawrence and the Arabs, who revolted against the Turks, arrived to
Damascus led by the forces of
Emir Feisal, son of Hussein, the Sherif of Mecca in 1918.
In 1918 a parliamentary government was established in Damascus and
in 1920 the Emir Feisal, was declared King of Syria. Syria at this
point of time was geographically defined by the natural
boundaries, beginning at the Taurus mountains in Turkey to Sinai
in the South. The Arabs thought Syria would be a self-governing
country, or so it was explained by the British. The secret
Sykes-Picot agreement however would put a stop to this. This
agreement which was set up in 1916 was put into action after the
San Remo meeting. Syria was divided into 4 parts (Jordan, Israel
and Lebanon as well as the area now known as Syria), and shared by
Britain and France. Current day Syria and Lebanon went to the
French, while Palestine and Jordan would go to the British.
was made King of Iraq.
Syria was then divided by the French into the separate provinces
or states of Aleppo,
Latakia, and the Hauran.
Aleppo was later brought into
the state of Syria whose capital was
Damascus. In 1925, the Druze
population in the Hauran revolted and moved towards the capital,
which prompted the heavy bombardment of
Damascus by the French. In
1939 the state of Iskanderoun (Antioch) was given to the
Turks in order to keep them neutral during the second world war.
In 1942 Hauran and Latakia
were incorporated into the Syrian state. In 1945 Syria gained
independence and in 1946 the last of the French were seen.
Syria was granted full independence in 1946. Three years later the
country came under the first of a series of military dictatorships
which have governed the country for most of the subsequent period.
As in the rest of the Middle East, Arab nationalism became a major
political force during the 1950s; indeed, the influence of
Nasser's revolution in Egypt on the Syrians was so strong that, in
1958, Syria joined Egypt in forming the United Arab Republic. The
alliance was short-lived, Syria seceding in 1961 to form the
Syrian Arab Republic. The most powerful political force in Syria
since then has been the Ba'ath Party (Arab Socialist Renaissance),
which took control since 1963.