History of Syria
August 1, 2008 · Print This Article
Syria’s history is an enchanting tale of human history itself. In all likelihood, this is where it all began, where the first human settlements sprung up, and where mankind took it’s first tentative steps towards civilization. Although sometimes melancholy, the twists and turns of a land that saw countless conquests and re-conquests, empires rise and fall and peoples flourish and vanish, is an ultimatly triumphant testament to the human race itself.
Settling, Agriculture and the Beginning of civilization 9000BC:
This is where civilization began. 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.
Ebla, Mari and the Bronze Age:
3000 – 2000BC:
The Great Kingdoms of Ebla and Mari belong to this era. These kingdoms 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 Arabic languages.
2000 – 1600BC:
had taken over The recovery of trade in this area took a while. Yamkhad the Amorite kingdom in AleppoEbla… and trade began to gradually flourish. However Hammurabi ruler of Babylon, destroyed Mari.
1600 – 1200BC:
The Hittites from Anatolia and the Egyptians 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 first Alphabet was established and then taken over to ancient Greece by the Mycenaeans. This is also about the time when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and settled in Palestine.
The Hittites and the Arameans 1200 – 539BC:
A lot happened in this period… the most important was that of the Sea Peoples, a barbaric people who came from several lands around the Aegean Sea. They 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 Maaloula.
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 Nineveh.
The Persians 539 – 333BC:
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 and the Hellenistic Empire 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.
The Romans and Zenobia 64BC to 395AD:
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, 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 PalmyraChristianity 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…
The 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.
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).
The Umayyad Period 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.
Syria under the Abbasids 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 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.
The Crusaders and the 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. 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.
The 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 Krak, Safita, and Latakia were all taken back from the Crusaders (1271 – 1289). In 1291 Tartous 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 trade dropped.
The 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 Ezzor. 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.
Syria under the French Mandate:
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, and shared by Britain and France. Current day Syria and Lebanon went to the French, while Palestine and Jordan would go to the British. King Feisal was made King of Iraq.
Syria was then divided by the French into the separate provinces or states of Aleppo, Damascus, 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 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.
With most of the Arab states gaining their independence around this time, Arab unity was revived. Syria entered several agreements, namely forming with Egypt in 1958 to form the United Arab Republic. In 1962 however it dissolved and in 1963 the Syrian Baath Party took control.