The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          

 


A HISTORICAL GLANCE AT SYRIA

HELLENISTIC AND ROMAN AGES

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HELLENISTIC AGE:

After the famous battle of Issus ( 333 B.C. ) between Darius III ( 336-330 B.C. ) and Alexander (336-323 B.C.), the former fled to Arabela in Iraq , while Alexander made a thrust to occupy Syria and Egypt. To achieve his target, Alexander dispatched his general Parmenio with a detachment of cavalry to occupy Damascus, the then Persian Headquarters in Syria. if Alexander could occupy Marathus , Aradus , Byblus, and Sidon, only Tyre ,which had defied Shalmaneser ,Sargon and Nebuchadnezzar, dared shut its gates in the face of this new invader. She could withstand the siege for seven months creating one of the most glorious chapters of heroism.

Gaza, once chief among the Philistine cities, also offered a resistance equally heroic. After two months’ siege its garrison was overpower and annihilated; its commander , and population were cruelly punished, and its enormous stores were confiscated . With the capture of Gaza, Alexander easily effected the conquest of Egypt.

In 331 B.C., Alexander returned to Syria and continued his march to Iraq. At Arabela, he met Darius and fought the decisive battle of the war where the last army of Darius was shattered.

In the course of Punjab campaign, his tired warriors began to murmur. Some mutinied. Thus, he had to return to Babylon where he died in the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar in June 323 B.C. With his death, a new era dawned on the Orient, namely the Hellenistic Age.

Perhaps the greatest contribution rendered by Alexander of Macedon to history consisted largely in the provision of an idea for the unification of the ancient world on new principles based upon the ties of lawful love chaste nuptials, community of offspring and fusion of ideas. Some historians mention his prayers for an union of hearts and a joint cornmonwealth, others attempted to refute his impulses and to strip them of all the human values. This is because the call for a Brotherhood of man is an old one. It is more or less one of the objectives of most religions. Some give the credit to Alexander for its realization. He himself set an example in putting this idea into practices by marrying the Oriental Princess Roxana .  His officers followed his suit. A case in point is his general Seleucus ,  who married the Oriental girl Apamea , and later on , distinguished himself by obtaining possession of the Asian Part of Alexander's Empire.

Despite the fact that the Seleucid Calendar begins from the first day of October in the year 312 B.C., the Seleucid rule in Syria began actually after the battle o Ipsus ( 301 B.C ) and ended with the Roman Conquest ( 64 B.C.(.

Seleucus Nicator had great admiration for the policy of his commander Alexander to the extent that he considered the foundation of Alexanderetta - near the battle-field of Issus - an important deed worthy of imitation. Therefore. he founded new cities bearing the name of his father Antiochus ( Antioch), that of his mother Laodicea (Latakia), that of his wife Apamea (Afamivah) and that of his own (AJ-Suwaidivah). He also gave Greek names to a number of old to like Hamah.

It was believed, then, that the country would reassert its Hellenistic character if new and modern cities were founded on it to house the discharged warriors and mercenaries who would be in charge of the administration and control of natives. Thus. building and reshaping of towns in the Hellenistic Age, had political objectives and cultural ends. The inauguration of cities was generally carried out in a great celebration like the one staged on the account of the foundation of Antioch. The function was attended by Seleucus, his brothers in arms, the pagan priests and a beautiful girl named Amitha who prepared herself to be a sacrifice. It was the custom of these heathens to sacrifice a beautiful maiden to secure the protection of the gods of the city. The historians of art believe that the statue of Tyche, executed by the famous sculptor Eutychedes, representing this maiden (Amitha(.

On the whole, the architectural characteristic of a Hellenistic city was its straight streets, intersecting at right angles, which cut it up into blocks that it made it appear from an overlook spot like chessboard. The activity of the city was centred round the public square ( the agora ). There were also public buildings, palaces, temples, amphitheatres and stadiums.

The Seleucids were influenced by the cultures of the Orient and its aesthetic message. Therefore, they began to take interest in adorning the cities with trees in continuation of the old oriental tradition. On that score, Prof. Marcel Poete says, " We should not forget that appreciation of the beauty of nature in the Hellenistic art is a new matter that goes back entirely to the Oriental influences. Prof. Pierre Lavedan also brings out this point in his statement :" If a Greek admired a tree if would be for the sake of its shade and not its abstract beauty." There is no doubt that the ornamentation of cities with gardens and trees is what the Orient has introduced during its contribution to the formation of the Hellenistic culture.

The significance of trees in promoting urbanization in the Hellenistic Age was also one of the reasons which made the porticos come into being and have its great Importance on both sides of the streets.

Although the Seleucids appeared very powerful in Syria during the reign of Seleucus Nicator ( 312-280 B.C. ), the peril began to loom in the horizon under his almost immediate successors. During the reign of Seleucus II ( 246-226), Ptolomy Evergetes occupied Antioch and continued his march as far as the Euphrates. But domestic disturbance in Egypt itself necessitated his withdrawal from Syria. Meantime the Parthians availed themselves of the weakness of the Seleucids to throw off their yoke and Arsaces, King of Parthia. could defeat them in 240 B.C. The King of Pergamum was also busy extending his authority over the greater part of Asia Minor.

The accession of Antiochus Ill ( to the throne. however. saved the situation of the Seleucids. At the head of his troops he marched eastward to restore the amputated parts of Syria. He also plunged south and stood at the door of  India,

but found it very difficult to occupy the Arabian Peninsula. Although he also failed on the battle field of Raphia, he gained a victory over the Ptalomies in 198 B.C.

It is noteworthy that Antiochus used elephants in his wars. These elephants were trained by Indians in Apamea. It was then also that Hannibal sought Asylum in Syria and urged Antiochus to invade Rome whose might was continually increasing. When Antiochus interfered to help the Greeks against the Romans, he met defeat at their hands at Thermopylae in 191 B.C. in the following year he suffered another defeat from the Romans at Magnesia and was forced in 188 B.C. to cede to them all the dominions of the Seleucids beyond the Taurus and the result was that he lost all the commercial routes.

When Antiochus IV ( 175-164 B.C.) ascended the throne of the Seleucid Kingdom, he attacked the Ptolomies by land sea and gained a victory over them in 169 B.C. Soon lower Egypt was entirely in Antiochus’ hands and Alexandria was subjected to a siege. At that time Rome felt the Seleucid danger against her interests in the East Mediterranean and followed up the expansion of the Seleucids with grave concern. She sent her Ambassador Poeblius Linus to meet Antiochus. Instead of shaking hands with Antiochus, the Roman Ambassador passed on a message containing the resolution of the Senate warning him to keep hands off Egypt.... the Ambassador also drew a circle on the ground around Antiochus demanding him to spell out his opinion in writing before stepping out of that circle at the beginning Antiochus hesitated, but later on complied ... and this Is the first communication we hear of between the Romans and the Seleucids. In fact Rome’s concern about the strength of the Seleucids because of the use of elephants in wars, was so great that she instructed a Roman Mission to get rid of these elephants or rather the tanks Of antiquity. This measure on the part of the Romans provoked the natives to the extent that one of them stabbed the Head of this Mission at the gymnasium of Latakia.

During the reign of Demitrius II ( 146-138 B.C. ) the Seleucids lost all the far-flung eastern provinces.

From 132 B.C. down to 116 B.C. an Arab dynasty at a1- Rahha made its debut with most of its Kings named Abger. Another Arab tribe also succeeded in making its shykhs rulers of new state centring on Emesa ( now Horns ) and only nominally dependent on the Seleucids. The Ituroeans. who are of Arab stock and speak Ararnaic - made Anjar the capital of their state. At that time the Nabataeans made their appearance on the stage of history as an important Arab power in the reign and shattered the dreams of the Greek Commander , Antigonus the one-eyed and his son. Demitrius in 312. The military power , commercial activities and political influence of the Nabataeans were so great that their King Harithath ( al-Harith III 87-62) was able to make Damascus itself the capital of the Kingdom of 85 B C.

In the reign of Antiochus IX, Cyzancenus ( 112-96 B.C.), the internal dissension and native revolts increased and forced him to leave his capital Antioch for Damascus to make it his capital This also encouraged Tigranes the Armenian ( Dikran ) to overrun North Syria and Cilicia in 83 B.C. but he was forced to withdraw his garrison from Syria later on. Shortly after that the district of Antioch was then reoccupied by a Seleucid Prince Antiochus XIII Asia ( 69-64 BC.) His rule was contested by Philip II with the advent of Pompey and his occupation of the country, the Seleucid rule in Syria came to an end for ever.

There is no doubt that many Syrian natives distinguished themselves by their achievement in science, literature. philosophy and poetry. Unfortunately the Aramaic literature of the Hellenistic Age has left no remains. Some historians allude this to the fact that most of the Aramaic writers had to seek their fortune out of the country. Prominent among the intellects of the age is Seleucus. who was of Aramo-Chaldaen origin and lived in the second pre-Christian century a maintained that the sun was the centre of the universe tried to find proofs for it. He had also some views on the relation between the tides and the moon.

The most distinguished Philosopher of the Age was Zeno of Phoenicia (322 - 264 B.C.). the founder of stoicism. He maintained that " philosophy is the science of the divine and human things" Didorus of Tyre who considered that " the greatest good is in virtue and absence of pain " also appeared in the second of the pre-Christian century.

Most important among the Syrian writers was Posidonius of Apamea (135-51 B.C.) who was considered the last great brain produced by the country in the Hellenistic age.

In this age, The Syrian poetry was marked with versatility ,  richness of imagery and interest in the beauty of nature. The poets excelled in the art of improvisation and the composition of epigrams.

Foremost among the poets of the age were Antipater of Sidon ( first century B.C.); his contemporary Philodemus and Melearge of Gadra who lived in Tyre and later on settled in th Isle of Cos where he compiled an anthology entitled "Gerlanda".

One of his epigrams runs as follows:

" Oh Stranger We live in one country, the world Walk quietly, Stranger, the old man sleeps among the devout dead, enveloped in the slumber which is the lot of all ... "

In the eye of the Seleucids, Syria was no doubt the back bone of their empire, Antioch was their intellectual head, Apamaea was their military headquarters and al-Swaideyah was their commercial centre. The craftsmen of Syria were reputed for their manual dexterity, professional experience, artistic taste and aesthetic sense. They continued to use new technique in the crafts of the age: opaque glass flagons cast in dust moulds, purple- died cloth, metal-work jewels, exploitation of precious metal in the art of goldsmith. distillation of perfumes, pressing of olives and carpentry They also took too much interest in agriculture. They increased the arable lands of corn, fruit, olive and vineyards. They also improved the method of raising the silk-worms. All this encouraged the commercial exchange and raised the economic standard of living. The commodities of the Far East an the Arabian Peninsula were shipped to Syria and the re-export to Greece and the basin of the Mediterranean. Worthy to mention in this connection that it is the Greeks and the Arab Canaanites in the Hellenistic Age who introduced the pearls to the peoples of the Mediterranean and made them appreciate them.

To sum up, some orientalists have exaggerated the influence of the Greek civilization in the East, but others said that the Hellenistic civilization remained superficial and devoid of any effect on the grassroots, and that the westerns minority was influenced by the local tradition to the extens that the last kings of the Seleucids used to sake up Aramaean surnames like Alexander Balas and Alexander Zabina.

THE ROMAN PERIOD

The Roman Period begins in Syria 64 B.C. when the Roman General Pompy managed to put an end to the rule of the Seleucids and to make the traditional Syria a Roman Province, with Antioch as capital. Pompy also made Cilicia a Province by itself. He found that the new situation demanded that the Arab rulers may continue to exercise authority within their do mains similar to the treatment meted out to the Kings of Edessa in the North, the Ituraeans in Anjar, the Samsigram dynasty in Horns and the Nabataeans in the South.

Conscious of the strategic importance of Syria and the danger of the Parthians, the Roman put the country under the direct rule of a Roman Proconsul enjoying full powers. He was also responsible for the security of the Roman possessions throughout Western Asia. This indicates that this appointment was the most honourable the Empire could give. The Proconsul was assisted by adequate staff whose job were to collect the state revenues. At the disposal of the Proconsul was a strong military force of four legions.

The First Roman Proconsul who assumed the reign of power in Syria was Gabinius (57 - 55 B.C) . After Gabinius came Crassus. a member of the first triumvirate. comprising Pompy and Julius Caesar.

Crassus made Syria a base of military operations against the Parthians, whose capital was Clesiphon. Crassus was reputed to be very greedy, Perhaps this was one of the reasons which made some local rulers like Abgar of Edessa to forsake him in his campaigns against the Parthians in the Spring of 53 B.C. In this campaign Crassus’ army was cut to pieces south of Carrhie ( Harran ) and over 20,000 of his troops were captured. Crassus himself was killed in the battlefield. As such the King of the Parthians was able to achieve a great victory that led to the final dissolution of the triumvirate..

Under the second triumvirate. Mark Antony was given the East, including Syria and Egypt. Antony who led an abortive campaign against the Parthians, also failed in his campaign against Palmyra in 41 B.C. His life ended in the celebrated battle of Actium (31 B.C.). This battle left Octavian (Antonv’ adversary) the sole ruler of the Roman world. He received from the Senate the title of Augustus ( majestic). He passed through Syria and made the acquaintance of the philosopher Nicolaus of Damascus. Nicolaus visited Rome later on and presented to Octavian some of the best dates which he brought from Syria.

Quirinius was appointed governor of Syria by Augustus. In his days. the population of Apamaea was 107,000 people, which gives the researchers an idea of the importance of the Syrian cities and the density of their population who all spoke their native tongue during the Roman Period.

With the decline of the Nabataean Kingdom, the Province of Arabia was created in 106 AD, with Bosra as capital.

The Romans gave Syira excellent routes and the country was also fortified. They opened two routes. One connecting the East with the West and the other connecting Damascus with the Arabian Peninsula. They also set up milestones on the new road hearing the phrase" The new road from the border of Syria to the Red Sea".

The abundance of Arabic inscriptions, particularly the Safawi, the Nabataean and the Palmyrene Inscriptions indicate the extent of attachment of the Syrians to their mother tongue in the Roman Periods.

When Septimius Severus ( of a Libyan stock ) was appointed a commander of one of the legions stationed in Syria. he got married to a lady of Emessa named ‘Julia Domna’ in AD. 187. Her Aramaic-Arabic language was not different from the Punic Arabic language of her husband Septimius. This Commander managed to mount the throne of the Roman Emperor in 192 A.D. and to gain victory over his rival Niger. His reign had many advantages for the doors of Rome soon began to receive new Syrian colonies which carried into Rome their customs, cults, arts and tradition. At that time the Syrian lady was an ideal of elegance and genius.

In fact. Julia Domna is described as of great beauty. intellectual power and iron will. She helped her husband in running the affairs of the state. Her salon included the great men of thought, philology, history and medicine: Papinia. the philologist, and his successor Ulpian: Diogenes of Cilicia, the biographer of historians: Dio Cassius, the historian: Philostratus, the Sophist and the Greek Physician Galen.

When Caracalla ( 211 - 217 ) assumed the power, he administered the great Carathaginian hero Hannibal, statues of whom he set up in different places. His career of bloodshed and his revenge of his brother Geta made many persons to fall his victims. At last he was assassinated by the instigation of Macrinus ( Commander of the Praetorians) at Edissa in A.D.2l7. The soldiers who supported the Severuses managed at last to overthrow the reign of Macrinus and killed him in Antioch In 218 A.D. They enthroned a young main named Elagabalus whose father was from Apamea. His grand-mother Julia Maesa had moved from Syria to Rome with her sister Julia Domna. Maesa’s husband was a rich Roman who held the Chief Command in several provinces and was promoted to the rank of Consul In 201 A.D.. Maesa was endowed with cleverness, cunning and wisdom which helped her achieved the idea of crowning her grandson Elagabalus, but he was murdered by the Praetorians and Alexander Severus succeeded. Alexander's father a native of Arqa in the north-east of Tripoli (Liibya)

Alexander, in fact, was the best of the Severeuses. He carried out many reforms, put an end to luxury in his palace. lightened taxes, perceived the danger of the military class and encouraged art and science. Even his mother used to attend the lectures of the theologian Origen. Under his reign, the country celebrated the victory over the Persians. Alexander lost his life in a mutiny In AD. 235.

When the Roman Emperor Valerian was assassinated in 241. Philip the Arab who was a Praetorian Prefect was held by the soldiers as his successor. The choice was approved by the Senate. in AD. 744. Philip the Arab led his military campaigns against the tribes on the Danube and presided at the ceremonies commemorating the thousandth birthday of Rome. Philip lost his life at the hands of one of the m troops in AD. 249

Worthy to mention in this connection, that Philip was considered a pro-Christian at a time when the other Emperors were persecuting the Christians and opposing the spread of the new faith. We may mention for instance that under Neron (37-68). the Christians had to go through the fire of persecution, after being accused of setting the fire at Rome In 64 AD. St. Paul and St. Peter suffered martyrdom in those days. In AD. 70, St. Ananie suffered martyrdom in Damascus . Under Domitian A.D. 81 - 96 persecution of the Christians continued. In the reign of Tranjan A.D. 98 - 117, a decree was issued that " Christians who refused to pay homage to the gods of the state were to be punished ". History recorded a golden chapter about the boldness of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who in 107 AD. behaved boldly in the presence of Emperor Tranjan that he was sent to Rome to be devoured by the wild beasts in the amphitheatre and as such St. Ignatius suffered martyrdom boldly and calmly leaving behind his everlasting epistles.

In 249 - 251 Decius renewed the punishment of all those in the state who refused to perform public acts of worship of the god of state. In 257 Valerian forbade the general meetings of the Christians. In the reign of Diocletian 284-305 a decree was issued by which churches were demolished; their books burned. In A.D. 305. St. Sergius suffered martyrdom. His tomb at ar-Rasafah is a place of pilgrimage. St. Bacchus also met the same fate at Balls ( Maskaneh)

SYRIA’S CONTRIBUTION TO ROMAN PERIOD:

When the Roman occupied Syria. its cities had already achieved great fame because of Syrian architects like Apolodorus of Damascus. The Romans admired the genius of Apolodorus and his professional skill and assigned him the task of conducting the major projects of construction In Rome such as the forum of Trojan and some bridges over the Danube. Prof. Marcel Poëte mentioned this fact saying :" It is not Rome that has created the elements of urbanization. They found them and claimed the right of their creation "

The city planning was marked by making two main streets crossing each other at right angles: one running from the east to the west, and the other crossing from the north to the south,. A good example of this is the city of Shahba in Jabal al-Arab. The architects also used to keep in mind the direction of the sun. They also embellished the cities with porticos to protect the passers-by from the heat of the sun in summer and from rain in winter.. We mention for instance the porticos of Damascus, Palmyra, Apamea, and Antioch. The porticos of Palmyra were ornamented with the statues of great men who rendered services to the state. An aesthetic approach reflecting the taste of the age appeared in the city planning. They began to ornament the cities with porticos. tetrapiles and archs like those of Damascus, Latakia, Shahha and Palmyra.

A number of temples were also built .They were distinguished by high columns, and Corinthian capitals. The temple of Bel, a Baalshamine in Palmyra, and the Temple of Jupiter in Damascus testify the extent of the development of architecture and the genius of the Syrian architects.

The theatres of Bosra, Shahha, Apamea, Palmyra, .Jablen, Qanawat and Cyrrhus give evidence to the extent of spread of dramatic art in Syria. The construction of puplic baths, dams and aqueducts also indicate the high standard of living and the interest in whatever promotes the well-being of man.

So far as gardening is concerned, the Syrians had influence on the taste of the age and its aesthetic and artistic manifestation. Gardening which goes back to the tradition of the East, grew out of the widespread flower and herb cultivation to the idea of Paradise and to meet the desire of man for seeking comfort and for appreciating the beauty of nature.

In this connection the gardens of Antioch, Daphneh and Damascus enjoyed world-wide fame. After returning from his campaign against the Parathions in 161. Verus, who appreciated the beauty of the gardens  of Daphneh, returned to Rome accompanied by Syrian artists specilized in gardening. These artists contributed to the development of gardening in Rome. Syrians were almost the most active people at that time .They established important colonies in most parts of the ancient world: in the Isle of Delos, Sicily, Naples, Ostia and Lyons, in addition to their centres in Spain and the Danube region.

The Syrians were famous for the manufactures of textiles ,dyes arms, glass, wines, metalwork , Jewellery, preparation of different medicines and production of dry fruits and tanning .Men of each profession formed guilds for their mutual protection and benefit. We may mention for instance the guild of goldsmiths and silversmiths of Palmyra. The Syrian glassmakers began to establish branches in different places. An inscription on a tombs tone of the third century discovered in Gaule indicates the name of Thirn ibn Saad. a merchant of the town of al-Qanawat and had two glass-factories at the Rhone basin.

in the realm of literature and science, a number of schools of jurisprudence and philosophy were established. The chief amongst them being the Law School of Berytus (Beirut) and the school of Philosophy of Apamea. The Syrian jurists, philosophers and thinkers no small contribution to the history of civilization. Remarkable among them are: Libanius (314 – 394), the famous rhetorician of Antioch ,Aemilius Papinianus , a jurist ot Emessa (Horns) whom julia Domna invited to Rome to help her husband , Ulpianus of Tyre was also invited to help Papinianus.

Of the philosophers we mention : Uranius of Tyre and Numinous of Apamea who is said to have founded the Neo- Platonism; the Sophist philosopher Maximus of Tyre who has left forty one treatises; the Tyrian philosopher Antipater ; Porphyry, one of the great votaries of Neo-Platonism .

Of the literary men we may mention the great critic Probus of Berytus, who devoted his life for classical literature, he set tied in Rome and published studies on Virgile and Horace: Philo of Byblus, the grammarian who is said to have written a book about the Phoenician religion; Menander of Laodicea (Latakia) the rhetorician: Jamblichus, who wrote the history of Babylon and a love story; Lucian of Samosata, who left as eighty tow works. Lucian was deemed the first to employ dialogue between the dead as a vehicle of comedy and satire: Marinus of Tyre. Who was the first to draw up maps based on mathematics. Archigenes of Apamea was famous for treating mental diseases.

The little which has been said above may give us an idea of the contribution of Syria to the different domain of polities, war. jurisprudence, philosophy. literature, art. medicine. industry, agriculture and trade, during the Roman Period.

SECTIONS OF
DEPARTMENT
OF
GREEK, ROMAN, AND BYZANTINE ANTIQUITIES

The Department consists o the following sections:

Section One: 

Hall of the Museum: contains the most beautiful statues discovered in Latakia, and two mosaics, one discovered at Shahba and the other at the district of Hama.

Section Two: 

First Gallery  includes marble statues as well as silver, bronze, ivory and bone antiquities.

Section Three: 

Second Gallery comprises terracotta statues and vessels as well as a collection of glassware.

Section Four: 

Wing of Antiquities of Hauran and of Jabal al-Arab: includes as fine collection of basalt sculptures.

Section Five: 

Wing of Antiquities of Palmyra : contains masterpieces of Palmarene Sculptures, a mosaic, and mural frescoes discovered in the Temple of the Palmarene gods .

Section Six: 

Wing of Antiquities of Dura-Europos .

Section Seven:

Hypogeum of Iarhai the Palmarene: This hypogeum which is discovered in Palmyra is reconstructed in the Basement of the Museum.

Section Eight:

Synagogue of Dura-Europos : reconstructed in the Museum.

Section Nine:

Wing of Jewels contains magnificent collections : necklaces, ear-rings, pins, finger-rings, gold leaves and precious stones.

Section Ten:

Gallery of Coins contains fine collections of Greek, Hellenistic, Seleucid, Ptolemaic, Phoenician, Nabataean, Roman, Palmyrene, Byzantine and Venetian coins.

Section Eleven:

Wing of Byzantine Art: contains Christian sculptures, terracotta arid glass vessels, jewels, coins, Syriac documents as well as Palmyrene and Coptic textiles.

Section Twelve:

Garden of the Museum: contains large-sized sculptures. Prominent among which are :
The lion of Latakia, some Sarcophaguses, mosaics and statues.

 
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