The Cradle of Civilization
Often called the Cradle of Civilization and the Gateway to
History, Syria has a lot to offer history and the development of
civilized man. On the other hand Syria's natural boundaries did
nothing for the security of the land… its strategic location also
made it vulnerable and many conquerors and attackers were able to
conquer Syria. It has been a great crossroad for trade between the
Mediterranean and the East; it exported the Alphabet to the West,
and has been linked to Religion from the beginning, from the Semitic
Deities to the monotheistic faiths.
Settling, Agriculture and the Beginning of civilization
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
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
2000 - 1600BC:
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.
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.
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
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
while the Romans came from the north.
The Romans and Zenobia 64BC to 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…
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
The Final Chapter:
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