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The Greek and Roman Periods

The Greek and Roman Periods

When Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, had destroyed the Persian Empire, Syria felt into his hands. The only resistance he encountered was at Tyre, which he took by storm and whose defenders he executed. After his premature death in Babylon in 323 B.C., his generals quarreled over his inheritance. Ultimately Syria was bestowed upon one of them, Seleucus.

At the beginning of the reign of Seleucus I, Syria comprised an extensive territory stretching from the Arabian Gulf on one side to the Black Sea and the Boshorus on the other. It was the veritable centre of the Seleucide State, which also embraced part of Asia Minor and the territories of the Tigris and the Euphrates. As such, Syria played an important civilizing role, namely the implantation of Greek culture in Asia.
Antioch, which almost from the outset the capital of this kingdom, rapidly became, like Alexandria, a flourishing centre of hellenism, a luxury city, where people from all parts of the ancient world flocked to seek pleasure. The towns in the interior, Damascus and Palmyra were similarly transformed.
   

The most illustrious of the Seleucide kings was the founder of the dynasty, Seleucus I (312-280), who organized the kingdom and created numerous towns: Apamea, Antioch, Seleucia, Laodicia, Cyrrhus. His successors, who were named either Seleucus, Demetrius, or Polirecete, could not prevent the break-ways resulting from provincial uprising or foreign attacks (notably by the Parthians) which continually reduced the area of their States. At the end of the second century, they possessed scarcely more than Syria proper, and even this was finally shared between two Seleucides. When the Romans arrived, they occupied the country without difficulty.
    

Conquered in 64 by Pompey, Syria became a Roman province. Like the rest of the Empire, the country enjoyed peace for many years. Agriculture and trade were revived. The Parthians crossed the frontiers in the East from time to time, but they were regularly repulsed, and the Emperors Trajan and Septimus won victories over

Local dynasties subsisted for quite a long time in Damascus and Palmyra, Mount Lebanon and Homs; but one after another they died out. At the end of the third century, the Emperor Diolcetian divided Syria into five provinces, all of them under the sway of Rome. At this time Syria was rich and prosperous. It supported six or seven times its present-day population; its plains and valleys produced an abundance of corn and olives; it was one of the granaries of the Empire. Its literary and artistic culture made it, as it were, a second Greece. Admirable ruins at Apamea, Palmyra, Bosra and many other places still stand witness today to the splendour of Syria in Roman times

The Syrians played an important role in Rome, too. In the first century B.C., Juvenal wrote: “the Syrian Orontes now flows into the Tiber, bringing with it its language and its customs”. The legions stationed in Syria brought several Syrian Emperors to the throne of Rome: those of the Emesian dynasty (218-235), followed by Philip the Arab (244 - 249). Jean Babelon makes reference to the “Syrian Empresses” who bossed the whole Roman Empire.
    

But soon the foundation of the second Sassanide Empire on the ruins of the Parthian Empire was to cause trouble for Syria. Odeinat, King of Palmyra, husband of the illustrious Zenobia, forced the Persians to cross the Euphrates. The Emperors Aurelian and Diocletian were once again obliged to repulse their invasions.
   

The situation did not improve after 395, when the Romans Empire crumbled, - or rather split into two new Empires, one of which - the Western Empire - was to be ephemeral, and the other - the Eastern Empire - more durable (395-1453). Syria naturally formed part of the latter, but it was not so well administered from Constantinople (also called Byzantium) as from Rome. Except for Justanian in the 6th century and Heraclius in the 7th century, the Byzantine Emperors were weaker and less combative, and did not defend Syria efficiently

     When Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, had destroyed the Persian Empire, Syria felt into his hands. The only resistance he encountered was at Tyre, which he took by storm and whose defenders he executed. After his premature death in Babylon in 323 B.C., his generals quarreled over his inheritance. Ultimately Syria was bestowed upon one of them, Seleucus.
     At the beginning of the reign of Seleucus I, Syria comprised an extensive territory stretching from the Arabian Gulf on one side to the Black Sea and the Boshorus on the other.
     It was the veritable centre of the Seleucide State, which also embraced part of Asia Minor and the territories of the Tigris and the Euphrates. As such, Syria played an important civilizing role, namely the implantation of Greek culture in Asia.
Antioch, which almost from the outset the capital of this kingdom, rapidly became, like Alexandria, a flourishing centre of hellenism, a luxury city, where people from all parts of the ancient world flocked to seek pleasure. The towns in the interior, Damascus and Palmyra were similarly transformed.
     The most illustrious of the Seleucide kings was the founder of the dynasty, Seleucus I (312-280), who organized the kingdom and created numerous towns: Apamea, Antioch, Seleucia, Laodicia, Cyrrhus. His successors, who were named either Seleucus, Demetrius, or Polirecete, could not prevent the break-ways resulting from provincial uprising or foreign attacks (notably by the Parthians) which continually reduced the area of their States. At the end of the second century, they possessed scarcely more than Syria proper, and even this was finally shared between two Seleucides. When the Romans arrived, they occupied the country without difficulty.

     


 
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