(ἡ Συρία, in Aramaean Surja; now Soristan, EshArab. -Sham, i. e. the land on the left, Syria), a country of western Asia, lying along the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, between Asia Minor and Egypt. In a wider sense the word was used for the whole tract of country bounded by the Tigris on the east, the mountains of Armenia and Cilicia on the north, the Mediterranean on the west, and the Arabian Desert on the south; the whole of which was peopled by the Aramaean branch of the great Semitic (or SyroArabian) race, and is included in the Old Testament under the name of Aram. The people were of the same races, and those of the north of the Taurus in Cappadocia and Pontus are called White Syrians (Λευκόσυροι), in contradistinction to the people of darker complexion in Syria Proper, who are sometimes even called Black Syrians (Σύροι μέλανες). Even when the name of Syria is used in its ordinary narrower sense, it is often confounded with Assyria, which only differs from Syria by having the definite article prefixed. Again, in the narrower sense of the name, Syria still includes two districts which are often considered as not belonging to it, namely, Phoenc and Palaestna, and a third which is likewise often considered separate, namely, Coele-syria; but this last is generally reckoned a part of Syria. In this narrower sense, then, Syria was bounded on the west (beginning from the south) by Mount Hermon, at the southern end of Antilibanus, which separated it from Palestine, by the range of Libanus, dividing it from Phoenic, by the Mediterranean, and by Mount Amanus, which divided it from Cilicia; on the north (where it bordered on Cappadocia) by the main chain of Mount Taurus, and striking the Euphrates just below Iuliopolis, and considerably above Samosata; hence the Euphrates forms the eastern boundary. the western part of the country was intersected by a series of mountains, running south from the Taurus, under the names of Amanus, Pieria, Casius, Bargylus, and Libanus and Antilibanus; and the northern part, between the Amanus and the Euphrates, was also mountainous. The chief river of Syria was the Orontes, and the smaller rivers Chalus and Chrysorrhoas were also of importance. The valleys among the mountains were fertile, especially in the northern part; even the east, which is now merged in the great desert of Arabia, appears to have had more numerous and more extensive spaces capable of cultivation, and supported great cities, the ruins of which now stand in the midst of sandy wastes.
In the earliest historical period Syria contained a number of independent kingdoms, of which Damascus was the most powerful. These were subdued by David , but became again independent at the end of Solomon's reign; from which time we find the kings of Damascus sometimes at war with the kings of Israel, and sometimes in alliance with them against the kings of Judah, till the reign of Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, who, having been invited by Ahaz, king of Judah, to assist him against the united forces of Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel, took Damascus, and probably conquered all Syria, about B.C. 740. Having been a part successively of the Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, and Macedonian Empires, it fell, after the battle of Ipsus (B.C. 301), to the share of Seleucus Nicator, and formed a part of the great kingdom of the Seleucidae, whose history is given [figure in text: Typical Syrian of Egyptian Art. (Photograph by Flinders Petrie.)] [p. 1516]
in the articles Antiochus; Demetrius; Seleucus. In this partition, however, Coelesyria and Palestine went, not to Syria, but to Egypt, and the possession of those provinces became the great source of contention between the Ptolemies and the Seleucids. By the irruptions of the Parthians on the east, and the unsuccessful war of Antiochus the Great with the Romans on the west, the GreekSyrian kingdom was reduced to the limits of Syria itself, and became weaker and weaker, until it was overthrown by Tigranes, king of Armenia, B.C. 79. Soon afterwards, when the Romans had conquered Tigranes as well as Mithridates, Syria was quietly added by Pompey to the empire of the Republic, and was constituted a province B.C. 54; but its northern district, Commagn, was not included in this arrangement. As the eastern province of the Roman Empire, and with its great desert frontier, Syria was constantly exposed to the irruptions of the Parthians, and, after them, of the Persians; but it long remained one of the most flourishing of the provinces. The attempt of Zenobia to make it the seat of empire is noticed under Zenobia. While the Roman emperors defended this precious possession against the attacks of the Persian kings with various success, a new danger arose, as early as the fourth century, from the Arabians of the Desert, who began to be known under the name of Saracens; and, when the rise of Mohammed had given to the Arabs that great religious impulse which revolutionized the Eastern world, Syria was the first great conquest that they made from the Eastern Empire, A.D. 632-638. In the time immediately succeeding the Macedonian conquest, Syria was regarded as consisting of two partsthe north, including the whole country down to the beginning of the Lebanon range, and the south, consisting of Coelesyria in its more extended sense. The former, which was called Syria Proper, or Upper Syria (ἡ ἄνω Συρία, Syria Superior), was divided into four districts or tetrarchies, which were named after their respective capitals, Seleucis, Antiochen, Laodicen, and Apamen.
The Roman province of Syria, as originally constituted by Pompey in B.C. 64, was by no means a single homogeneous region. Owing to the different nationalities and interests which Syria properly so called comprised, it was at first parcelled out between the Roman jurisdiction and a number of independent territories which were allowed to remain within it. Under the Roman proconsul of Syria were at first Upper Syria (with the chief towns Antioch, Seleucia, Apamea, Laodicea, Cyrrhus, Hieropolis, and Beroea), and the land of Phoenicia, including Tripolis, Byblus, Tyre, and Sidon; but Iudea was left for a time nominally independent, except for a short time when Gabinius broke it up into five districts. Caesar made Iudea a client State under its own princes, and it did not become a Roman province (of the second rank, under a procurator) until A.D. 6. Similarly Commagen was left under its own princes until A.D. 17, and again from 38 till 72, when it was finally joined to the province of Syria; Chalcis retained its own princes till 92, when Domitian added it to the province; Abilen till 49; Arethusa and Emesa till 78; Damascus was not included in the province of Syria till 106. The province of Syria under the Empire was governed by an imperial legate residing at Antioch: it was eventually divided into ten districts, named (mostly after their capital cities) Commagen, Cyrrhestic, Pieria, Seleucis, Chalcidic, Chalybonitis, Palmyren, Apamen, Cassiotis, and Laodicen; but the last is sometimes included under Cassiotis. (See the several articles.) From A.D. 66 Iudea or Syria Palaestina was recognized as a separate province, and at the end of the second century Syria was divided into two provinces, Syria Magna or Coelesyria, and Syria Phoenic. Constantine the Great separated the two northern districtsnamely, Commagen and Cyrrhesticand erected them into a distinct province, called Euphratensis or Euphratesia; and the rest of Syria was afterwards divided by Theodosius II. into the two provinces of Syria Prima, including the sea-coast and the country north of Antioch, and having that city for its capital; and Syria Secunda, the district along the Orontes, with Apamea for its capital; while the eastern districts were now a part of Persia.