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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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This term is employed in the Septuagint as the equivalent of the Heb. Arâm. It is probably the same word as the Babylonian Suri, which was applied to a N. Euphratean district. ‘Syria’ was distinct from ‘Assyria,’ though Herodotus (vii. 63) confounds Ἀσσύριοι and Σύριοι as barbarian and Greek forms of a single ethnic term. As defined by Strabo (XVI. ii. 1), who is followed by Pliny and Ptolemy, Syria was bounded on the W. by the Mediterranean, on the N. by the Tauric range of mountains, on the E. by the middle Euphrates and the Hamâd or desert steppe, and on the S. by the Sinaitic peninsula. Its component parts (ib. XVI. ii. 2) were Commagene, Seleucis, Ccelesyria, Phcenicia, and Judaea . The whole country was about 400 miles from N. to S., with a mean breadth of 150 miles. But there was a special, and a still prevalent, usage, wherein Syria was restricted to that part of the wider area which lies N. of Palestine, exclusive of Phcenicia. Under the Ottoman system Syria denotes no more than the district of Damascus, for the vilayets of Aleppo and Beyrout, as well as the sanjaks of Lebanon and Jerusalem, form separate areas.

The most prominent physical features of Syria are two parallel mountain ranges trending N. and S. The western range, springing from Taurus, includes Mt. Casius and Lebanon, and broadens out into the table-land of Galilee, Samaria, and Judaea . The eastern system, which rises into Anti-Libanus and culminates in Hermon, may be traced in Jebel Hauran and the mountains of Moab as far as Horeb. Between Lebanon and the sea is the plain of Phcenicia, which has only a few torrent-streams. From the high lacustrine district of Ccelesyria, between Lebanon and Anti-Libanus, the Orontes flows northward, the Litâny and Jordan southward. To the east of Hermon, the Abana (or Barada), after creating the oasis of Damascus, loses itself in desert marshes. The district of Commagene has two river-basins, which belong respectively to the Cilician and the Euphratean river-systems.

Most of the nationalities which have settled in Syria have been of the Semitic stock. Separated from one another by great mountain barriers, they have never formed a political unity, but during the centuries in which their freedom was undisturbed by the military powers on the Nile and Euphrates valleys they developed types of civilization and culture which, through the commerce of Phcenicia and the religion of Judaea , have powerfully influenced mankind. The Arabs who founded the Nabataean kingdom, with Petra as its centre, were largely affected by the manners and customs of their Aramaean neighbours.

The foundation of Greek cities in Syria after the time of Alexander the Great was of primary importance for the country. Antioch was built as the seat of the Seleucid dynasty, and became the third, if not the second, city in the world. The Graeco-Syrian civilization extended far down both sides of Jordan, and, but for the crazy policy of Antiochus Epiphanes and the consequent Maccabaean revolt, might have absorbed Judaea itself. Syria was conquered for the Romans by Pompey in 63 b.c. The province of that name which he constituted did not embrace the whole country of Syria in the wider sense. It extended from the Gulf of Issus in the N. to a little beyond Damascus in the S. The rest of ancient Syria was to be found partly in the territories of numerous free cities, and partly in petty principalities subject to Rome, while Commagene had become an independent kingdom before the time of Pompey’s conquest. Syria was geographically related to Cilicia, with which it easily communicated by the Pylae Syriae (Beilan Pass), and Augustus formed the great triple province of Syria-Cilicia-PhCEnice, which subsisted throughout the 1st cent. a.d. Syria and Cilicia formed a single mission-field for the Apostolic Church, and are therefore several times named together in the NT (Acts 15:23; Acts 15:41, Galatians 1:21). Hadrian constituted the three provinces of Syria, Syria-PhCEnice, and Syria-Palestina. Antioch remained the capital of Syria till the time of Septimius Severus, who gave the honour to Laodicea (now Latakia), making it a colonia. After the Muhammadan conquest (a.d. 636) the old Semitic capital, Damascus, regained its ascendancy. Syria suffered greatly at the hands of the Mongols (a.d. 1260), and never recovered its old prosperity.

Literature.-J. L. Porter, Five Years in Damascus, 2 vols., 1855; G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (G. A. Smith) 4, 1897; H. C. Butler, Architecture and other Arts, 1903; G. L. Bell, The Desert and the Sown, 1907.

James Strahan.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Syria'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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