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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Syr´ia. It is difficult to define the limits of ancient Syria, as the name seems to have been very loosely applied by the old geographers. In general, however, we may perceive that they made it include the tract of country lying between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean, from the mountains of Taurus and Amanus in the north, to the desert of Suez and the borders of Egypt on the south; which coincides pretty well with the modern application of the name. It may be described as composed of three tracts of land, of very different descriptions. That which adjoins the Mediterranean is a hot, damp, and rather unwholesome, but very fruitful valley. The part next to this consists of a double chain of mountains, running parallel from south-west to northeast, with craggy precipitous rocks, devious valleys, and hollow defiles. The air is here dry and healthy; and on the western declivities of the mountains are seen beautiful and highly cultivated terraces, alternating with well-watered valleys, which have a rich and fertile soil, and are densely peopled. The eastern declivities, on the contrary, are dreary mountain deserts, connected with the third region, which may be described as a spacious plain of sand and rock, presenting an extensive and almost unbroken level.

Spring and autumn are very agreeable in Syria, and the heat of summer in the mountain districts is supportable. But in the plains, as soon as the sun reaches the equator, it becomes of a sudden oppressively hot, and this heat continues till the end of October. On the other hand, the winter; is so mild, that orange-trees, fig-trees, palms, and many tender shrubs and plants flourish in the open air while the heights of Lebanon are glittering with snow and hoar-frost. In the districts, however, which lie north and east of the mountains, the severity of winter is greater, though the heat of the summer is not less. At Antioch, Aleppo, and Damascus, there are ice and snow for several weeks every winter. Yet, upon the whole, the climate and soil combine to render his country one of the most agreeable residences throughout the East.

The principal Syrian towns mentioned in Scripture are the following, all of which are noticed under their respective names in the present work:—Antioch, Seleucia, Helbon, Rezeph, Tiphsah, Rehoboth, Hamath, Riblah, Tadmor, Baal-Gad, Damascus, Hobah, Beth-Eden.

Syria, when we first become acquainted with its history, was divided into a number of small kingdoms, of which the most important of those mentioned in Scripture was that of which Damascus was the metropolis. A sketch of its history' is given under Damascus. These kingdoms were broken up, or rather consolidated by conquerors, of whom the first appears to have been Tiglathpileser, King of Assyria, about 750 B.C. After the fall of the Assyrian monarchy, Syria came under the Chaldean yoke. It shared the fate of Babylonia when that country was conquered by the Persians; and was again subdued by Alexander the Great. At his death in B.C. 323 it was erected into a separate monarchy under the Seleucidae, and continued to be governed by its own sovereigns until, weakened and devastated by civil wars between competitors for the throne, it was finally, about B.C. 65, reduced by Pompey to the condition of a Roman province, after the monarchy had subsisted 257 years. On the decline of the Roman Empire, the Saracens became the next possessors of Syria, about A.D. 622; and when the crusading armies poured into Asia, this country became the chief theater of the great contest between the armies of the Crescent and the Cross, and its plains were deluged with Christian and Muslim blood. For nearly a century the Crusaders remained masters of the chief places in Syria; but at length the power of the Muslims predominated, and in 1186 Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, found himself in possession of Syria. It remained subject to the sultans of Egypt till, in A.D. 1517, the Turkish sultan, Selim I, overcame the Memlook dynasty, and Syria and Egypt became absorbed in the Ottoman Empire. In 1832, a series of successes over the Turkish arms gave Syria to Mehemet Ali, the Pasha of Egypt; from whom, however, after nine years, it again passed to the Turks, in consequence of the operations undertaken for that purpose by the fleet under the command of Admiral Stopford, the chief of which was the bombardment of Acre in November, 1840. The treaty restoring Syria to the Turks was ratified early in the ensuing year.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Syria'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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