History Files


Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Syria




MapSyrian States

Ancient Syria was much larger than its modern counterpart, being bordered by the Taurus Mountains in the north, the Upper Euphrates to the north-east, and the Syrian Desert to the south-east. The name is Greek, which they used to describe various Assyrian peoples. The relatively few early Syrian states which appeared in the third millennium BC differed somewhat from their contemporaries in Sumer and Akkad. Instead of relying on river irrigation, the agriculture of the north was rain-fed, so yields were lower and larger areas had to be cultivated (although with less labour). As a result, northern cities tended to be smaller with more people living in outlying settlements, and although they were still city states at heart, they had more of an appearance of being small kingdoms.

FeatureAmorites began to arrive in the territory to the west of the Euphrates, within modern Syria, from around 2500 BC. The Akkadians called them Amurru, and groups of them drifted down into Sumer where they eventually replaced the Sumerians as rulers in Mesopotamia. Enough groups remained in Syria for their name, Amurru, eventually to be used to refer to part of Syria and all of Phoenicia and the Levant - large areas which contained populations of Amurru - instead of referring to them as a specific kingdom, language, or population.

By the first part of the second millennium BC, most of the Syrian peoples spoke Semitic dialects, but in the northern areas of Syria there is also evidence of non-Semitic Hurrian, a fairly obscure population group. Hurrian names could be found as far south as Nippur, indicating a level of linguistic heterogeneity across the region. Scribal practices were adopted from the south and were apparently taught by Babylonians, which quickly became the most important city state of second millennium Mesopotamia.

(Additional information from the Columbia Encyclopaedia, Sixth Edition (2010), and the Britannica Concise Encyclopaedia (2010).)

c.10,000 BC

Alep emerges as one of the world's first inhabited settlements, showing signs of civilisation during the eleventh millennium BC. Areas to the immediate south of the old Aleppo - at Tell al-Ansari and Tell as-Sawda - reveal occupation that can be dated back at least as far as the late third millennium BC.

c.6000 BC

Ugarit is first founded as a permanent settlement, probably after some centuries (or even millennia) of being used as a seasonal encampment. The erection of a fortified wall at this point shows that the settlement pattern here has changed, and that the site's current occupants have no plans to leave. At some point in the next millennium, Damas is also founded, although it remains unimportant until the tenth century BC.

Chalcolithic pottery
Four examples of Chalcolithic pottery that has been recovered from archaeological sites in Syria and Anatolia, and which can be dated between 5600-3000 BC

c.5000 BC

Following a slow trend of more permanent occupation across the region, perhaps in the wake of burgeoning early civilisation in Mesopotamia, the settlements site at Alep and Gebal are continuously inhabited from this period onwards.

c.3400 BC

Alakhtum is first founded as a permanent settlement, located to the west of the larger Syrian state of Yamkhad, about fifty kilometres from the River Orontes. Its fortunes remain largely unknown until the city is re-founded at the beginning of the second millennium BC.

c.3000 BC

Carchemish, Ebla, and Tuba are first founded as permanent settlements. The first of these has probably been the site of impermanent or failed settlements since as far back as 7000 BC. Ebla and (probably) Tuba are new, although remains of the latter have yet to be discovered, and both start out small to achieve greatness in the mid-to-late third millennium BC.

c.2600 - c.2200 BC

Although their creation is later than those of Sumer, the early Akkaddian and Amorite city states of the north are less well attested, and many of them are only known from later writings found in Ebla and other places. Those that can be identified by name include Carchemish (already mentioned at 3000 BC), Emar, and Tuttul along the Euphrates, and Arpad, Ebla and Gebal, (both also mentioned above), Hamath, Tuba (again, see 3000 BC), and Ugarit in the west. These states are in contact with each other through diplomatic and commercial means. Some of these centres, such as Ebla and Alep, also seem to be able to impose their will on surrounding states, but details of their military actions are relatively unknown.

c.2200 BC

The region is disrupted by invasions by barbarians from the north and by the cold, dry period in the Middle East which lasts for three hundred years or so. Some cities, such as Ebla, are conquered by Naram-Sin of Agade. He may be taking advantage of the destabilisation, but as this conquest comes around half a century beforehand, he may also be at least a partial cause of it.

Central Asia Indo-European map 3000 BC
By around 3000 BC the Indo-Europeans had begun their mass migration away from the Pontic-Caspian steppe, with the bulk of them heading westwards towards the heartland of Europe (click on image to see full sized)

It seems more than coincidental that 'barbarians from the north' are causing problems at the same time as the Gutians are first mentioned, possible Indo-European tribes who inhabit the Zagros Mountains. In the same period, Indo-European tribes in the form of the Luwian peoples are settling across southern Anatolia, making it likely that one of these groups is responsible for probing expeditions farther south.

c.2000s BC

During the flourishing of Ur's third dynasty in Sumer, Syrian states maintain friendly relations with the south. However, following the fall of Ur, the Syrian archaeological record shows a reduction in the number and sizes of settlements in northern Syria for reasons unknown. Documentation on Syria suffers a gap of almost two centuries before the start of the archives at Mari.

It is possible that the region undergoes an economic downturn, with only cities which control the trade routes to the south managing to survive. These include Ebla, Tuttul, and Urshu, and messengers from the Mediterranean city of Gebal also appear. There is no indication of any Syrian city dominating, either militarily or politically. Importantly, there is a strong presence of Amorites in the region by this time, a semi-nomadic people who greatly contribute towards the fall of Ur.

c.1800s BC

Syria has recovered fully, and a wave of newer small states or fully urbanised cities becomes apparent, including Yadiya in the far north of ancient Syria. Together they make up a system of kingdoms whose rulers keep large palace archives of diplomatic correspondence showing how vital it is that they remain informed.

c.1809 - 1776 BC

Areas of Syria are conquered by the short-lived kingdom of Upper Mesopotamia. Following the death of its creator, Shamshi-Adad, in 1776 BC the kingdom swiftly breaks up, with minor kingdoms reasserting themselves throughout the region. Yamkhad remains the dominant force in north-western Syria, controlling a large number of cities such as Alalakh, Carchemish, Ebla, Emar, Hashshu, Tunip, Ugarit, and Urshu. Local rulers are constantly wary of the larger states, Babylon, Elam, or Eshnunna, which can make or break them.

Ruins of Emar
Although Emar's rulers for the seventeenth century BC are unknown, could they have aided Idrimi, son of the king of Alep, in his conquest of Alakhtum from this city?

c.1800? BC

Yahdun-Lim of Mari sends troops to join those of Yamkhad to fight against several hostile Syrian 'states', including Tuttul. The armies of these hostile states are defeated and their towns are attacked.

c.1720 BC

By now the intensive palace system operated by the high number of states in parts of Syria has become unsustainable. Many cities are abandoned, perhaps due to a combination of popular opposition to the system and changes in rainfall patterns. The historical record for this region disappears.

c.1650 - 1620 BC

The newly created Hittite kingdom in Anatolia attacks and destroys several Syrian states over several years, and Carchemish and Amurru are among the victims, subsequently falling under Hittite control. Aramaean groups also begin to attempt to infiltrate Syria from this point in time, although they are largely held back by the Mitanni empire. However, they do manage to grab a foothold in Harran.

c.1595 BC

Mursili's Hittites capture and destroy Alep on their way south to sack Babylon, ending the political situation that had characterised Syria and Mesopotamia for four centuries. States such as Apum, Qatna, Tuttul, and Yamkhad all decline, The region enters a dark age which lasts for up to a century and-a-half in some areas, and the power vacuum allows Hurrians to migrate westwards.

MapGreater Syrian States

Following the social collapse of the sixteenth century BC and the resultant minor dark age, some royal houses could be seen to have survived, but they were poor reflections of the past and often had no connection to their famous predecessors. New groups had risen to power elsewhere, such as in Mitanni and Kassite Babylonia, and throughout the region, urbanism was initially at an all-time low since 3000 BC. This new era was characterised as one in which Egypt and the Hittites played major roles in controlling Syria between them, while also maintaining its lack of unity.

In Syria and Canaan, a new generation of more cohesive territorial states arose, while further north and east, many of the older states were now submerged within Mitanni. Alalakh, Emar, and Ugarit all kept larger archives which, along with correspondence from the major states, provides much of the picture for this region during this era. Cities were supported by relatively small hinterlands in which the population was sparse, meaning that labour was in short supply. During the collapse and subsequent dark age after 1200 BC, the newly-arrived Aramaean tribes migrated south into Syria and the upper area of the Levant, where they created states of their own which became increasingly dominant until they were conquered by the Assyrians in the late eighth century. There were still groups of Amorites in the region, though, including those of Bashan, and those who took control on more than one occasion in Moab.

(Additional information from Eden, Bit Adini, and Beth Eden, Alan Millard.)

c.1503 BC

Thutmose I invades Canaan and Syria, sweeping through much of it and raising a stele at Carchemish (so far undiscovered by archaeology). Egypt establishes a presence but does not appear to remain in force.

c.1478 BC

A resurgent Egypt expands rapidly through Palestine and reaches Mitanni-controlled Syria, making Ugarit a vassal state. The Egyptians also raid further inland, where local resistance is supported by Mitanni. Hittite agents are constantly at work, trying to draw Syrian states over to them, a policy which gradually sees them gain more influence.

c.1471 BC

Egypt's Thutmose III campaigns in Syria again, this time sailing along the Palestinian coast rather than marching overland. He captures the port city of Ullaza (just north of modern Tripoli), which belongs to the territory of Tunip, now itself a vassal of Mitanni. On his homeward journey the pharaoh moves inland from Ullaza and captures the city of Ardata.

1453 BC

Egypt reasserts its authority in the region by conquering territory in the Levant and Syria as far north as Amurru. The Egyptians establish three provinces which are named Amurru (in southern Syria), Upe (in the northern Levant, which may correspond to Damas), and Canaan (in the southern Levant, which includes Gebal). Each one is governed by an Egyptian official. Native dynasts are allowed to continue their rule over the small states, but have to provide annual tribute.

c.1370 - 1350 BC

Suppiluliuma, the new Hittite ruler, takes control of northern Syria from Mitanni. The king of Ugarit informs the Hittites of a planned revolt by Alalakh, so the kingdom is incorporated directly into the empire, with its lands being assigned to Ugarit as a reward, along with those of the territories of Nuhašše (generally to the south of Alep), and Niya (a small and relatively obscure kingdom in northern Syria, also known as Niye, Niy, or Nii). During the same period, the Amarna letters between Egypt and Assyria, and the city states of Canaan and southern Syria, describe the disruptive activities of the habiru, painting them as a threat to the stability of the region.

c.1200 - c.900 BC

The Hittite empire falls as general instability grips the region's Mediterranean coast. Local cities are destroyed by the Sea Peoples and some, such as Alalakh, Emar, and Ugarit are abandoned completely. A major regional drought makes the situation worse. Others, such as Damas and Yadiya, are settled by Aramaean tribes, but survive only at a much poorer level. The Aramaeans themselves are new arrivals, only allowed access into northern Syria since the death of the powerful Assyrian king, Tukulti-Ninurta I, in 1207 BC. This is also the period in which the Israelite tribes are supposedly re-colonising areas of Palestine in the south. The entire region falls into historical obscurity for several centuries.

c.1150 BC

Assyria gains a level of control over Syria following the destruction of the Hittite empire.

c.1115 - 1077 BC

Under Tiglath-Pileser I, Assyria temporarily extends its power to fully include Syria, taking overlordship of the region from Egypt. Assyrian power quickly fades after this, and the region is free once more.

870 - 857 BC

The Assyrians invade and subjugate Syrian states, including Bit Adini, Bit Agusi, Carchemish, and Pattin, by which time many small and semi-obscure cities have arisen, such as Gamgum and Gan Dunias, along with the kingdom of Kedar in eastern Syria.

Under Hazael, Damascus expands its own borders by annexing all the Hebrew possessions east of the Jordan, ravaging Judah, and rendering Israel impotent. From inscriptions by Shalmaneser III of Assyria it appears that Hazael also withstands an attack by the Assyrian army and keeps Damascus, Syria, and Philistia independent (although he does seize the city of Gath). However, his actions against his neighbours unleashes a long series of conflicts with Jerusalem. Gath is subsequently besieged and then destroyed, towards the end of the century, and it never recovers.

760s BC

Urartu is victorious against Assyria, and conquers the northern part of Syria, making Urartu the most powerful state in the post-Hittite Middle East. However, Shamshi-ilu, the all-but independent Assyrian king of the west, does score a victory in battle against Urartu before 745 BC, as is recorded by a report on inscriptions of stone lions guarding the gateways at Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared. It makes no mention of his master, the Assyrian king.

730s & 720s BC

Assyria conquers most of Syria and the Levant, including Carchemish, Damascus, Hamath, Israel, Judah, Lukhuti, Pattin, and Phoenicia. In many cases, local dynasties are removed in favour of Assyrian governors.

722 BC

The Syrians support Mardukapaliddina II in his successful bid to usurp the Babylonian throne.

612 - 605 BC

Assyria falls and Babylonia gains control of much of its former territory, including Syria, despite an attempt by Egypt to prevent this.

605 - 539 BC

Babylonia controls Syria.

539 - 332 BC

Syria becomes part of the Persian empire.

Later Syria

Under the governance of the Persian empire, a satrap was installed to govern all of Syria, with a generally peaceful transfer of power (except in Philistine Gaza). Documentation for this period is much worse than for the previous two thousand years of Semitic domination of the region, so even the dates of office for these governors is uncertain. This was not due to poor record-keeping, however, but to the general use of perishable materials such as papyrus. Many records that did exist were destroyed during the Greek takeover of the region in the fourth century BC when many urban centres were re-founded. Originally, Babylonia and Syria formed a single Mesopotamian satrapy (or province). Later Syria was established as a satrapy in its own right under the name of Ebimari (Babylonian) or Abar-Nahra (Aramaic-Persian) - 'beyond the river [Euphrates]'.

(Additional information by Edward Dawson, and from External Links: University of Leicester, and Listverse, and from Encyclopćdia Britannica.)

539 - 538 BC


First satrap of Babylonia (Mesopotamia) & Syria.

c. 500 BC


Satrap of Babylonia (Mesopotamia) & Syria.

c.480 - 465 BC

Megabyzus / Baghabuxsha

Died 440 BC.


late 400s BC


early/mid-300s BC


fl 340s BC


mid-300s BC

Mazaeus / Mazdai

332 - 323 BC

The region is conquered by the Greek empire under Alexander the Great. Mazaeus initially plays his part by opposing Alexander, but he eventually surrenders, and Alexander makes him satrap of Mesopotamia.

323 - 319 BC

Laomedon of Mitylene

Greek satrap of Syria and Phoenicia.

320 - 301 BC

The Empire of Antigonus governs Syria during the period of the Wars of the Diadochi.

301 - 83 BC

Much of Syria is gained by the Hellenic Seleucid empire following the decisive Battle of Ipsus. Seleucus had already declared himself king of Syria and Babylonia in 305 BC, immediately founding the city of Seleucia in Mesopotamia by massively rebuilding and expanding an existing settlement. Now he also founds the city of Antioch on the Orontes (Syrian Antioch). Over the years, the Seleucids go to war against Ptolemaic Egypt over the rest of Syria, with full possession finally being gained at the end of the Fifth Syrian War in 195 BC.

83 - 69 BC

Arsacid ruler, Mithradates the Great, launches an attack against the Seleucid empire with Aziz the Arab as his ally. The target is Antiochus X who is killed during the fighting. The weakened and distracted Seleucids also lose Harran to Armenia as Tigranes the Great conquers much of Syria between this point and 69 BC.

69 - 64 BC

FeatureThe imperialistic ambitions of Armenian King Tigranes lead to war with Rome, and a defeated Armenia becomes tributary to the republic following the campaigns of generals Lucullus (69 BC) and Pompey (67 BC). Former Seleucid Syria is lost and, in the following year, so is Byblos. Rome now controls much of the region. Lucullus places Antiochus XIII in command of Syria during his campaign.

64 - 63 BC

Crushed out of existence by the Romans on one side and the Parthians on the other, the Seleucid empire is terminated. Antiochus XIII, the last Seleucid ruler of any kind, is dethroned by Pompey when he turns Syria into a Roman province.

AD 256

The Sassanids capture the Roman fortress city of Dura in eastern Syria. Part of their efforts to take the fortress involves digging a deep mine under the city wall and a tower. The Romans tunnel from the other side to intercept them and a shaft is created around the intercept point. The precise outcome is unknown.

In the early 1900s, archaeologist Robert du Mesnil du Buisson discovers a pile of nineteen Roman bodies in the mines. Only one Persian body is nearby. In 2009 Simon James of the University of Leicester theorises that the Persians hear the Romans digging and ignite a fire to meet them and the Romans open the shaft between the two mines, possibly to vent the smoke. Sulphur and bitumen is discovered in the mine, possibly making the Roman bodies the earliest victims of chemical warfare to be discovered.

The city of Dura-Europos had been founded in 300 BC by the Seleucid Greeks, seized by the Arsacids and then by the Romans, and was then destroyed almost six hundred years after its creation by a drawn-out border conflict between Rome and the Sassanids


James believes that the Persians deliberately throw these chemicals onto the fire to create deadly fumes, which become sulphuric acid in the lungs of their enemies. The one dead Persian soldier is probably the fire's starter and is unable to get out in time. Once the smoke clears, the Persians quickly pile the bodies like a shield into the countermine and destroy it. Their mining efforts do not collapse the walls, but the Persians eventually get in anyway. They kill some of the residents and deport the rest to Persia. The Seleucid-founded Dura is abandoned forever.

395 - 640

The partition of the Roman empire. Syria is part of the Eastern Empire. Damascus follows the general Syrian sequence of events, but it becomes part of the Nabataean kingdom in the first century AD.

638 - 640

Syria is conquered by Islam, and is part of the empire. Islamic Syria is ruled directly as part of the empire.

MapOther Syrian Cities

There exists a great many tells, or mounds, in modern Syria which were once cities or large towns. Many of these were never home to any kingship, while others may have flourished under such rule for only a brief period of time.


A Syrian city with a location which is unknown. Gamgum was home to a short-lived city state in the eighth century BC, and was mentioned in the victory stele of Sargon II of Assyria.

late 700s BC



Muttalu bar Tarhular

c.722 - 705 BC

The city is conquered by Assyria.

Gan Dunias

A Syrian city with a location which is unknown, Gan Dunias was either Akkadian or Aramaean, probably one of the many unlocated cities in modern northern Syria.

mid-800s BC


Muttalu bar Tarhular

Fought Marduk-suma-iddin for the throne.


c.853? BC

The city is conquered by Assyria.