History Files
 

 

Middle East Kingdoms

Ancient Syria

 

 

 

MapDamas (Damascus / Upe?)

Damascus is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in the world, with the earliest layers of occupation dating to between 6000- 5000 BC. This was at a time in which the region's earliest nomadic pastoralists were extending southwards towards the Red Sea, at the end of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B culture of the Fertile Crescent. Those earliest layers of occupation may not have been permanent at first, but they soon became so. The city's pre-Iron Age history is very obscure, but it may correspond to Egypt's province of 'Upe' in the northern Levant. This was was centred on 'Ta-ms-qu', on the border between Egyptian and Hittite zones of control. That obscurity may be the reason for some sources claiming a third millennium BC date for the city's founding, even though the archaeology for habitation is almost twice as old. However, it remains unclear when the initial settlement area graduated into something that could be referred to as a city.

The ancient city of Damascus was founded on the south bank of the River Barada, behind the mountains of Lebanon, with the city being surrounded by an oasis. Despite this beneficial location, Damascus appears not to have achieved any importance until it was occupied by the Semitic Aramaeans in the tenth century BC. Under Aramaean leadership it enjoyed a period of independence as a regionally-powerful city state, often tied closely to Israelite politics (and therefore being mentioned many times in the Old Testament). Following a good deal of contact with the Assyrians, and therefore mentions in Assyrian records, Damascus later proved to be an important city for many of the region's great empires, and the old city's Roman-era walls are still highly visible despite a much greater modern city having grown up around it. The fact that they were re-fortified by successive masters - including the Ayyubids and Mamelukes - helped of course.

The name Damascus (or Damas in many older texts) is suspected to be pre-Semitic. The Amorites of the eighteenth century BC certainly knew it as Dimaski (according to the Ebla archives), and the Semitic Akkadians of the fourteenth century BC had adapted that as Dimashqa (as shown in the Armana letters). Dimashqa subsequently became Damas, Dimash, and Damascus. A good source of wealth for the city in the latter half of the second millennium BC and during the first millennium BC was the fact that it lay along the 'King's Highway'. This was an important north-south trade route between Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia which also benefited other kingdoms along the route, including Edom and Moab.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder, from Damascus: A History, Ross Burns (Routledge, 2005), and from Arameans, Wayne T Pitard (2000).)

c.2500 BC

Uz ben Shem

(Grand)son of Shem. Existence unproven and dating improbable.

Uz is claimed as the first-born son of Aram, who himself is the son of Shem in the genealogy of nations descended from Noah, ancestor of the Israelites. The Sumerian myth of Ziusudra exists in a single copy, the fragmentary Eridu Genesis, which is datable by its script to the seventeenth century BC (it may be this version which was adapted in Babylon from earlier sources, and was then rewritten for the Old Testament, compiled in the sixth century BC). It is the Old Testament version which confirms Noah as a revised Ziusudra, with the flood event itself being tentatively dated to 2900-2750 BC. Aram is a founder figure for Damas itself, as witnessed by the use of the name Aram Damascus in first millennium BC records.

Sumerian flood tablet
The Sumerian flood story includes a depiction of a large vessel which is packed with various objects and, presumably, animals, clearly showing a basis for the later Old Testament flood story of Noah and the ark

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, one of which may correspond to Damas. This is Upe, in the northern Levant, which has its administrative centre at Ta-ms-qu.

c.1370 BC

The Hittites extend their influence and control in Syria as far south as Damas, although in this period the city is controlled by nearby Amurru, and still administered overall by Egypt.

fl c.1350 BC

Biriyawaza

Canaanite vassal of Amurru. Named in Egypt's Armana letters.

c.1340 BC

Sensing the weakness of the neighbouring Mitanni empire (as well as of Egypt), Aziru of Amurru makes a secret deal with the Hittite king, Suppiluliuma. He also establishes himself as a strong king in the region, taking control in Damas and even going so far as to conquer the city of Sumur (later mentioned within the context of Biblical Canaanite city states), where the Egyptian representative has his residence. The restoration of the city is demanded, but Aziru forces Egypt to recognise him first. However, relations with Egypt are soured by constant complaints from Gebal.

c.1335 BC

Aziru / Azirou

King of Amurru.

c.1300 BC

Egypt still conducts profitable trade with Damas, as witnessed by the building of a series of border fortresses as the former seeks to control the Sinai. The fortresses help to defend Egypt's trade route to Damas, which also passes through Edom and Moab at this time.

Tell Habua
The archaeological discovery of the Egyptian fort of Tell Habua (ancient Tharu, built around 1000 BC) near the Suez Canal underlined Egypt's policy of maintaining border fortresses on its eastern flank

c.1100 BC

With the destruction of the city's former master, Amurru, a century before, Aramaeans are free to move in and take control of Damas. This is despite resistance by the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser I, who campaigns aggressively against them in an attempt to prevent them settling in northern Mesopotamia and southern Syria.

Aram Damascus / Damas ('Kings of Syria')

During much of the second millennium BC, the ancient city of Damascus (or perhaps more usually 'Damas' during this period) had been controlled by the Amorites of Amurru. The regional power vacuum which was created when that city was destroyed around 1200 BC allowed groups of Aramaeans to migrate into the area. Attracted by the concentration of a population in a fertile, well-watered plain dominating one of the region's principal trade routes, they occupied the city and developed it into a powerful state known as Aram Damascus which dominated Syria.

Unfortunately little seems to have been recorded about the kings of Aram Damascus aside from mentions in military conflicts conducted by the Assyrians. Perhaps the best account available is the Old Testament, which mentions far more trivial and not-so-trivial events between Damascus and Israel. That makes it essential to understand Israel's timeline in order to be able to organise one for Damascus. Even the city's alternative name of Aram (pronounced a-ram) has been linked to the Old Testament. Uz is claimed as the first-born son of Aram, the son of Shem in the genealogy of nations descended from Noah. Noah himself was a remembering of the Sumerian myth of Ziusudra, while Aram was written in as founder figure for Damascus. His name was clearly a corruption of Amurru, signifying Amurru's former domination of the city.

The kings of Aram Damascus were the Old Testament 'kings of Syria', and were to prove troublesome to their enemies for over a century and-a-half. The second book of Samuel and the two books of Kings are especially useful in recording their exploits during this period. However, archaeological evidence for the city is almost non-existent, thanks to continued occupation causing it to be overbuilt, and Aramaean royal inscriptions are rare.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Wayne McCleese, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder. and from Prophets and Paradigms: Essays in Honor of Gene M Tucker, Stephen Breck Reid (Ed, 1996).)

c.1200 - 980 BC

Political chaos engulfs Anatolia, Syria, and the Levant coast around 1200 BC, and a dark age overtakes the region. With Assyria also weakening, there is nothing to stop Aramaean tribes from migrating southwards and eastwards. Over the course of the twelfth to ninth centuries they mount attacks which destroy cities such as Qatna and Qattara and take control in many established cities, including Aram Damascus.

Damascus wall
This colour photochrome print shows a wall in Damascus' defences which is rumoured to be the one over which St Paul escaped in the first century AD

By about 980 BC the situation has largely settled down into the typical regional squabbling, and this is when Ammon is conquered by Israel, despite assistance being supplied by Damas. The Aramaean rulers of Damas are unknown for this entire period, unrecorded until the dark age has relented.

fl c.980s? BC

?

Unknown ruler. An ally of Ammon.

c.970? BC

The Old Testament recounts that 'when David destroyed Zobahís army, Rezon gathered a band of men around him and became their leader; they went to Damas, where they settled and took control'. This Rezon is a young officer of Zobah, the son of Eliada, who escapes the city's fall and establishes himself in Damas, where he 'founds' Aram Damascus - in other words he takes control of it with his band of men - and severely threatens Israel and its northern successor, Samaria. The changes mean that Damas also replaces the eclipsed Zobah as the main centre of Aramaean power in the Levant.

The rule of a Hezion/Hadyon (Hebrew/Aramaic versions) and his descendents has been confirmed by discoveries of stelae in Syria. It is presumed that the Old Testament's Rezon is the same kingdom-creating figure, although this form of the name is a corruption of the original.

fl c.950 - 930s? BC

Hezion / Hadyon / Rezon I

Son of Eliada of Zobah. The Old Testament's Rezon.

fl c.920s? BC

Tab-Rimmon / Tabrimmon

Son.

928 - 925 BC

The break-up of Israel allows Damas to rapidly grow in power and at times even threaten the existence of its southern neighbour. It is frequently called upon by Judah to help against Samaria and probably gains some of the latter's northern towns during this period. Also not specifically mentioned in the Old Testament, McCleese (see sources) believes that a treaty exists between Tab-Rimmon and Judah (based on 1 Kings 15:19). Damas also gains the important caravan routes westwards to the Phoenician ports, bringing immense wealth into the city.

c.914 - 880 BC

Ben-Hadad I / Benhadad I / Birhadad

Son.

c.880 - 842 BC

Ben-Hadad II / Benhadad II / Adad-Idri

Ben-Hadad I & II may be one and the same. Assassinated.

c.860s? BC

Asa of Judah and Ba'asa (Baasha), ruler of Ammon, maintain a near-lifelong feud. When Ba'asa pushes Samaria's frontier to within five miles of Jerusalem, Asa, just like his father before him when under pressure, calls on Damas for help. In this case it is Ben-Hadad who responds to Asa's offer of payment if Damas will break its treaty with Ammon.

855 - 854 BC

Damas makes its long-awaited attack on Samaria, destroying Hazor along the way. But Ben-Hadad and thirty-two vassal kings are strategically defeated by Ahab of Samaria twice in two years (although this attack may be a misattribution by later editors of the Old Testament and may instead refer to the throwing off of Damascene domination by Jehoash in the early eighth century BC).

853 BC

FeatureBen-Hadad is a member of an alliance of states which also include Ammon, Arvad, Byblos, Edom, Egypt, Hamath, Kedar, and Samaria (seemingly despite the recent conflict between Damas and Samaria). Together they fight Shalmaneser III of Assyria at the Battle of Qarqar which consists of the largest known number of combatants in a single battle to date, and is the first historical mention of the Arabs from the southern deserts. Despite claims to the contrary, the Assyrians are defeated, since they do not press on to their nearest target, Hamath, and do not resume their attacks on Hamath and Damas for about six years.

Map of Canaan and Syria c.850 BC
When the Neo-Assyrian empire threatened the various city states of southern Syria and Canaan around 853 BC, they united to protect their joint territory - successfully it seems, at least for a time (click on image to view full sized)

850 - 848 BC

The alliance of states of 853 BC breaks up when Ahab of Samaria, assisted by Jehoshaphat of Judah, wages war against Aram Damascus at Ramoth Gilead, where Ahab meets his death in 848 BC. Damas subsequently removes Bashan from Samarian control. Ahab's third successor (in 842 BC) is Jehu. Almost immediately after his accession, Hazael usurps the throne of Aram Damascus, murdering the incumbent king in the process.

842 - 798 BC

Hazael / Haza'el

Usurper. Probably a court official. Murdered Ben-Hadad.

842 BC

Ahaziah of Judah and Joram of Samaria engage Hazael in battle at Ramoth-Gilead (seemingly a common location for battles in this period). Joram is wounded and retreats to Jezreel where Ahaziah rejoins him. Both are killed there by Jehu, who then seizes the throne of Samaria.

c.840 BC

Under Hazael, Damas expands its borders by annexing all the Hebrew possessions east of the Jordan, ravaging Judah, and rendering Samaria impotent. From inscriptions by Shalmaneser III of Assyria it appears that Hazael also withstands an attack by the Assyrian army and keeps Damas, Syria, and Philistia independent (although he does seize the Philistine 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. Jerusalem, on the other hand, remains seemingly weak in the face of Hazael's regional dominance. During his reign, Joash of Judah has to pay him off at least once to get him to leave Jerusalem alone.

fl c.796 BC

Ben-Hadad III / Benhadad III / Hadadezer

Son. Sometimes referred to as Ben-Hadad II.

c.796 BC

Ben-Hadad III is not the man his father had been. Initially he occupies the greater part of Samaria but introduces repressive controls which are so strongly resented that the Samarians even welcome the return of the Assyrians. (His alternative name of Hadadezer can also be attributed to his father, which would make his own name more logical - Ben-Hadad meaning 'son of Hadad'.)

Return they do around this time, attacking Damas and forcing tribute from it. This attack is almost certainly led by Shamshi-ilu from his western base at Kar-Shulmanu-Ashared. He is perhaps the most powerful man of his time, one of a small group of almost equally powerful magnates - princes who govern Assyria under the sovereignty of Adad-Nirari and his three immediate successors.

 Shamshi-Adad V stela
Shown here is a stela which has been dated to the reign of Shamshi-Adad V of Assyria one of Damascus' main enemies during this period who was often, fortunately, distracted by the northern threat that was Urartu

Gradually losing his father's empire, Ben-Hadad also leads a coalition of states against Zakir of Hamath, and Luash to the north of Damas, but is defeated by the latter. Samaria under Jehoash is even able to recover to the extent that it is able to throw off his domination, and later makes Damas a vassal state. There is uncertainty now about the kingship in Damas. Given the fairly certain reignal dates for Rezon II, and the uncertainty about whether his father is actually a king, there is space for one or possibly more unknown kings to rule during this period.

c.780s - 760s? BC

?

Possibly one or more unknown kings?

fl c.760s? BC

Tab-El / Tabael / Tabeel

King? Known only for being the father of Rezon II.

c.740 - 732 BC

Rezon II / Rezin / Radyan

Son. Last independent king. Killed by the Assyrians.

738 BC

Both Damas and Samaria become vassals to Assyria, but their kings remain on the throne. Rezon II is the son of Tabeel, a possible (but unverified) king whose name means 'the goodness of God'. The use of 'Tabael' is a deliberately derogatory alteration, denoting 'no good' or 'good for nothing'. It seems that the human ability to play with words and names is fully alive in the Levant of the first millennium BC. Outside of the Old Testament, Tab-El is mentioned in an Assyrian letter of the seventh century BC. The identification of Rezon, however, is more problematical. His homeland seems to be Hadara rather than Damas, and 'the son of Tabeel' in texts may not necessarily be the same person as Rezon (see Tucker for a detailed exploration of this possibility).

734 - 733 BC

Pekah of Samaria and Rezon II form an anti-Assyrian coalition. They try to force Ahaz of Judah to join them but are stopped when Tiglath-Pileser III marches an army into the region (partially thanks to payments of silver and gold by Ahaz). Over the next two years he re-conquers all the rebellious states, and Damas comes under attack.

732 - 609 BC

The Assyrians capture and destroy Damas in retaliation for all the city's attempts to challenge its supremacy in the Levant. The king is killed and the city's inhabitants are deported, initially to Moab's city of Kir-Hareshet. A governor is appointed to Damas, something that happens to more than one Syrian city, as witnessed in Carchemish. The city remains significant throughout the following centuries, but its territory is carved up into five provinces: Mansuate (north-west), Subite (far north), Damas, Karnaim (south of Damascus and east of the River Jordan), and Hauran (south-east).

fl 700s BC

Ilu-Ittia

Assyrian governor.

612 - 572 BC

Damas' immediate fate after the fall of Assyria is not clear. Some sources state that Babylonia inherits it immediately, but the fact that it definitely falls in 572 BC suggests a period of renewed independence or a much looser alliance with the inheritors of the Assyrian empire. It is also possible - although entirely unrecorded - that it and other Syrian cities manage to rebel against initial attempts to control it, necessitating the conquest of 572 BC.

572 - 332 BC

Damas falls to Babylonia in 572 BC, and after the fall of that empire it becomes part of the Persian empire. Damas is made the capital of the province of Syria until it falls to the Greeks of Macedon in 332 BC.

332 BC - AD 1127

Damas follows the Syrian sequence of events, becoming important in the history of the Seleucid empire. It briefly becomes part of the Nabataean kingdom in the first century AD. In the seventh century it is conquered by the Islamic empire and later in the same century, the Umayyads move the capital of the empire to Damas, making Islamic Syria the centre of power.