The modern state of Syria was formed during
the 20th century, but people have lived in the area for
a long time. Traces of early human species have been
found in Syrian caves. Historically, the name "Syria"
was used to refer to different regions of the eastern
Mediterranean coast, in the area that includes
present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine /
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Syria, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
Homo erectus is the first human species to spread in
the Middle East, including today's Syria.
Early Homo sapiens - which would develop into modern
humans - may have reached the region some 100,000 years
ago. Fossil finds have been made in Syria that are
interpreted in that direction. (In Europe, Homo sapiens
are believed to have reached about 40,000 years ago.) It
is also known that for thousands of years Homo sapiens
coexisted with Neanderthals, who have also left
archaeological traces behind in Syria.
That was before man learned to cultivate the earth
and to hold tambourines. That development gained
momentum some 11,000 years ago in the "fertile
crescent", which includes today's Syria and Iraq.
According to a study published in the journal Nature
2016, agricultural technology may also have developed
simultaneously in western Iran.
Syria is mentioned for the first time in Egyptian
sources from the 3000s before Christ in connection with
Egyptian expeditions in search of timber. Between about
2400 and 2250 before our era, the Kingdom of Ebla
dominated, in whose writings Damascus is already
mentioned. The city of western Syria is thus the world's
oldest continuously inhabited capital. In the 21st
century BC, Ebla was destroyed by the kingdom of Akkad,
which extended over Mesopotamia (the land between the
rivers Euphrates and Tigris) and in turn was suppressed
by a Semitic nomadic people, the Amorites.
In the 1600s before our era came new conquerors:
Egypt, whose rule over the area was challenged by
Hittites and Assyrians in various rounds. The coastal
city of Ugarit flourished, with large palaces and
temples. From the 13th century BC, the Phoenicians, who
lived along the coast, expanded their empire. They were
good seafarers and built trading cities along the
Mediterranean coast. The Phoenicians also developed an
alphabet, where the characters stood for consonant
sounds. The system was taken over by Greeks, who added
characters for vowels and laid the foundation for the
In the 7th century before our times, the Assyrians
laid down the area, and they were followed by
Babylonians and Persians. In the 300s BC, the Persian
Empire fell to the forces of Alexander the Great and the
whole region came under Greek / Hellenistic influence.
After Alexander's death, the area was ruled by one of
his generals, Seleukos, and his successor the Seleukids.
Many Greeks moved in and trade power developed, with
contacts in India and Europe.
In the year 64 BC, Syria became a Roman province, and
from the 300s the area was ruled from Byzantium (Eastern
Rome). In the 630s, the region was conquered by Arab
forces and incorporated into the growing Islamic empire.
From 661 Damascus was the capital and trading center of
the Islamic Empire during the Umayyad dynasty. In 747,
the Abbasid dynasty rebelled against the Umayyads and
moved the center of the empire to Baghdad.
At the end of the 8th century, the area was once
again annexed by Egypt, which in the following centuries
fought to defend the territory against invasions of
Turkish cellists, Christian crusaders and finally
Mongols. During the Egyptian Mamluks rule of 1250, the
country was weakened by war, famine and plague. Some
improvement could be noted since the Ottoman Turks
subverted the area in the early 16th century, but by and
large the Ottoman era meant stagnation. The Turks had
local authorities in charge of the government in
exchange for paying taxes to Constantinople / Istanbul.
In the 19th century, the area was opened to Western
missionaries who founded schools and universities. At
the same time, the Turks reformed the political system.
At the end of the century, Arabic literature gained a
renaissance, paving the way for nationalism in the 20th
During World War I, Syria today became the center of
the Arab nationalist movement. In 1920, Faisal, son of
the Sheriff of Mecca, proclaimed King of Greater Syria.
However, the victorious powers divided the area between
themselves in accordance with the secret
British-French-Russian Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 -
in effect a cut of the Ottoman Empire. Iraq, Jordan, and
today's Israel and Palestine came to the British as a
mandate under the League of Nations, while the rest went
to France. This laid the foundation for today's Syria,
which, along with Lebanon, was proclaimed a French
When the French took over, both the economy and the
administration were at the bottom. France ruled by hard
means and nationalist efforts were defeated. Local
uprisings and strikes led to a 1925 revolt, beginning
with the drusts in southern Syria. To weaken opposition
and take advantage of religious diversity, the French at
that time transferred parts of Syria to their mandate in
Lebanon and split the rest of Syria into
French-controlled small states: a Drusian state in the
south, an Alawite in the west, a Sunni state around
Damascus and one around Aleppo. The Syrian nationalist
movement opposed this and managed to force the French to
reunite the country with Damascus as its capital.
The dissatisfaction with the French culminated in
1939, when Turkey was allowed to annex the Hatay
province in the northwest. During the Second World War,
1941, new uprisings broke out and in the same year Syria
was invaded by Allied forces. The French exile
government under General Charles de Gaulle promised the
Syrians independence, and it was formally recognized in
1941. However, France dragged its feet and it was until
the fall of 1943 before nationalist leader Shukri
al-Quwatli could be elected the country's first
president. Independence was not fully realized until
April 1946, when the last French soldiers left Syria,
under pressure from both the United States and the