Syria Brief History

By | November 2, 2021

I visited Syria a couple of years before the ongoing unrest broke out and met a completely different country than today. The oppressive regime was the same. The “people on the street” were friendly and helpful, which I really appreciated.

Several of the cities that now appear almost daily in news reports on death and destruction were at my visit quiet, beautiful and interesting places to visit and it is therefore with sadness in my heart that I listen to these.

The title of my website referred to the many historical ruins that exist around Syria. Today, the title has a completely different meaning! Let us hope that the unrest in Syria will soon be over so that the people can live in free conditions and we travelers get back an interesting country to visit.

In the mass media, Syria is often portrayed in negative terms. It is certainly true that the country is governed by a totalitarian regime and that equality between men and women does not prevail. In how many countries are there similar conditions?

“Welcome” or “Welcome to Syria” are two expressions that you hear many times a day when you visit Syria. The Syrians are extremely friendly and helpful to anyone visiting their country. Another thing that you as a traveler appreciate is that the Syrian vendors are not as intrusive as in Egypt or Morocco. Do you think it is dangerous to visit Syria? You can be completely calm, this is one of the safest countries you can travel to!

According to cheeroutdoor, Syria as a country has very interesting to offer a traveler, especially the historically interested. (The ruins of buildings and places that played an important role in the history of Syria are many!) The capital Damascus and Aleppo, are two of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities which with their fantastic “Old Town”, the old districts, have environments that make one feels like you have moved hundreds of years back in time. Here are castles such as Crac des Chevalliers, perhaps the world’s best-preserved crusader castle, and the former castle Qalaát Jáabar which is located on a small island in Lake Assad. Here are fantastic remains of the Romans in Palmyra, Apamea and Bosra and here are abandoned cities such as Rasafa and “Dead Cities”. Here are the remains of some of the world’s oldest churches. In the small mountain village of Maalula, Aramaic is still spoken, the language that Jesus is believed to have spoken. And here are some of the Middle East’s best-preserved souks with their fantastic folk life. Is there nothing negative about Syria? Well, to be a pedestrian in the big cities. It is completely life threatening !!!

It is easy to travel around Syria on your own because there are good bus and train connections and taking a taxi is extremely cheap so you can visit every corner of the country at low cost.

During my tour of Syria, I visited, among others, Damascus, Bosra, Palmyra, Deir es-Zur, Aleppo, Saint Simeon, Lattakia, Hama, Rasafa, Qala´at Ja´abar, a couple of the so-called “Dead Cities” , Apamea, Masyaf, Crac des Chevalliers and Maalula.

Syria history in brief

People have long lived in the area we today call Syria. Traces of prehistoric human life dating to 150,000 years ago have been found in Syrian caves. Historic Syria, Greater Syria, included Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine / Israel.

History of Syria, older

History of Syria, older before Christ

6 600

Archaeological finds show that there were developed social systems with houses and defense facilities at Ugarit


Syria is first mentioned in Egyptian sources in connection with Egyptian expeditions in search of timber.


The Lebanese coast is colonized by an ethnic group that came to be known as the Phoenicians

2 340

Sargon of Akkad rules over an empire encompassing southern parts of Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), most of present-day Syria and western Iran


During the latter half, northern Syria was occasionally dominated by the Kingdom of Ebla. It housed the world’s oldest known library in the form of 16,000 cuneiform tablets. Writings from Ebla mention Damascus which had already been founded and thus is the world’s oldest continuously inhabited capital

2 200s Ebla was destroyed by the kingdom of Akkad in southern Mesopotamia.

2,000-1,800 The Akkadian civilization was oppressed by a Semitic nomadic people, the Amorites.

17th century

Today, Greater Syria was conquered by Egypt, whose rule over the area was challenged by Hittites and Assyrians in various rounds.

1 550

The Egyptians rule Lebanon and southern Syria. In the north, there are battles for domination between Mitanni, Hurrians, Hittites and Egypt

1 450-1 200

Blossomed the ancient coastal city of Ugarit with large palaces and temples.
Ugaritic excavations have uncovered the world’s oldest alphabet

1 365

The kingdom of the Hittites now encompasses the territory that constitutes present-day Syria and Lebanon. They conclude pacts with Egypt and Mitanni

1 200

The Phoenicians, who lived along the Syrian coast, expanded their empire. They were skilled seafarers and established a number of trading towns along the Mediterranean coast. The Phoenicians also developed an alphabet from which first the Greek and later the Latin alphabet were formed.


The Assyrians conquer northern Syria and several Phoenician cities

the 700s

The Assyrians conquered Greater Syria. Later, the land was conquered by Babylonians and Persians

539 The Persian Akimidis defeat the Babylonians and make Syria a province


The Persian Empire fell to the forces of Alexander the Great. The whole region came under the strong influence of Greek / Hellenistic ideas and institutions. After Alexander’s death, Greater Syria was ruled by one of his generals, Seleucus, and his successor, the Seleucids. During this time, many Greeks moved in and the Syrian trading empire developed


The Romans conquer Syria, which becomes a Roman province. The city of Antioch (now Antakya in Turkey) becomes the provincial capital

History of Syria, older after Christ, to 1945


After King Zenobia of Palmyra tried to conquer Egypt and Antioch, he was defeated by the Roman emperor Aurelius and sent to Rome as a prisoner.


The Roman Emperor Constantine I declares that Christianity can be practiced and turns it into a state religion in Syria

395 Syria is ruled from Byzantium, based in Constantinople (Istanbul)


The region was conquered by Arab forces and incorporated into the growing Islamic empire

635 Damascus is captured by an Islamic army


Damascus became the capital and trading center of the Islamic Empire during the Umayyad dynasty


The Abbasid dynasty rebelled against the Umayyads. They moved the center of the empire to Baghdad and Greater Syria became a province among others


At the end of the century, Greater Syria was annexed again by Egypt, which for the following centuries had to fight to defend its territory against invasions by Turkish seals, Christian crusaders, and finally Mongols.


Under the rule of the Egyptian Mamluks from this year, the country was weakened by war, famine and plague

16th century

At the beginning of this century, Syria was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and some improvement occurred, but by and large the Ottoman era meant stagnation. In large parts of the country, the Turks let local leaders run the day-to-day government in exchange for paying taxes to Constantinople.

19th century

During this century, the country was opened to Western missionaries who founded several schools and universities. At the same time, the Turks reformed the political system and deprived the landowners of some of their privileges


The Ottoman rule was briefly suspended when Egypt invaded Greater Syria again


Arab nationalism, which began to sprout at the end of the 19th century, had gained a foothold in certain educated groups, including the army, at the outbreak of the First World War, and during the war Syria became the center of the Arab nationalist movement.


Emir Feysal, son of the sheriff of Mecca, was proclaimed king of Greater Syria.
The victorious powers of the war, however, divided the area among themselves in accordance with the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. Palestine, that is, present-day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and present-day Jordan, were assigned to the British as a mandate under the League of Nations.


To weaken the resistance and take advantage of the religious diversity, the French divided their mandate in Lebanon and the Republic of Syria. The area around the port city of Latakia and Jabal Druze (today Jabal al-Arab) in the south were administered separately. When the French took over, both the economy and the administration were run down. They ruled the country with hard means and all nationalist aspirations were thwarted.
However, local uprisings and strikes resulted in a general revolt led by the Druze. The uprising could not be suppressed until the French bombed Damascus. To justify to some extent their actions in the face of a reacting world opinion, the French replaced the military governor with a civilian


Throughout the 1930s, dissatisfaction with the French had steadily increased.
This year it culminated when the French allowed Turkey to annex the disputed Hatay province around the city of Alexandretta (now Iskenderun) in the northwest.


New uprisings broke out and the same year Syria was invaded by Allied forces. The French government-in-exile under General de Gaulle promised the Syrians independence, and it was formally recognized during the year

1943 Nationalist leader Shukri Kuwatli is elected the country’s first president

History of Syria, modern 1946 – 1999


Independence was fully realized in April when all foreign soldiers had left the country

1940s, late

The post-World War II period became unstable and unrest in the region had a major impact on Syrian domestic policy.

1948 After the formation of the state of Israel, Syria, together with other Arab countries, attacked the country


Three coups were carried out in the country during this year. The reason for these was largely due to disappointment over the Arab side’s defeat in the war against Israel


The economy reached a bottom when the customs union with Lebanon was dissolved and an important trade route was thus closed. Dissatisfaction with the economic problems spread to all classes of society. Different governments took turns. In the mid-1950s, left-wing parties began to gain increased support within public opinion, especially the Socialist Ba’athist Party and the Syrian Communist Party. Radical politicians gradually took up more and more posts, and a number of agreements were concluded with the Soviet Union and other communist countries.


Syria and Egypt formed the United Arab Republic, which would be a first step towards a larger Arab community


The United Arab Republic ceases to exist due to dissatisfaction with Egypt’s dominant role and leads to a new coup. The civilian government that took office after the coup was short-lived


In March, a military coup took place that brought the Ba’ath party to power. After strengthening its positions and, among other things, crushing a new coup attempt, the Ba’ath party began to nationalize banks and industries. A land reform was implemented which also changed the political conditions


The rifts between radical civilian party members and a more practical group in the military triggered a new coup. The radical phalanx took power


After the defeat in the war against Israel and the loss of the Golan Heights, the radical forces quickly lost their power

1970 New coup led by Hafez al-Assad, commander of the Air Force


Hafez al-Assad is elected president. He pursued a more liberal economic policy than his representatives, which led to improvements. In foreign policy, he maintained cooperation with the Soviet Union but also worked for better relations with various Western countries. Relations with other Arab states also improved and a new Arab Federation was formed with Egypt and Libya, which, however, became short-lived.


To broaden the base of the government, Assad formed the National Progressive Front consisting of the Ba’ath Party and some socialist parties. Thereafter, Syria was formally ruled by the front, but the real power still lay with the Ba’ath party and Assad, who had a firm grip on the military and a number of rival security bodies.


Syria got a new constitution that gave Assad greater powers. The new constitution did not refer to Islam as a state religion, but after unrest that claimed several lives, the government was forced to add to the constitution that the president must be a Muslim.
In October, Syria and Egypt jointly attacked Israel in an attempt to take back the territories lost in the 1967 war


Syria is beginning to intervene militarily in Lebanon, which became a heavy economic burden for the country

1978 Assad is elected president for the second time


In February, the Muslim Brotherhood led a weeks-long revolt in the city of Hama. It was brutally crushed by government troops and about 10,000 people were killed. The uprising in Hama was followed by a new confrontation with Israel, which in 1981 had practically annexed the occupied Golan Heights.
During the summer, Israeli troops entered Lebanon to expel the Palestinians from there, while attacking Syria’s military installations in the Lebanese Bekaa Valley.


Hafez al-Assad became seriously ill triggering a power struggle within the Ba’ath party and the president’s younger brother Rifaat tried to seize power


During the year, Hafez al-Assad recovered from his illness and sent his brother, who had been appointed vice president, abroad for eight years. After the power struggle and its aftermath, the president laid the foundation for a great cult of personality

1991 Syria supports US war against Iraq in Kuwait

1994 The President’s eldest son Basel dies in a car accident


Rifaat al-Assad is deposed as vice president and the president’s brothers Rifaat and Jamil were forced to leave the country due to corruption allegations

1999 Hafez al-Assad is appointed president for a fifth term

Syria Brief History