History of Syria Part 1

By | May 26, 2021

The Islamic Conquest and the Crusaders

The decisive battle of the Byzantine and Arab-Islamic forces took place in 636. Byzantine Syria is conquered by Arabs after the battle of Yarmuk. The center of Muslims in Arabia was relocated to Damascus in Syria by the Caliph Muʿāwiya in 661 after fierce internal Islamic fighting on the Arabian Peninsula. Damascus is now the capital of the Umayyads. This makes Syria the new heartland of the empire.

According to softwareleverage, the Syrian Christians in the caliphate were so-called dhimmis / subjects of protection, i.e. non-Muslims whose faith, however, is based on a divine revelation. These included the Christians of the various churches, the Jews as well as the Sabians and Zoroastrians, followers of these religions had to pay a poll tax in the empire, but were tolerated. Syrian Christians were held in high regard by the Umayyads. Many of them were placed in administrative offices. They achieved high positions in the administration and held important offices. Great scientists, translators and doctors emerged from their ranks. St. John Damascus (died around 750) had served as a high official at the court of the Muslim ruler of Damascus before he retired to a monastery. Syrian Christians translated the Greek sciences into Arabic, founded universities and helped develop Arabic literature. Thus, the contribution of the Syrians to Arab culture after the conquest of Syria by the Arabs is enormous. This is still true today.

A hundred years later, the Umayyads were driven out by their rivals, the Abbasids, and the seat of the caliphate was moved to Baghdad.

In the following centuries the Turks conquered Asia. Their civilizing achievements are undisputed: from the Timurids and Seljuks to the Mughals and Ghaznavids, later the Ottomans. Under Sultan Alp Arslan, the Byzantines were defeated in Anatolia in 1071, and Anatolia became the heartland of the Seljuks.

In 1097 the first crusade began, which consisted of 150,000 men, mostly Franks and Normans. Antioch, Tripoli and Edessa became Frankish states. In 1100 Baldwin became king of Jerusalem. The brutality of the crusaders appalled the people of the Middle East. There were presumably more Christians than Muslims in Syria, but the Crusaders killed them with extreme brutality.

Saladin – Arabic: Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi – came from a Kurdish family of officers. The Ayyubid dynasty was named after his father Ayyub, the governor of Baalbek.

Saladin’s rise was accompanied by the fall of the Franks, who were crushed on June 3, 1187. Once again a capable general competed against Saladin – Richard the Lionheart, the son of Henry II (1189). He embroiled Saladin in a year-long war, but failed to retake Jerusalem. Eventually, Saladin and Richard the Lionheart signed a truce for three (according to Arabic sources, five) years.

In Egypt, the Mamluks (1250-1517), former slaves who had been trained for the military, came to power. In about two hundred years they expanded their borders into Sudan, Yemen, and Cyrenaica. They brought stability and prosperity to Egypt and Syria. In 1260 and 1277 Sultan Baibars inflicted a crushing defeat on the invading Mongol armies.

The Mongols had crushed the Seljuks in Anatolia, so that the Turkish tribes now rallied around the Ottoman ruling house, which in turn was a thorn in the side of the Mamluk rule in Syria. Since the Ottomans already had firearms and artillery, the Mamluks near Aleppo were defeated in 1516. Under Sultan Selim I, Egypt and Syria were conquered, the Arab country, Bilad al-Sham, became an Ottoman province and, like under the Byzantines, ruled from Constantinople.

History of Syria Part 1

The Ottoman Empire

The penetration of the European powers into the Ottoman Empire and the increasing integration of the Arab world into the world market in the 19th century brought about great political, social and economic changes. The missions had also established themselves with the European consuls. The founding of schools paved the way for Western educational content to be transposed into the Arab world. The Tanzima reforms of the Ottoman Empire (Hatt-e Scherif 1839 and Hatt-e Hümayun 1856) in the administration, in the army, in the educational system and in the legal field, the equality of Christians and Muslims (abolition of the Millet system) and the special status of the administrative districts of Jerusalem and Jabal Lubnan caused by European interference and aspirations had a major impact on life and Thinking of people.

Bilad al-Sham

The Ottoman province of Bilad al-Sham comprised today’s Syria, Lebanon and Palestine (Transjordan was only created under a British mandate in 1922). Only under the colonial powers was Bilad al-Sham divided.

European penetration was perceived as a threat to defend against. In Lebanon, Christian writers who were firmly anchored in Arab culture began to break away from their religious communities and to stand up for a secular Arab nation. One of its leading representatives was Butrus al-Bustani (1819-1883), who is considered the father of the Arab Renaissance and published several newspapers and the first modern Arabic encyclopedia.