Located in the middle of the Fertile Crescent, where some of the first civilizations in the world made their home, Syria's history is extremely long. Damascus, the capital, has been settled since the time of the Neolithic (around 11,000 years ago), making it one of if not the oldest continuously-populated settlement in the world. Ebla, located to the southeast of present-day Idlib in northern Syria, was the capital of an East Semitic kingdom that existed during the 3rd millennium BCE. The Bronze Age-era Ugarit, located near the coastal city of Latakia, was the oldest West Semitic state in the world, predating the Canaanites (Hebrews, Phoenicians) by several centuries. As the crossroads between Egypt, Anatolia, and Mesopotamia, the overlords of the ancient Middle East, the region served as a battleground of their wars and changed hands between them many times.
By the Iron Age, Syria was mainly dominated by the West Semitic Arameans, their place of settlement known as Aram or Eber-Nari (meaning "beyond the river", the river being the Euphrates). During the Neo-Assyrian occupation of Aram, the ancient Greeks conflated Aram with its ruler and began referring to it as "Syria". The Aramaic language was adopted by the Neo-Assyrians as a lingua franca for their whole empire. By the late 6th century BCE, Aramaic had become the dominant language of the Fertile Crescent, stretching from modern-day Israel to Iraq. The Aramaic script was also adopted to write other languages. The Jews, whose language was originally written in Phoenician, adopted Aramaic to write Hebrew during the Babylonian captivity, which continues to this day. Through the Nabataeans, the script was adopted by the Arabs, and through the Persians, it gave birth to the Brahmi script.
Following the Assyrians were the Babylonians, Persians, and finally, the Greeks under Alexander the Great. After his death, Syria was mainly accorded to the Seleucids, but disputes by the Ptolemaic dynasty led to the prolonged Syrian Wars, which severely drained both sides financially and militarily. By 1st century BCE, most of Syria had become an Armenian vassal state and in 64, the fall of the Seleucid capital of Antioch ended the Greek domination of the region.
The Romans, and its successors the Byzantines, ruled Syria from 64 BCE to the 600s CE. Syrians held dominant positions in the Empire during the reign of the Severan dynasty, whose matriarch was of Arab origins. Philip the Arab, one of the more stable emperors of the Crisis of the Third Century, came from today's Jabal Druze region, while the desert city of Palmyra briefly declared independence around the same time to rule over most of the Eastern Roman Empire and was notable for being led by a woman, Zenobia. Syria was also important during the development of Early Christianity; the conversion of Paul the Apostle took place on the road to Damascus.
In the 7th century, the Arabs conquered Syria from the Byzantines, following the decisive Battle of Yarmouk. The Battle of the Iron Bridge also consolidated Arab rule over northern Syria. The region prospered for a while because Damascus was designated the capital of the second caliphate, the Umayyads. The breakdown of Arab unity during the Abbasid period led Syria to be ruled by a series of Shia states, including the Hamdanids, the Uqaylids, the Mirdasids, and the Egypt-based Fatimids. It was during this period that two religions, both offshoots of Shia Islam, emerged that would become major ethnoreligious groups in Syria. The first is the Alawites, founded by Al-Khasibi during the Hamdanid era. The Alawites are nominally Shia Muslims, but they have a very unorthodox theology that incorporates, among other things, reincarnation and a Trinity.note The second is the Druze, a closed community descended from followers of Baha al-Din al-Muqtana, a Fatimid-era Ismaili preacher. Both of these diverged from mainstream Islam and their followers retreated to ethnic enclaves in southwestern Syria; the Alawites currently reside in the Syrian coast around Latakia and Tartus, while the Druze, whose ancestral homeland is Lebanon, started migrating to southern Syria in large numbers during the 18th century and now predominate the As-Suwayda Governorate.
The High Middle Ages saw parts of Syria being conquered by the Crusaders, who established states around Edessa, Antioch, and Tripoli, until they were defeated and expelled by the Mamluks in the 13th century, leaving behind strongholds like the Krak de Chevaliers in Homs Governorate. The region also suffered pillage by the Mongols and Turks, particularly the sack of Damascus by Timur the Lame.
In 1516, Syria was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, who organized it into four eyalets: Aleppo, Damascus, Rakka, and Tripoli. However, Syria was also taken to mean a much larger area that also encompassed modern-day Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Turkish province of Hatay, surrounding Antakya (ancient Antioch) and the port city of Alexandretta. This explains a lot of the irredentist goals of many postcolonial Syrian governments. In the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire, Syria (specifically, the Syrian Desert around Deir ez-Zor) briefly gained notoriety because it was the main place used by the Turks to exterminate and banish ethnic Armenians and Assyrians during the Armenian Genocide. Thousands of Armenians and Assyrians were sheltered by the Arabs and many continue to live in Syria to this day.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the French and British made a deal to carve the Middle East for themselves: Syria and Lebanon would fall into French influence while the British would receive the rest. A local Arab kingdom briefly controlled Syria for a few months, being ruled by Faisal I of the Hashemite dynasty, son of the Sharif of Hejaz and brother of Abdullah I of Jordan, before the French brought it down and went to their original plans. Three autonomous governments were declared for the Maronite Christians, Druze, and the Alawites: Greater Lebanon, the Jabal al-Druze State, and the Alawite State. The latter two were eventually absorbed into Syria in 1936, but Greater Lebanon remained separate and eventually became an independent country in 1946, alongside Syria. To add insult to injury, the Sanjak of Alexandretta, then under joint Franco-Turkish administration, was annexed by Turkey in 1939 as the Hatay Province under French tacit support. All these obviously didn't help with Syria's irredentist claims.
Widespread instability characterized the early years of the Syrian state, with many coups and increasing militarization of the state. In 1958, Syria briefly joined hands with Egypt to create the United Arab Republic, but the agreement fell through three years later because Syria perceived itself as being relegated to the junior partner of the new country. In 1963, a coup installed the Arab nationalist Ba'ath Party to power. A radical reorganization of the party occurred in the early 1970s which purged the Sunni Muslim and Christian base, leaving only the Alawites, led by Hafez al-Assad, to lead the country. There was a Sunni Islamist uprising in 1982, unhappy with the Alawites' governance, that was crushed with utter brutality.
Then there is foreign policy. Syria joined the Eastern bloc early on the Cold War and became an ardent Soviet supporter in the Middle East. It is bitter enemies with Israel, which annexed the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War. Unlike the Sinai Peninsula, which was returned to Egypt after the Yom Kippur War, Israel retains the Golan Heights to this day, something that irritates Syria to no end, although most of the international world still recognizes the Syrian claim to the territory. After the Iranian Revolution, Syria has also become a close ally of Iran, which it supported during the IranIraq War despite Iraq being also a Ba'athist country, and has been hosting Iranian bases that regularly become the target of Israeli strikes. Finally, the country has a history of extensive meddling in Lebanese politics. As mentioned above, Syria still has not gotten over Lebanon's independence and maintains the position that it has the right to intervene in its smaller neighbor. Throughout the Lebanese Civil War, Syria occupied large swathes of eastern and northern Lebanon and continued to hold it even after the war ended, retreating only after domestic and international pressure erupted following the assassination of Rafic Hariri in 2005. Despite this, its legacy in the form of Hezbollah, widely believed to be a proxy of Iran and Syria, remains in Lebanon.
Hafez al-Assad died in 2000 and was succeeded by his son Bashar. Around Bashar's ascension, there was a general thawing of relations with the West, despite Syria remaining under the US's state sponsors of terrorism list and sanctions aiming to stop its support of Hezbollah. A decade previously, Syria supported the US during the Gulf War, thanks to the terrible relationship between Iraq and Syria at the time.
This changed after The Arab Spring, however. Massive protests from the marginalized Sunni community began mid-March 2011, and later escalated into an armed uprising and (by the summer of 2012) full-fledged Civil War. The war is ongoing, and has killed more than 450,000 people. If you want any testimony in today's world that War Is Hell, look no further than Syria. A lot of the rebel groups have connections to terrorist organizations (including Al-Qaeda), are alleged to be the proxies of foreign powers (such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United States) and have called for the extermination of Syria's many non-Sunni religious minorities. The government is no better, carpet bombing numerous centers of population to draw out capitulation from the opposition and, ostensibly, using chemical weapons to attack rebels and civilians, which is clearly in violation of international law. Debate over what, if anything, can be done about this has become very heated, and there isn't an easy answer. Meanwhile, over 5 million Syrians have fled the country, sparking the largest refugee crisis the world has yet experienced, while more than 7.5 million live in a war zone every day.
Syria is currently the target of sanctions from the United States, Turkey, Europe, and the Arab League, who accuse the government of crushing the rebellions with an iron fist and a dose of chemical weapons (as said earlier, it's still unknown who used it, so Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment applies). The Arab League suspended Syria on 16 November 2011, similarly in response to the government's continued crackdown on dissent and rejection of reforms.
As of 2020, the Syrian government has recaptured most of the country. The rebels still control half of Idlib Governorate and parts of Aleppo, Hama, Homs, and Latakia Governorates, while the Kurds separately administer major chunks of Aleppo, Hasakah, Raqqa, and Deir ez-Zor Governorates, though the Turkish invasion of Rojava/Syrian Kurdistannote led to a rapid normalization between the Kurds and the Syrian government.
- Saint Raphael of Brooklyn, an Orthodox Christian saint and the first to be consecrated in North American soil.
- Hafez al-Assad and his son, Bashar, two of the country's presidents, both known for their brutality. The latter is subject to the current Civil War.
- Paula Abdul - US singer, actress, television personality, and so on. Born to a Syrian Jewish father from Aleppo.
- Steve Jobs - Yes, him. Co-founder and former CEO of Apple, the largest shareholder of Disney, former CEO of Pixar, and one of the most famous figures in the development and expansion of both the computer and entertainment industries. Born to a Syrian Muslim father who emigrated to the US, but didn't know it until much, much later. Though of course, this is pretty much common knowledge by now.
- Queen Noor of Jordan - Widow of former King Hussein of Jordan. Born Lisa Halaby to a Syrian father and a Swedish mother.
- Shannon Elizabeth - US actress, best known for starring in American Pie. Born to a Syrian-Lebanese Christian father.
- René Angélil - Canadian musical producer and singer and husband of Céline Dion. Paternal Syrian Catholic father.
- Teri Hatcher - US actress, famous for starring in Desperate Housewives. You may also know her as the voice of the Other Mother. Part-Syrian.
- Ghassan Massoud - Actor. Best known in the western world for playing Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven.
- Carlos Menem - Former president of Argentina. A full-blooded Syrian and is a Muslim-turned-Christian.
- Jerry Seinfeld - Really?! Yes, really. Seinfeld's mother was of Syrian Jewish descent, with his grandparents emigrating from Aleppo (yes, that Aleppo).
Due to its alliance with Iran and Russia, Syria has been portrayed as being a second-tier global bad guy, part of the "axis of not-so-evil". Syrian agents are highly likely to get involved in spying operations on the West.
- Assassin's Creed I and Revelations take place in Masyaf, a historic city near Homs.
- Battlefield 2
- The Unit has Jonas Blaine's daughter Betsy kidnapped and held in Syria by terrorists. The team ignore orders and go across from Iraq to rescue her.
- In Spooks, Fiona Carter was first married to a Syrian, who she thought was hanged. He wasn't and came to the UK, where he killed her
- A two-part episode in Castle season 3 involves a dirty bomb set up somewhere in New York. One of the suspects Castle follows a lead on is a Syrian intelligence agent working out of Syria's embassy. He's not the culprit.
- Inescapable - Canadian film about a former Syrian spy who has to evade the corrupt government, who accuse him of being an Israeli spy. Starring Alexander Siddig.
- As of the mid-2010s, pretty much all media depictions with Syrian settings are focused around the civil war thanks to the rise (and subsequent fall) of ISIS and the escalation of the war after Russian forces openly allied with the Syrian Arab Army:
- A few levels in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception take place in a Crusades-era castle in Syria. The civil war is mentioned offhandedly as being a distant threat. The game was released in November 2011, when the civil war was still in its first year and before most of the worst jihadist groups had gotten established.
- Rise of the Tomb Raider - Lara goes to Syria to find the Tomb of the Prophet of Constantinople. Jonah tells her she's crazy to go into a country that's in the middle of a civil war, which she dismisses. Trinity also shows up to oppose Lara, and they even plan to destroy the Tomb and use the civil war as cover to excuse the destruction of a historical site (as ISIS was well-known to destroy many historical sites throughout the country).
- Eddy - A 2015 Italian short film about a volunteer who goes to Syria to take care of the war victims. Massive Tear Jerker follows. Declared "Official Human Rights Movie 2015" by the Council of Europe.
- Phantom - A 2015 Indian film about the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Infamous due to an incident during production when the filmmakers built a set for Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, which the Lebanese government thought was a real militia camp.
- The Brave - The show's first episode is about attempting to rescue a kidnapped American aid worker in Damascus from the al-Nusra Front, complete with an Expy of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (never mind that in Real Life Baghdadi was the leader of ISIS, and al-Nusra despised him for breaking away from al-Qaeda).
- SEAL Team - The second episode goes to Syria as Bravo Team is dispatched to acquire physical evidence of a chemical weapons plant the Syrian regime is illegally running. In Season 4, the sixth episode takes place near the port of Tartus when Bravo goes to rescue Ray, who was kidnapped by an ISIS Expy in Tunisia and then smuggled into the country via a fake cargo manifest on a freighter. Their exfiltration runs into a snag when Russian fighter jets start bombing near the terrorist compound which forces Bravo to escape by car instead of helicopter.
- A Real-Time Strategy game called Syrian Warfare was released on Steam for the PC in February 2017. The story revolves around a Syrian police officer named Anwar whose police station comes under heavy attack by terrorists and follows his efforts to fight back and build up a protection force, where he later joins the Syrian Arab Army to take the fight to Al-Nusra and ISIS. An expansion pack called Return to Palmyra was later released that summer.
- Last Men in Aleppo is a documentary feature about the 2016 siege of Aleppo.
- Insyriated is a Belgian film about a family stuck in a flat in Damascus during the Civil War.
- Digital Combat Simulator has a Syria expansion pack coming soon.
The Official Syrian flag
The Rebel Syrian flag
The Syrian national anthem
- Unitary dominant-party semi-presidential Baathist republic
- President: Bashar al-Assad
- Prime Minister: Hussein Arnous
- Vice Presidents: Farouk al-Sharaa and Najah al-Attar
- Speaker of the People's Council: Hammouda Sabbagh
- Capital and largest city: Damascus
- Population: 17,500,657
- Area: 185,180 km (71,500 sq mi) (87th)
- Currency: Syrian pound (LS/£S) (SYP)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: SY