Bashan, in Biblical geography, the northern portion of trans-Jordanic Palestine, between Damascene Syria on the north and Gilead on the south. It is a high table land, and was anciently famous for the fertility of its soil, and for its oaks, which vied with the cedars of Lebanon. Remains of these forests are still seen in some of the mountainous districts. The deep, rich, black soil on the plains produces the same luxuriant pasture as in ancient times, and the flocks and herds reared there may still be called the fatlings of Bashan. It was conquered from the Amorites in the bloody battle of Edrei, where Og, the giant king of Bashan, fell. It was occupied by the nomadic half tribe of Manasseh. Later it was captured from Israel, after the revolt of the ten tribes, by Hazael, king of Syria, and afterward recaptured by Jeroboam II. It was also the first province that fell before the Assyrian invaders. When the Israelites were taken captive, the scattered remnants of the aboriginal inhabitants, who had settled among the rocky passes of Argob and Ilermon, and in the desert, returned. Henceforth it is not mentioned under its name of Bashan by any writer, but the provinces into which it was divided are often referred to. Gaulanitis was the territory of Golan, the ancient Hebrew city of refuge.
Auranitis is the Greek name of the Hauran of Ezekiel. Batanaea is the name given to the eastern mountain range, and occasionally used for Bashan in general; and Trachonitis, the rocky region of the north, is a Greek translation of the ancient Argob, the rocky. During the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans, the Christians living in that city retired to Pel la, a town of Bashan; and in the 4th century nearly all the inhabitants of the country were Christians. Heathen temples were converted into churches, and churches were built in almost every town and village. When the Saracens overran Syria these churches were converted into mosques; and when the country fell into the power of the Ottomans its desolation was completed. The mountains of Bashan, though not generally very steep, are rugged and rocky. The remains of terraces are still to be seen on the slopes, which give evidence of past industry, and oaks and other forest trees and shrubs abound here. The whole mountain range is of volcanic origin; the peaks shoot up conically in deep serried lines, and the rocks are black. One or two craters of extinct volcanoes have been seen on the plain.
The ancient province of Trachonitis, now Lejah, is a vast field of basalt in the midst of the plain of Bashan. In Argob, one of the provinces of Bashan, 30 m. long by 20 broad, Jair is said to have taken no fewer than 60 great and fenced cities. A late traveller, Cyril Graham, writes: "We find one after another great stone cities, walled and un-walled, with stone gates, and so crowded together that it becomes almost a matter of wonder how all the people could have lived in so small a place. When we see houses built of such huge and massive stones that no force which can be brought against them in that country could ever batter them down; when we find rooms in these houses so large and lofty that many of them would be considered fine rooms in a palace in Europe; and lastly, when we find some of these towns bearing the very names which cities in that country bore before the Israelites came out of Egypt, I think we cannot help feeling the strongest conviction that we have before us the cities of the Rephaim of which we read in the book of Deuteronomy." Porter visited and passed by more than 30 cities and towns, and saw many others dotted over the plain.
In his description of one of the houses of the aboriginal inhabitants he says: "The house seems to have undergone little change from the time that its old master left it, and yet the thick nitrous crust on the floor showed that it had not been inhabited for ages. The walls were perfect, built of large blocks of hewn basalt, without cement of any kind. The roof was formed of large slabs of the same black basalt, lying as regularly and joined as closely as if the workmen had just completed them. They measured 12 ft. in length, 18 inches in breadth, and 6 inches in thickness. The end rests on a plain stone cornice projecting about a foot from each side wall. The outer door was a slab of stone 4 1/2 ft. high, 4 wide, and 8 inches thick. It hung upon pivots formed of projecting parts of the slab working in sockets in the lintel and thresh-hold; and though so massive, it could be opened and shut with ease. At one end of the room was a small window with a stone shutter. An inner door, also of stone, but of finer workmanship, and not quite so heavy as the other, admitted to a chamber of the same size and appearance. From it a much larger door communicated with a third chamber, to which there was a descent by a flight of stone steps.
This was a spacious hall, equal in width to the two rooms, and about 25 ft. long by 20 high. A semicircular arch was thrown across it, supporting the stone roof; and a gate so large that camels could pass in and out opened on the street. The gate was of stone and in its place.'1 Some of these cities were supplied with water from distant springs by means of aqueducts. Desolation reigns everywhere; the cities are deserted, and the limited number of Druses and refugees who have settled there raise no more than is indispensable for sustenance, out of fear of arousing the rapacity of an arbitrary government and attracting the Bedouin robbers. (See Bozraii.) The principal authorities on Bashan are J. L. Porter ("Damascus," "The Giant Cities of Bashan," etc.) and Wetzstein (Reuebericht uher Hauran und die Trachonen, Berlin, 1860).