Syria (Turk. Suristan; Arab. Esh-Sham), a territory of Asiatic Turkey, bounded N. by Adana and Marash, E. by the Euphrates and the Syro-Arabian desert, S. by Arabia, and W. by the Mediterranean, between lat. 31° and 37° 20' N., and Ion. 34° and about 40° E.; area, about 60,000 sq. m.; pop. about 1,000,000. It includes parts of the vilayets of Syria (capital Damascus; area, inclusive of a part of the desert, 66,000 sq. m.; pop. in 1871, 518,750) and Aleppo, the latter including Marash and some districts E. of the Euphrates (area, 40,-750 sq. m.; pop. 535,714). Besides the largo gulf of Iskanderun (the ancient gulf of Issus), at the extreme north, which extends between Syria and Asia Minor, the coast is indented by several small bays, as those of Tripoli, Beyrout, Saida, and Acre. The principal rivers are the Jordan, the Asi or Aasy (the ancient Orontes), the Litany (Leontes), the Yarmuk (Hicromax), the Barada (supposed to be the Scriptural Abana), and the Awaj (Pharpar). The Euphrates drains the N. E. border.
The only important lakes are the Dead sea and the lake of Tiberias or Gennesaret. The Taurus range forms a part of the N. boundary, and separates Syria from Asia Minor. The two parallel chains which extend through Syria from N. to S., the Libanus or Lebanon and the Anti-Libanus, are offsets of the S. W. continuation of that range known to the ancients as the Amanus (now Alma Dagh). The W. or Lebanon chain runs parallel to the coast, and seldom more than 12 m. distant from it, to the plain of Esdraelon below Mt. Tabor; it is broken by the passage of the Orontes and the Leontes. Its highest summits are 10,000 ft. above the sea. This chain contains the remnant of the ancient "cedars of Lebanon." Separated from this by a beautiful and fertile valley, Coele-Syria, from 10 to 20 m. in width, is the Anti-Libanus chain, generally lower, though in its loftiest summit, Mt. Hermon, rivalling the highest peaks of the Lebanon range. E. of Hermon a chain of low mountains stretches eastward past Damascus; below it the country is hilly, and, viewed from the deep depression of the Jordan valley, seems mountainous. The mountains of Gilead E. of the Jordan form the culminating point of these hills.
Further E., in the Hauran, is a lofty table land, waterless, and with vast black bowlders and rocks scattered over its face. The most remarkable feature of the topography of Syria is the extraordinary depression of the valley of the Jordan. The valley of Coele-Syria (now El-Bukaa), between the Li-banus and the Anti-Libanus, is about 2,300 ft. above the sea; it formerly contained Heliop-olis or Baalbek, and other great cities. Near its southern termination it divides into two branches, one cutting through the Lebanon range in the narrow gorge through which the Leontes finds its way to the sea, the other striking off southward and descending rapidly for 15 m. to the source of the Jordan at the base of Hermon. The continuation of the latter, the valley of the Jordan, descending with a steady but rapid slope, at the plain of Huleh is at the sea level; at the lake of Tiberias it is about 650 ft. below it; and within 60 m. of direct distance, though by the circuitous channel of the river 200 m., at the Dead sea, it is about 1,300 ft. below the Mediterranean. No similar river valley is known.
Among the level tracts of Syria are the great plain of Esdraelon, that of Sharon, and the arid sandy plain of Gaza. Around Damascus, an oasis in the desert, vast plains of sand extend E. and S., and cover the region that contains the ruins of Palmyra. - The geology of Syria is interesting. In the extreme south are only primitive rocks, the variegated granite of the Sinaitic peninsula; the deep chasm of the Dead sea, with its bitumen pits, salt mountains, and warm springs, belongs to the carboniferous era; the calcareous and sandstone formations of Hermon and Lebanon abound in fossils of the era of the new red sandstone; and the porphyry and basalt of the Hauran give evidence of their igneous origin. The soil is exceedingly fertile wherever there are sufficient rains, or irrigation can be practised; but where there is no water, it is sandy and utterly barren. The region around the Dead sea is thoroughly impregnated with salt and alkalies, and is entirely devoid of vegetation. In the south and east there are vast sandy wastes. The mineral productions of Syria are iron of excellent quality, a little quicksilver and some coal in the south, and in the Dead sea region salt and bitumen.
Good salt is also made on the shores of the Mediterranean. - There are few countries of the same extent in which the climate is so varied as in Syria. On the slopes of Lebanon it is cool and pleasant in the summer months, and in the winter heavy rains fall, but the cold is not severe. In the valley of the Jordan the summer heat is equal to that of the hottest portion of the tropics, and on the coast the summers are also very hot and unhealthful. In winter Beyrout and some of the other cities of the coast are favorable for invalids. In Jerusalem the heat is oppressive during the day in summer; rain seldom falls between the end of April and the beginning of October, and there are few clouds, and hence everything is parched till the rainy season. Damascus is colder in winter than the western slopes of Lebanon, and snow frequently falls; yet the orange and fig thrive there. The average range of heat in the hottest part of summer at Jerusalem and Damascus is from 84° to 86° F. In Aleppo the annual range is very great, the thermometer falling below zero in winter and rising above 100° in summer. - The implements and modes of agriculture are nearly identical with those in use 2,500 years ago. Still the crops, wherever there are rains or irrigation can be practised, are large.
Wheat, barley, durra, and spelt are largely produced, as well as rice, lentils, peas, etc.; cotton, hemp, silk, madder, indigo, Sesamum, castor oil, tobacco, potatoes, capsicum, melons, cucumbers, and artichokes are also important crops. Figs, olives, mulberries, grapes, almonds, apricots, peaches, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, dates, and other fruits abound. Vineyards are numerous on the mountain slopes and in the hill country of Judea; the grapes are large and luscious, and the wine made from them is excellent. Storax is produced for the market. In the vicinity of Damascus are extensive fields of roses, the petals of which furnish the attar of commerce. The sycamore, Indian fig, carob, mulberry, and pistachio trees grow abundantly, both wild and cultivated. Scammony and sumach are gathered about Mt. Lebanon for exportation. The cedar, pine, and fir are found in extensive forests on the mountains, though the true cedar of Lebanon, once so highly prized for building purposes, is nearly extinct. The arbutus, terebinth, laurel, and several species of juniper occur on the table lands, and also dwarf oaks which produce the best gall nuts.
The domestic animals are horses, of which the wandering tribes possess breeds of extraordinary speed and beauty; cattle, generally small and inferior; asses and mules, large and very serviceable; sheep and goats of several kinds, the broad-tailed variety of the former being found only in N. Syria; camels throughout the country, and the domesticated buffalo on the coast and in the valley of the Orontes. Jackals, foxes, and hyaenas are common in the desert mountains; the Syrian bear has his home in Mt. Lebanon; wolves and wild boars in the northern forests, and the latter also occasionally further S.; deer are also found in the north, and antelopes in the desert regions; and hares, porcupines, and jerboas are abundant. There are no poisonous serpents. Silkworms are reared extensively in the mountainous districts. Turtles and tortoises are found in considerable numbers. Fish are abundant in some of the inland lakes, though not plentiful along the coast of the Mediterranean. The manufactures are few and coarse.
Beyrout is now the chief commercial city, and within 40 years its population has increased from 5,000 to 70,000.
The inhabitants are of a great variety of races and religions. The ruling race are the Osmanli Turks, though they are but an insignificant portion of the Mohammedan population, who are mostly Arabs; they are bigoted and hostile to Christians, and are strict in their adherence to the Sunna or orthodox Islamism. There are four sects usually considered Mohammedan dissenters, though not all of them can properly be reckoned as Mohammedans. The Metua-lis are the followers of Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammed, and are allied to the Shiahs of Persia; they number about 30,000, and are found W. of the Orontes and on the S. part of the Lebanon range. The Ansaries or Nos-sairians, inhabiting the mountains extending from the N. extremity of Coele-Syria to the gorge of the Orontes at Antioch, and numbering about 30,000, keep their religious views a secret. The Ismaelians, occupying the mountains W. of Hamah, are few, and were originally Shiahs; they are the descendants of the people known in the time of the crusades as Assassins. The fourth sect is the Druses, in the Lebanon and Anti-Libanus, numbering about 70,000, and the most fanatical of all.
The largest of the nominally Christian sects is that of the Maronites, who are found chiefly in the Lebanon, though they have small communities in all the principal towns from Aleppo to Nazareth. Their number in 1874 was about 140,000. (See Ansaries, Assassins, Druses, and Maronites.) The orthodox Greeks (Greeks in religion, but not generally in blood), numbering about 150,000, are scattered throughout the cities and more level por-. tions of Syria, and engage in agriculture and trade; they have their worship in their own language. There are dissenters also from the Greek church, the Syrians or Jacobites, a mere handful, dwelling mostly N. and N. E. of Damascus. The Greek Catholic and Syrian Catholic churches acknowledge the pope, though in some particulars they approach more nearly to the Greek than the Roman church; they are about 50,000 in all, and embrace a large number of the more wealthy Christians in Syria. The Armenians are 50,000 or 60,000 in number. There are about 25,000 Jews in Syria; those in Palestine are immigrants from foreign countries, while those of Aleppo and Damascus are descendants of Jewish families who have resided there for many centuries. There are Mohammedan schools in the cities, and the Christian sects also maintain some schools.
The children of the wealthy are frequently sent to France or England for education, but the great mass of the people are very illiterate. Of late years, however, great improvements have been made in education by means of schools established by Greeks, Catholics, and especially by Protestant missionaries. - The central part of Syria is designated in the Hebrew Scriptures as Aram Dammesek, or the Aram of which Damascus was the capital. The empire of the kings of Damascus gradually extended eastward over a part of the plain of Mesopotamia and westward to the mouth of the Orontes. It was finally overthrown by the Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser, about 740 B. C. From the head waters of the Orontes southward, all of Palestine W. of the Jordan, and probably Gilead and the Hauran E. of it, were peopled by the Canaanites. The Phoenicians settled mainly along the coast of the Mediterranean, and became the earliest commercial nation of the world. Sidon, their first metropolis, is said by tradition to have been founded by Sidon, the oldest son of Ham; and colonies from it went forth to Tyre and Arvad (Aradus), and thence to all portions of the Mediterranean and beyond.
Phoenicia attained its greatest power about 1050 B. C, and it enjoyed uninterrupted prosperity for full 300 years, but was at last conquered by the Assyrians, and subsequently by the Babylonians and Persians. The southern parts of western and portions of eastern Palestine were inhabited by a tall race, the Anakim and Rephaim, traces of whose cities yet remain in the Hauran. The S. W. coast was occupied by the Philistines, and the region adjoining the Dead sea to the east by the Semitic Ammonites and Moabites. (See Palestine.) The equally Semitic Israelites emigrated from Egypt to Palestine about 1500, or according to some authorities about 1300 B. C, and thenceforward for about 1,500 years exerted a powerful influence in its history. (See Hebrews.) The theocracy under which they existed for several centuries was terminated by the election of Saul as king early in the 11th century B. C, and the kingdom was divided (about 975) in the reign of Rehoboam, the grandson of his successor David. The ten tribes, or Israel as they were distinctively termed, were conquered and carried into captivity by the Assyrians in 721, and their 'place was supplied by colonists from Babylonia, Hamath, and elsewhere, who became the Samaritans of a subsequent era, and a few families of whom still exist on their ancient site.
The kingdom of Judah fell before Nebuchadnezzar 133 years later, but after a 70 years' captivity the people were restored to their own land, and the second temple was built. Syria from this period, until Grecian power became paramount there, was governed by a Persian satrap resident at Damascus. The battle of Issus, in 333, led to the subjection of Syria proper, Phoenicia, and Palestine to Alexander the Great. On his death, and after a long struggle of succession on the partition of his empire, the Ptolemies in Egypt received Palestine and Coele-Syria, and Se-leucus Nicator northern Syria. He founded Antioch, near the mouth of the Orontes, and made it his capital; and for several centuries it was the greatest of oriental cities. The kingdom of Syria continued flourishing under the Seleucidse till the beginning of the 2d century B. C. Antiochus the Great wrested Palestine and Coele-Syria from Egypt. The brought to punishment, but not until more than 15,000 men had been killed, and tens of thousands of people were homeless and destitute, and compelled to take refuge in the cities of the coast.