Syria (Sirria), a country of western Asia, forming part of Turkey in Asia, and embracing the regions that lie between the Levant and the Euphrates from Mount Taurus in the north to the southern border of Palestine, or even to the peninsula of Sinai. A range of mountains, split in the north into two parallel chains - Libanus and Anti-Libanus - fronts the Mediterranean, ranging in height from 6000 feet in the north up to 10,000 feet in the central parts, but falling again in the south to 3500 feet. Behind these mountains lies a tableland, that gradually falls away eastwards to the desert. The separate districts and features of Syria are described under Lebanon, Palestine, Phoenicia, Bashan, Hauran, Dead Sea, Jordan, etc. The prevailing winds being westerly, the slopes of the mountains next the Mediterranean, together with the immediate seaboard, get a tolerably plentiful supply of moisture during the rainy half of the year (October to May); snow even falls on the highest summits. The climate on the plateau is generally dry. The valley of the Jordan is remarkably hot. The soil is in many parts possessed of good fertility, and in ancient times, when irrigation was more extensively practised, yielded a much greater return than it does now. Damascus is noted for its gardens and orchards. Hauran produces excellent wheat. Northern Syria is the home of the olive. The vine grows almost everywhere. Fruit (oranges, figs, etc.) is cultivated on the coast plains. Sheep and goats are the chief domestic animals. The principal exports are silk, cereals, wool, olive-oil, lemons and oranges, soap, sponges, sesame, liquorice, cottons, and tobacco. The total value is £1,000,000 to £1,250,000. The imports reach pretty nearly the same figure; Manchester goods (£700,000 to £950,000) the chief item. Besides these there are woollens, rice, copper and iron, sacking, timber, and hides. The chief port is Beyrout, with Acre, Haifa, Tyre, and Tripoli. Railways to connect Damascus with Acre and with Beyrout, and Tripoli with the interior, are projected or in course of construction.' The pop. of Syria, including Lebanon and Palestine, is estimated at 3,317,000. The bulk of the inhabitants are Mohammedans, including the Druses, Shiites, etc. The Christians make up one-fifth of the total - Orthodox Greeks, United Greeks, Maro-nites and Nestorians, Roman Catholics, and a few Protestants. The main ethnic elements in the population are descendants of the ancient Syrians (AramAeans) and Arabs, both settled and nomad; besides there are Jews, Turks, and Europeans.
Syria was the scene of the Hittite, Phoenician, and Jewish states, and of the Aramaean (Syrian and Semitic) principalities of Damascus, Zobah, Hamath, etc. In the 8th and 9th centuries b.c. Syria was the battle-ground of the Egyptian and Hittite armies, and after that period it was, as a province of Assyria (Babylonia), in volved in the struggle between that great empire and Egypt. (The Greeks first knew this region as a province of Assyria; hence the contracted name Syria.) Towards the end of the 6th century B.C. Syria fell under the dominion of the Persian empire; and two centuries later it was conquered by Alexander of Macedon. When his empire broke to pieces the SeleucidAe made Antioch the capital of their empire of Syria. From the SeleucidAe it passed, through the hands of Tigranes of Armenia, to the Romans, for whom it was won by Pompey in 64 B.C. Under these new masters the country flourished and became celebrated for its thriving industries, its commercial prosperity, and its architectural magnificence (see Baalbek and Palmyra). On the division of the Roman world Syria became part of the Byzantine empire, and remained a province of it until its conquest by the Mohammedan Arabs in 636. It still continued to be prosperous under the Arabs and their successors the Egyptian sovereigns, in spite of the unsettled period of the Crusades. The first severe blow it suffered came from the Mongols in 1260, and its ruin was completed when in 1516 it passed from the Egyptians to the Ottoman Turks. See Burton and Drake, Unexplored Syria (2 vols. 1872); Lady Burton, Inner Life of Syria (1875); Baedeker's Palestine and Syria (by Professor A. Socin); Conder, Heth and Moab (1883); and books quoted under the various articles cited above.