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DAMASCUS (Δαμασκός: Eth. Δαμασκηνός: the territory Δαμασκηνή), the capital city of Syria, both in ancient and modern times, though its preeminence was disputed during the classical period by Antioch. It is an exceedingly ancient city, being mentioned first in the history of Abraham's pursuit of the defeated kings (Gen. 14.15); and his steward Eliezer was a native of Damascus (15.2). Josephus ascribes its foundation to Uz, a grandson of Shem (Ant. 1.6.3). During the period of the Hebrew monarchy it was the “head” or capital of Syria (Isaiah, 7.8), and the Syrian king is called the king of Damascus (2 Chron. 24.23). But during the struggles between these neighbouring kingdoms it occasionally fell into the hands of the Israelites. Thus “David put garrisons in Syria of Damascus, and the Syrians became servants to David” (2 Sam. 8.6; 1 Chron. 18.6), after he had defeated Hadarezer, king of Zobah, to whom the “Syrians of Damascus” had allied themselves. The fact that Tadmor in the wilderness [PALMYRA] was built by Solomon (2 Chron. 8.4), which further gives countenance to the very ancient and consistent tradition of his connection with Baalbek [HELIOPOLIS], proves that David's son and successor retained possession of southern Syria; but Damascus was during this time subject to Rezon, a vassal of Hadarezer. (1 Kings, 11.23--25.) Subsequently to the division of the Hebrew kingdom, cir. B.C. 900, we find “a Hebrew quarter” in Damascus ceded by treaty to Ahab by Benhadad (1 Kings, 20.34), and the city was at length recovered to Israel by Jeroboam, son of Joash, king of Israel (cir. B.C. 822). (2 Kings, 14.28.) The alliance of Syria with Israel against Judah led Ahaz to call in the aid of Tiglathpileser, king of Assyria, who, in consequence, “went up against Damascus and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir” (cir. B.C. 740), according to the prophecy of Amos, delivered about fifty years before the event. (2 Kings, 16.9; Amos, 1.5.) From this time it followed the fortunes of the Assyrian empire, but does not appear at [p. 1.749]any time to have had much importance in a military view. Besides which, its political and commercial importance after the time of Alexander the Great was eclipsed by Antioch and other cities founded by the Seleucidae; which may further account for the scanty notices of it that occur in classical authors. Strabo describes it as πόλις ἀξιόλογος, σχεδόν τι καὶ ἐπιφανεστάτη τῶν ταύτνͅ κατὰ τὰ Περσικά (xvi. p. 756). Pliny says that according to some it was reckoned as one of the cities of the Dccapolis (5.18). He only further mentions it for its alabaster (36.18). It is, however, strange that so renowned a city, the subject of such extravagant eulogy in the poems and romances of the Orientals, should be almost unnoticed in the classical poets; the “ventosa Damascus” of Lucan--certainly not a well-chosen epithet--being the sum of their tribute to this most remarkable and beautiful city (3.215).

In the annals of the church it is noted for the conversion and first preaching of the apostle St. Paul, which synchronised with the occupation of the city by the ethnarch of Aretas, the king apparently of Arabia or Petra. (2 Cor. 11.32.) As the event is not chronicled by any historian, the circumstances under which this petty king had come into possession of so important a place are very doubtful; but it is certain that it was subject to the Roman rule until the reign of Heraclius, when it was taken by the Saracens in the 13th year of the Hejira (A.D. 634), from which time, as if to compensate for its temporary eclipse, it has been the delight and glory of the East, and celebrated by the Arabian poets as the terrestrial Paradise.

Damascus, now called Es-Sham, is situated at the distance of two days' journey, or about 60 miles from the coast of the Mediterranean, not far from the eastern base of the range of Antilibanus, and at the western extremity of the great desert of El-Hauran (Auranitis), which extends westward to the Euphrates, and southward to the Arabian peninsula. It presents the peculiar phenomenon of a city in the midst of gardens, watered by numerous streams. It is surrounded by a wall, which is however in a state of ruinous decay, and scarcely defines the limits between the city and its suburbs. In 1843, the population of Damascus was stated at 111,552, of which number about 12,000 were Christians, and 5000 Jews. It is governed by a pasha, whose rule extends from the Euphrates to the Jordan, and from the vicinity of Aleppo to the confines of Arabia.

The “Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus,” are of Scripture celebrity (2 Kings, 5.12), and both Strabo and Pliny mention the Chrysorroa, to which the latter ascribes the fertility of the soil ( “Damascum ex epoto riguis amne Chrysoroa fertilem” ); and Strabo remarks that “its waters are almost entirely consumed in irrigation, for that it waters a large extent of deep soil” (ll. cc.). There are, in fact, as the writer ascertained, two copious sources in the eastern roots of Antilibanus, the Barada and the Phege. Of these, the Barada is far the most copious, and being divided into numerous rivulets on emerging from the mountains above the city, waters its innumerable gardens. The water, however, is not good for drinking, and the inhabitants of the villages along its course in the Wady Barada are subject to goitre. Even the poor of Damascus do not ordinarily drink this water. This is probably the Abana of Scripture. The Pharpar is represented by the Phege, a smaller stream of delicious water, whose source was explored by Pocock. It emerges from the mountain range through the same valley as the Barada, and is conducted by aqueducts and pipes to all parts of the city for the purpose of supplying the inhabitants with drinking water. The scanty surplus of the two streams forms a small lake below the city, called Bahr-el-Merj.



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