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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites

Damascus

  In the interior of S Syria, between the mountains and the desert, in the midst of irrigated gardens, famous for their produce. It was conquered by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. The Lagids and Seleucids wrangled over it, and the latter gave it the name of Demetrias. It was threatened by the Iturii and passed under Nabataean control in 85 B.C. under Aretas III Philhellene. Conquered by Pompey in 64 B.C., Damascus flourished in the Roman period. It was the birthplace of Apollodorus, Trajan's architect, and became a Roman colony under the Severans. Diocletian set up an arsenal here; Julian visited the town, and Theodosius and Arcadius built a church in honor of St. John the Baptist. Taken by the Persians in 612, it was reconquered by Heraclius in 628 and in 635-36 by the Moslems.
  The site has never been abandoned, but there are few Greek or Roman remains: notably the Temple of Damascene Jupiter and the ancient plan of the city. The Street called Straight, mentioned in The Acts of the Apostles, can still be seen.
  The sanctuary of Damascene Jupiter, now occupied by the mosque of the Omayyads, was the largest of all Syrian sanctuaries. It consisted of a temple (completely destroyed in the Omayyad period) built in the middle of two concentric courts. The inner one was 150 m E-W by 100 m N-S, and surrounded by a monumental peribolos built in the first half of the 1st c. A.D. This has become the enclosing wall of the mosque. The stone walls are 14 regular courses high, capped by stepped merlons. Towers containing staircases stand at each corner; the S towers serve as foundations for two of the minarets of the mosque.
  The monumental entry was to the E, where propylaea 33 m long jutted out 15 m from the line of the walls. The great stairway, which still has 15 steps, is buried to over half of its original height. Three bays led to the interior, with two small lateral rooms for the porters. On the W was a single axial bay, with a large doorway topped by an arch on each side, to admit carts and sacrificial animals. Spacious rooms (chambers and exedras) extended right and left of the E and W gates up to the towers. On both N and S sides was a triple bay adorned with sculptures and, in the W part of the S side, a gate topped by an arch. In Byzantine times three Christian inscriptions were engraved over other words on the lintels of the S gates.
  The outside enclosure consisted of a massive rampart. The exterior was adorned with large pilasters and a portico was built against it on the interior. The remains of the wall and colonnade are mainly visible to the E, where a monumental gate with a triple bay lies exactly on the axis of the large propylaea of the peribolos. The axial arrangement on the W side can be seen in the souk which leads to the W door of the mosque: a pediment supported by four large Corinthian columns framed by two piers; beside these are pilasters which undoubtedly matched the colonnade of the portico. An inscription of A.D. 90-91 indicates that there was an entry for carts on the W side, as well as a gamma-shaped annex which stood against the enclosure and was supported by the town ramparts on its N side.
  The exact location of the Church of St. John the Baptist within the sanctuary of Damascene Jupiter is a matter of controversy; apparently it cannot have become the Omayyad mosque.
  On the axis of the E entry to the temple, a wide avenue, 240 m long and bordered with colonnades in the Roman period, led to a spacious agora. The grid of the ancient streets, which dates to Hellenistic times, has been traced in the present plan of the E part of the old town, E of the temple: the streets running N-S are spaced 45 m apart, those running E-W 100 m apart. Some irregular streets appear E of the agora, however, in a district whose popular name suggests that it was the Nabataean quarter. In the 1st c. A.D. there were so many Nabataeans in Damascus that King Aretas IV maintained an ethnarch there.
  The axis of the ancient town was the Street called Straight, bordered with colonnades in Roman times. It ran from the W gate to Bab Sharqi, the well-preserved E gate with three bays with semicircular arches. The central pavement was more than 13 m wide, the lateral porticos 6 m apiece. Actually the Street called Straight had three sections with different axes, but two monumental arches masked the slight changes in orientation. One arch can be seen 500 m W of Bab Sharqi; it has a lateral bay with a semicircular vault and a sturdy masonry mole. The other was 250 m farther W. Not far from the second arch, on the S side of the avenue, a hillock often called a tell may cover the ruins of a palace. A tall column bearing a huge imperial statue stood near it during the Late Empire. Farther W, S of the avenue, the curving course of the streets suggests the existence of a Roman theater. Its hemicycle opened to the N and must have had a diameter of ca. 100 m.
  The ramparts of the Moslem town follow the course of the ancient walls only in a short stretch on either side of the E Gate, where the line is strictly rectilinear and perpendicular to the axis of the Street called Straight. Even there, the ancient materials are all reused. Various indications, however, have allowed a reconstruction of the course of the ancient fortification. It was a huge rectangle, and therefore must date to Roman times; the mediaeval gates mark the sites of the ancient ones. The remains of a Roman bridge over the river can be seen some m from Bab Tuma, on the axis of the gate. The citadel, XV of the temple, contains nothing ancient except reused materials. On the inside, however, it preserves part of the W front of the Roman ramparts.

J. P. Rey-Coquais, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 5 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.


The Catholic Encyclopedia

Damascus

Perseus Project index

Damascus

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Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

Damascus

   Damaskos; in Hebrew, Dammesek; in Arabic, Dimeshk-es-Sham). One of the principal cities of Syria, in what was called Coele-Syria, a few miles to the east of Antilibanus, where the chain begins to turn off to the southeast, under the name of Carmel. It is beautifully situated in an extensive and pleasant plain, and watered by a river called by the Greeks Bardine or Chrysorrhoas, "the golden stream," now Barada. The Biblical name of this stream was Abana. Damascus is supposed to have been founded by Uz, the eldest son of Aram. However this may be, it existed in the time of Abraham, and may be reckoned one of the most ancient cities of Syria. It was conquered by David, but freed itself from the Jewish yoke in the time of Solomon, and became the seat of a new principality, which often harassed the kingdoms of both Judah and Israel. It afterwards fell, in succession, under the power of the Assyrians and the Persians, and came from the latter into the hands of the Seleucidae. Damascus, however, did not flourish much under the Greek dynasty, as it had while held by the Persians. The Seleucidae neglected the place, and bestowed all their favour on the new cities erected by them in the northern parts of Syria; and here, no doubt, lies the reason why the later Greek and Roman writers say so little of the city itself, though they are all loud in their praises of the adjacent country. Damascus was seized by the Romans in the war of Pompey with Tigranes, B.C. 65, but still continued, as under the Greek dynasty, a comparatively unimportant place until the time of Diocletian. This emperor, feeling the necessity of a strongly fortified city in this quarter, as a depot for munitions of war and a military post against the frequent inroads of the Saracens, selected Damascus for the purpose. Everything was done, accordingly, to strengthen the place; extensive magazines were also established, and likewise numerous workshops for the preparation of weapons of war. It is not unlikely that the high reputation to which Damascus afterwards attained for its manufacture of sword-blades and other works in steel, may have had its first foundations laid by this arrangement on the part of Diocletian. The city continued from this time to be a flourishing place. In the seventh century it fell into the hands of the Saracens, and was for some time after this the seat of the califs. Its prosperity, too, remained unimpaired, since the route of the principal caravans to Mecca lay through it. It was sacked by Tamerlane, and finally became subject to the Turks.
   The Great Mosque of Damascus still shows traces of the Graeco-Roman architecture.

This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


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Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

Damascus

  Damascus (Damaskos: Eth. Damaskenos: the territory he Damaskene), 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. xiv. 15); and his steward Eliezer was a native of Damascus (xv. 2). Josephus ascribes its foundation to Uz, a grandson of Shem (Ant. i. 6. ยง 3). During the period of the Hebrew monarchy it was the head or capital of Syria (Isaiah, vii. 8), and the Syrian king is called the king of Damascus (2 Chron. xxiv. 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. viii. 6; 1 Chron. xviii. 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 was built by Solomon (2 Chron. viii. 4), which further gives countenance to the very ancient and consistent tradition of his connection with Baalbek, 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, xi. 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, xx. 34), and the city was at length recovered to Israel by Jeroboam, son of Joash, king of Israel (cir. B.C. 822). (2 Kings, xiv. 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, xvi. 9; Amos, i. 5.) From this time it followed the fortunes of the Assyrian empire, but does not appear at 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 polis axiologos, schedon ti kai epiphanestate ton tautni kata ta Persika (xvi. p. 756). Pliny says that according to some it was reckoned as one of the cities of the Dccapolis (v. 18). He only further mentions it for its alabaster (xxxvi. 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 (iii. 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. xi. 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, v. 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. 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.

This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited September 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks


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