The Ancient City of Damascus
Categories: Ancient Cities
- Damascus is in southwest Syria about 150 miles northeast of Jerusalem.
- It is one of the oldest cities in the world.
- It is known as the oldest continuously populated city in the world.
- It is now the capital of Syria, and has a population of 1,600,000
- Most think the word “Damascus” comes from a Semitic language, though scholars are at a loss as to how to translate it.
- Various translations have included: "a settlement in water-rich surroundings," or "the town of chalky clay."
Under Egyptian Rule
- Damascus was a key city in the ancient world because it was on a trade route that linked Egypt with the nations of Mesopotamia.
- These included highways known as “the way of the Sea,” and “the King’s Highway.”
- The earliest references to “Damascus” date from the 13-14th centuries BCE where it shows up in inscriptions from Egyptian Pharaohs.
- Scholars aren’t positive this is the same Damascus of later centuries, but it is quite likely.
- This period is known as the Late Bronze Age, and the Egyptians controlled a vast area.
Under Aramean Rule
- By 1200 BCE, the Egyptians had weakened to the point that the Arameans were able to take over much of their territory, including Damascus.
- During the first half of the first millennium, Damascus was the capital of the Aram kingdom and was generally referred to as Aram Damascus.
- According to a story in 2 Sam 8:3-12, David claimed to have defeated the Arameans in Damascus.
- Readers might logically assume, then, that for a while Damascus was part of David’s extended kingdom.
- However, this did not last long. The Aramean king, Rezon, declared his independence during the time of Solomon.
- Several Old Testament texts suggest relations between Rezon and Solomon were always adversarial in nature.
- Rezon’s successors took advantage of the confusion wrought by the division of the Davidic kingdom after Solomon’s death and successfully attacked several cities in northern Israel.
- By 800 BCE, Aram Damascus was known as the leading city in the region of Syria and Palestine.
- From 853-845 BCE, the Arameans and Israel joined forces to thwart various Assyrian attacks led by Shalmaneser III.
- This alliance is recorded in Assyrian documents of this period. (Though some scholars think these battles actually occurred decades later.)
- In 843 BCE, an Aramean (Hazael) usurped the throne in Damascus and turned against the king of Israel.
- With Assyria in a period of decline, Hazael dominated much of Syria and Palestine and captured a lot of Israelite territory.
- This changed dramatically in 805 BCE, when Assyria regained its strength and began to attack the Arameans.
After Aramean Rule
- Jehoahaz was able to break free from the Arameans, and by the time of Jeroboam (788-748 BCE), Israel dominated Damascus.
- Power vacillated back and forth until 734 BCE, when Assyria laid claim to both Aram Damascus and northern Israel.
- The city was virtually destroyed in 734, and Damascus as a super power was no more.
- By 539 BCE, however, the city’s fortunes had rebounded, and it was the site of the Persian satrapy. This lasted until the time of Alexander the Great, who then appointed a Greek to govern the city.
- After Alexander’s death, the city was a pawn between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kings (ca 200-100 BCE).
- Unlike the people of Jerusalem, which resisted Hellenization, the people of Damascus embraced it readily.
- Soon, the city was once again a capital – this time of the Seleucid kingdom.
- After this, the Nabatean people (southeast of Palestine) used it as their capital while claiming independence (ca 85 BCE). But this was short-lived.
Under Roman Rule
- By 65 BCE, the Roman general, Pompey, sent troops to reclaim it.
- Thereafter, the city thrived during the Roman period.
- It had a large temple and was known for its great thoroughfares (Acts refers to the street called “Straight.”) It was also home to a large population of Jews.
- Saul of Tarsus encountered the risen Jesus on his way to Damascus.
- Later, his followers would help him escape by lowering him in a basket outside the city wall.
- Legend has it that, on the eve of the Jewish War in 66 CE, the Gentiles of the city massacred most of their Jewish neighbors.