Name of Syria

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The name Syria, historically referring to the region of Syria is the Latinized from the Greek Συρία. Etymologically, the name is often connected to Ασσυρία, Assuria, from the Akkadian 𒀸𒋗𒁺 Aššur.

Herodotus stated that this was the Greek name for Assyria, and that the Persians called it Cappadocia.[1] The region which became known as Cappadocia in the Roman Empire was a northern outpost of the old Assyrian Empire.[2]

In Greek usage, Syria and Assyria were used almost interchangeably, although Herodotus' clarifications were a notable exception.[3]

In the Roman Empire, Syria and Assyria came to be used as distinct geographical terms. "Syria" in the Roman Empire period referred to "those parts of the Empire situated between Asia Minor and Egypt", i.e. the western Levant, while "Assyria" was part of the Persian Empire, and only very briefly came under Roman control (116-118 AD, marking the historical peak of Roman expansion), where it was known as Assyria Provincia.

Connection between the names of Syria and Assyria[edit]

Various theories have been advanced as to the etymological connections between the two terms. Some scholars suggest that the term Assyria included a definite article, similar to the function of the Arabic language "Al-".[4] Theodor Nöldeke in 1881 gave philological support to the assumption that Syria and Assyria have the same etymology,[5] a suggestion going back to John Selden (1617) rooted in his own Hebrew tradition about the descent of Assyrians from Jokshan. Current academic opinion strongly favours the connection. A Hieroglyphic Luwian and Phoenician bilingual monumental inscription found in Çineköy, Turkey, (the Çineköy inscription) belonging to Urikki, vassal king of Que (i.e. Cilicia), dating to the eighth century BC, reference is made to the relationship between his kingdom and his Assyrian overlords. The Luwian inscription reads su-ra/i whereas the Phoenician translation reads ʾšr, i.e. ašur, which according to Rollinger (2006) "settles the problem once and for all".[5]

Some 19th-century historians such as Ernest Renan dismissed the etymological identity of the two toponyms.[6] Various alternatives have been suggested, including derivation from Subartu (which most scholars in fact accept is an early name for Assyria), the Hurrian toponym Śu-ri, or Ṣūr (the Phoenician name of Tyre). Syria is known as Ḫrw (Ḫuru, referring to the Hurrian occupants prior to the Aramaean invasion) in the Amarna Period Egypt, and as אֲרָם, ʾĂrām in Biblical Hebrew. J. A. Tvedtnes has suggested that the Greek Suria is loaned from Coptic, and due to a regular Coptic development of Ḫrw to *Šuri.[7] In this case, the name would directly derive from that of the Hurrians, and be unrelated to the name Aššur. Tvedtnes' explanation was rejected as unlikely by Frye in 1992.

The name Syria was at first mentioned in the ugaritan language about 1400 BC. as "Shryn". This language refers to the Ugaritan cultur that was founded by the phoenicians and which footings were discovered near today's Alexandria in Egypt.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (Pipes 1992), s:History of Herodotus/Book 7
    Herodotus. "Herodotus VII.63". "VII.63: The Assyrians went to war with helmets upon their heads made of brass, and plaited in a strange fashion which is not easy to describe. They carried shields, lances, and daggers very like the Egyptian; but in addition they had wooden clubs knotted with iron, and linen corselets. This people, whom the Hellenes call Syrians, are called Assyrians by the barbarians. The Chaldeans served in their ranks, and they had for commander Otaspes, the son of Artachaeus." 
    Herodotus. "Herodotus VII.72". "VII.72: In the same fashion were equipped the Ligyans, the Matienians, the Mariandynians, and the Syrians (or Cappadocians, as they are called by the Persians)." 
  2. ^ Assyria and Syria: Synonyms, Richard N. Frye, PhD., Harvard University
  3. ^ The legacy of Mesopotamia, Stephanie Dalley, p94
  4. ^ A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography, Sir William Smith, Charles Anthon, Harper & Brothers, 1862 "Even when the name of Syria is used in its ordinary narrower sense, it is often confounded with Assyria, which only differs from Syria by having the definite article prefixed."
  5. ^ a b Rollinger, Robert (2006). "The terms "Assyria" and "Syria" again". Assyriology. Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 65(4). pp. 284–287. 
  6. ^ "Syria is not but a contraction of Assyria or Assyrian; this according to the Greek pronunciation. The Greeks applied this name to all of Asia Minor." cited after Sa Grandeur Mgr. David, Archevêque Syrien De Damas, Grammair De La Langue Araméenne Selon Les Deux Dialects Syriaque Et Chaldaique Vol. 1,, (Imprimerie Des Péres Dominicains, Mossoul, 1896), 12.
  7. ^ Tvedtnes, John A. (1981). "The Origin of the Name "Syria"". Journal of Near Eastern Studies 40 (2): 139. doi:10.1086/372868. 
  8. ^ Peter Bamm - Frühe Stätten der Christenheit/Kösel publishing house munich

Additional Reading[edit]