Name of Syria
The name Syria is latinized from the Greek Συρία (Suría). In toponymic typology, term Syria is classified among choronyms (proper names of regions and countries). The origin and usage of the term has been the subject of interest, both among ancient writers and modern scholars. In early Greek usage, terms Συρία (Suría) and Ασσυρία (Assuría) were used almost interchangeably, but in the Roman Empire, terms Syria and Assyria came to be used as names for distinct geographical regions. "Syria" in the Roman period referred to the region of Syria (the western Levant), while Assyria (Asōristān) was part of the Sasanian Empire and only very briefly came under Roman control (AD 116–118, marking the historical peak of Roman expansion).
Etymologically, the name Syria is connected to Assyria, ultimately from the Akkadian Aššur. Theodor Nöldeke in 1871 was the first to give philological support to the assumption that Syria and Assyria have the same etymology, a suggestion going back to John Selden (1617). Current academic opinion favours the connection.
Modern Syria (Arabic: الجمهورية العربية السورية "Syrian Arab Republic", since 1961) inherits its name from the Ottoman Syria Vilayet (Vilâyet-i Sûriye), established in 1865. The choice of the ancient regional name, instead of a more common Ottoman practice of naming provinces according to provincial capitals, was seen as a reflection of growing historical consciousness among the local intellectuals at the time.
The Classical Arabic name for the region is بلاد اَلشَّأم bilād aš-ša'm ("The land of Shem") eldest son of Noah, Modern Standard Arabic اَلشَّام aš-šām) from شأم š'm "left hand; northern". In contrast, Baalshamin (Aramaic: ܒܥܠ ܫܡܝܢ, romanized: Lord of Heaven(s)), was a Semitic sky-god in Canaan/Phoenicia and ancient Palmyra. Hence, Sham refers to (heaven or sky).
Majority of modern scholars strongly support the already dominant position that 'Syrian' and Syriac indeed derived from 'Assyrian', and the recent (1997) discovery of the bilingual Çineköy inscription from the 8th century BCE, written in Luwian and Phoenician languages, seems to clearly confirm that Syria is ultimately derived from the Assyrian term Aššūrāyu.
Noting the scholarly consensus on questions related to interpretation of terms Syria/Assyria in the Çineköy inscription, some researchers have also analyzed some similar terms, that appear in other contemporary inscriptions, suggesting some additional interpretations.
The question was addressed from the Early Classical period through to the Renaissance Era by the likes of Herodotus, Strabo, Justinus, Michael the Syrian and John Selden, with each of these stating that Syrian/Syriac was synonymous and derivative of Assyrian. Acknowledgments being made as early as the 5th century BC in the Hellenistic world that the Indo-European term Syrian was a derived from the much earlier Assyrian.
Some 19th-century historians such as Ernest Renan had dismissed the etymological identity of the two toponyms. Various alternatives had been suggested, including derivation from Subartu (a term which most modern scholars in fact accept is itself an early name for Assyria, and which was located in northern Mesopotamia), 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 had suggested that the Greek Suria is loaned from Coptic, and due to a regular Coptic development of Ḫrw to *Šuri. In this case, the name would derive directly from that of the language isolate-speaking Hurrians, and be unrelated to the name Aššur. Tvedtnes' explanation was rejected as highly unlikely by Frye in 1992.
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-". Theodor Nöldeke in 1871 gave philological support to the assumption that Syria and Assyria have the same etymology, a suggestion going back to John Selden (1617) rooted in his own Hebrew tradition about the descent of Assyrians from Jokshan. Majority and mainstream current academic opinion strongly favours that Syria originates from Assyria. 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 "Assur", and also mentions ʾšrym "Assyrians", which according to Rollinger "settles the problem once and for all".
According to a different hypothesis, the name Syria might be derived from "Sirion" (Hebrew: שִׂרְיֹ֑ן Širyôn,[note 1] meaning "breastplate")[note 2], the name that the Phoenicians (especially Sidonians) gave to Mount Hermon,[note 3] firstly mentioned in an Ugaritic poem about Baal and Anath:
They [ ... ] from Lebanon and its trees, from [Siri]on its precious cedars.
Historical use of the term Syria can be divided in three periods. First period, attested from the 8th century BCE, reflects the original Luwian use of the term Syria as synonym for Assyria. Such use was recorded in the bilingual (Luwian-Phoenician) Çineköy inscription.
Through contacts with Luwians and Phoenicians, ancient Greeks also learned both variants (Syria/Assyria), used as synonyms, but later started to introduce some distinctions, thus marking the beginning of the second (transitional) period, attested by the works of Greek historian Herodotus (5th century BCE). Some instances in his writings reflect the original (synonymous) use of Syrian and Assyrian designations, when used for the people. Herodotus explicitly stated that those called Syrians by the Greeks were called Assyrians by the non-Greeks, On the other side, he stated that Syrians were called Cappadocians, by Persians. Herodotus also introduced some distinctions regarding the territorial scope of terms Syria and Assyria. Randolph Helm emphasized that Herodotus never applied the term Syria on the Mesopotamian region of Assyria which he always called "Assyria".
Third period was marked by definite territorialization of the term Syria, as distinctive from Assyria. That process was finalized already during the Seleucid era (312-64 BCE), when Hellenistic (Greek) notions were applied in the region, and specific terms like Coele Syria were introduced, corresponding to western regions (ancient Aram), unrelated to ancient Assyria. Such distinctions were later inherited the Romans, who created the province of Syria, for regions western of Euphrates, while Assyria represented a distinctive geographical term, related to ancient Assyrian regions in eastern Mesopotamia. In the Roman Empire, "Syria" in its broadest sense referred to lands situated between Asia Minor and Egypt, i.e. the western Levant, while "Assyria" was part of the Persian Empire as Athura, 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.
In 1864, the Ottoman Vilayet Law was promulgated to form the Syria Vilayet. The new provincial law was implemented in Damascus in 1865, and the reformed province was named Suriyya/Suriye, reflecting a growing historical consciousness among the local intellectuals.
- The Semitic trilateral root of the word might be (Hebrew: שָׂרָה), meaning to "persist" or "persevere".
- Later on, Christian Arameans used the term "Syriacs" in order to distinguish themselves from pagan Arameans.
- The Hebrews called the mountain "Hermon", while the Amorites referred to it as "Šeni'r".
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- Frye 1997, p. 30.
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- "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.
- Tvedtnes 1981, p. 139-140.
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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.
- (Pipes 1992), s:History of Herodotus/Book 7
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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).
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