Syria has long been one of the most trouble-prone and politically
volatile regions of the Near and Middle Eastern world. This book
looks back beyond the troubles of the present to tell the 3000-year
story of what came before: the peoples, cities, and kingdoms that
arose, flourished, declined, and disappeared in the lands that now
constitute Syria, from the time of the region's earliest written
records in the third millennium BC, right through to the reign of
the Roman emperor Diocletian in the early 4th century AD. Across
the centuries, from the Bronze Age to Imperial Rome, we encounter a
vast array of characters and civilizations, enlivening, enriching,
and besmirching the annals of Syrian history: Hittite and Assyrian
Great Kings; Egyptian pharaohs; Amorite robber-barons; the
biblically notorious Nebuchadnezzar; Persia's Cyrus the Great and
Macedon's Alexander the Great; the rulers of the Seleucid empire;
and an assortment of Rome's most distinguished and most infamous
emperors. All swept across the plains of Syria at some point in her
long history. All contributed, in one way or another, to Syria's
special, distinctive character, as they imposed themselves upon it,
fought one another within it, or pillaged their way through it. But
this is not just a history of invasion and oppression. Syria had
great rulers of her own, native-born Syrian luminaries, sometimes
appearing as local champions who sought to liberate their lands
from foreign despots, sometimes as cunning, self-seeking
manipulators of squabbles between their overlords. They culminate
with Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, whose life provides a fitting grand
finale to the first three millennia of this ancient civilization.
And yet the long story of Syria does not end with the mysterious
fate of Queen Zenobia. The conclusion looks forward to the Muslim
conquest in the 7th century AD: in many ways the opening chapter in
the equally complex and often troubled history of modern Syria.
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