Syria is a region at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It was part of the Persian Empire until Alexander the Great conquered the region in 332 B.C. After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., his successors fought for control of Syria and other regions of his empire. The Seleu- cid dynasty* (founded by Seleucus, one of Alexander’s generals) prevailed in Syria, becoming the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean by 200 B.C. Civil wars and attacks by outside forces weakened the power of the Seleucids, and in 64 B.C. the Roman general Pompey annexed* Syria and made it a province* of the Roman empire. The Roman emperor Septimius Severus divided Syria into two provinces in the late A.D. 100s.
Syria was mainly a rural province, although it did contain several important cities, including Antioch, lyre, and Damascus. The province was a valuable agricultural region, producing wine, olives, nuts, dates, wool, linen, and purple dyes. Syrian craftspeople produced blown glass and other valuable items. Trade caravans traveling between the Mediterranean coast and Mesopotamia and Arabia stopped at several important trade centers in the province. Syria was also important for other reasons. The Roman army recruited many of its soldiers from among the people of Syria, and the land separated the rest of the Roman empire from the Parthians and the Sassa- nians, peoples of western Asia. Although the ruling classes in Hellenistic* Syria spoke Greek, most of the people of Syria continued to speak Aramaic, an ancient language of the Middle East. (See also Provinces, Roman; Seleu- cid Dynasty; Trade, Roman.)
* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group
* annex to add a territory to an existing state
* province overseas area controlled by Rome
* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.